Time for a greenhouse visit, which we arranged with Sergio Silva, president of Rocket Farms' parent company, Growers Transplanting Inc.A native of Mexico, Sergio has been with GTI since its inception 22 years ago, when he started out as a laborer.Today, he's president and the man charged with finding Rocket Farms' place in the pot plant market.
ArrowIt really started with vegetablesRocket Farms
is one of many California nursery businesses with a background in vegetables or cut flowers hoping to carve a niche in a new market.But unlike growers who are eyeing trendy spring annuals or perennials, Rocket Farms
is gaining a following for what many would consider an old-fashioned product: florist-quality potted plants such as mums, cyclamen, kalanchoes, gerbera, calla lilies and poinsettias.What makes Sergio
think Rocket Farms
can be successful in a market that, frankly, has been flat, and is dominated by a handful of well-established national players, such as Nurserymen's Exchange
, Bay City Flower Company
, White's Nursery
, Kurt Weiss and Burnaby Lakes?
"They're very, very strong," Sergio
admits of his
competition.But then he
adds, "We don't want to compete with them.
says they had no concept of poinsettias, but the timing was perfect."To get into poinsettias was an easy decision on our part," he
"We wanted it to be something different," Sergio
explained when we complimented him on the logo.
reasoned that as the state's population boomed, so too would the demand for holiday crops.Plus, he'd been watching the growth of big players in the area such as Clearwater
, Bay City and Nurserymen's
first thought was to contract grow for them, as he
had done with poinsettias."Most of them turned me down," Sergio
And as Sergio
pointed out earlier, they still disbud many of their mums; the disbudding obviously has been done by caring hands. Sergio
was right: They have accomplished the quality.Now his
challenge is to find the niche for Maria's thoughts: "to create awareness in a market that clearly shows demand for our quality, value-added products and at a competitive price," he
says.The "rocket" side of the Rocket Farms' tag is expressed by Sergio's enthusiasm for automation.He
quickly shoots down the myth that California is a land of cheap and plentiful labor.He's
not afraid to invest in labor-saving systems, because he
knows that's the only way to combat low prices."The only way that we can survive and this is the biggest investment the people who really believe in this industry have to make a change and automate their greenhouses," he
says."That means the system you have today, you have to change.Who's willing to take a couple of million and say, "I believe in the potted plant industry, and I'm willing to invest money in my greenhouse to automate so I can survive" Whoever does that will survive."But don't look for that investment to happen overnight at Rocket Farms
says they plan to stay small, stay quiet, watch the competition and evaluate the market.He's
patient and in no hurry to expand.