By Zac B. Sarian
We learn a lot from people we meet. Each one has his success story to tell. Just like Tom Brownie who visited our plant nursery in the early ‘90s. He runs his small nursery of two acres (less than a hectare) in Orange County in California. He visited the Philippines hoping to find an unusual ornamental that he can propagate for a target buyer.
One business strategy that he stressed was to stay small. He explained that when you are a small operator, you can be very flexible. And most of the time you can keep all the profit to yourself.
In the US, there are big nurseries that are run by corporations. But by choice, Tom opted to operate his small nursery with just two Mexican helpers. By so doing, he thought he was doing better than some of the big operators. “Some could make a lot of profits but the hassles they have to go through could be terrible,” he pointed out.
How did he compete with the big nurseries? The answer is by producing plants with better quality. He was very proud, for example, that the special decorator of the White House during the Reagan years as well as the rich and famous from Hollywood ordered from him his huge Boston ferns with fronds as long as six feet.
There were many other Boston fern growers at that time but he grew the most gorgeous ones. Naturally, he commanded the highest prices for his fantastic ferns.
LOOK FOR SOMETHING NEW – Tom had another practical approach to his plant business. He scouted around for something new all the time. During his visit to our nursery, he was looking for foliage plants that are truly exotic – something nobody else in his area of operation had.
Whenever he discovered one, he immediately studied the potential of the new find. He would experiment on how to multiply the plant the fastest way. Then he studied the market.
When he got hold of a Philippine native—the miniature schefflera from Mt. Data—he immediately knew that he had a market in Europe. He contacted a well known trader in Holland and offered to produce 120,000 rooted plants in less than one year. He got the business and devoted his resources, time and efforts to fulfill his contract.
Now, what can smallhold Filipino farmers learn from the strategy of Tom Brownie? Well, if you have a small farm, grow your plants better than anybody else so you can command a high price and beat the competition.