Maddux Business Report
Growth Strategies For Business
A Blossoming Buisness
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From the October 2006 Edition
Robert Yaniz Jr., Staff Writer
Craig Roth knew in high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. So much, in fact, that he didnt wait to finish school before starting a lawn-service business, employing 10 by the time he graduated. And college, who needs it? Not when youre able to transform a putt-putt lawn service into a significant nursery supplying flowers and plants to the big boys like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Twenty years out of school, Roth is president of his rapidly expanding Sunshine Growers Inc. What business acumen he developed in managing a 60-employee operation has been on the grow, so to speak.
That's the kind of leader Craig Roth is, says longtime friend and colleague Dennis Harrison, president of Sunshine Interiors. In high school, he was in DCT. Diversified Corporate Training permits a student to attend school part-time while working.
Highlands Lawn Service, which Roth co-founded in high school with his brother Scott and friend Shane Weaver, achieved instant success, and as the trio developed their skills, their endeavor expanded to include additional duties, such as growing flowers.
In 1986, the young men banded together to purchase a 60,000-square-foot property, formerly known as the Jack Bailey Flower Farm, in the hopes of starting a business cultivating flowers. That's when Roth established the Lakeland-based Sunshine Growers Inc. (www.sunshinegrowersinc.com), which has since expanded to include locations in Plant City and Fort Meade.
Right from the outset, Roth was keen on establishing connections with prospective clients, and this ambition was soon realized as Sunshine Growers acquired two of its first major customers: Wal-Mart and Publix.
In the beginning, we were very small, and we didnt have a lot to offer, says the 39-year-old Roth. Wal-Mart and Publix were very willing to give us a chance. I think it was more our relationship with people that got us in the door because there's a lot of people out there pushing products. But I think we have some of the best long-term relationships with all of our customers.
Roth says Sunshine Growers earned Wal-Marts attention, not because of its accomplishments but its promise. Although Roth and company were still relative newcomers to the business, he says their dedication, product quality and organization persuaded Wal-Mart to carry the companys products. At the time, Wal-Mart was new in the area, and Sunshine Growers resolutely pursued its business. By forging relationships early on, Roth was given the opportunity to attend a district meeting, leading to the creation of his firm's partnership with Wal-Mart.
While the deal with Wal-Mart was a coup in the early years for Sunshine Growers, it also posed a major challenge to Roth. This new client instigated Sunshine Growers first expansion, as it was compelled to accommodate the needs of the mammoth retailer. Driven by increasing demand, the company has gradually enhanced its product line.
From its initial service of a handful of Wal-Mart stores, Sunshine Growers now distributes plants to approximately 250 of its garden centers and SuperCenters in Florida and Georgia as well as to 250 Publix stores on a weekly basis.
This hefty figure is due in large part, says Roth, to the fact that Sunshine Growers is allowed to use Wal-Marts own distribution centers. This gives the company the ability to supply a number of stores while only traveling a fraction of the distance. Also, as Wal-Mart has developed into the most prominent retailer in the nation, Sunshine Growers has been able to acquire additional distribution points, including the Wal-Mart-affiliated Sams Club.
That growth has benefited Roths company. As a result of increased sales, we have expanded our facilities and our management team, he says.
What's more, by traveling to the various Wal-Mart stores, Sunshine Growers has secured other clients in proximity to its Wal-Mart customers. What we're trying to do is go to fewer stores and deliver more products at one time," Roth explains.
In this way, Sunshine Growers has grown remarkably. For example, just five years ago, the company was serving 40 Wal-Mart SuperCenters, and now it supplies 120 of them. In its first year of business, the company managed to earn a respectable $352,000 in sales, even with a small staff of eight. Now, Sunshine Growers has about 60 employees, has delivered over 1.5-million plants in the past year and has added Home Depot to its impressive client roster. In 2005, the company's revenues were $5 million, with up to 95 percent of its business coming from its high-profile customers.