Focus and family are the nature of the flower growing business for Cromwell Growers, one of The Home Depot’s exclusive growers. Cromwell Growers is part of The Home Depot’s network of 150 growers throughout the country that deliver locally grown flowers to Home Depot Garden Centers.
Focus is important because the New England spring gardening season is very short. “It comes in fast, and leaves just as fast,” says Ed Bartolotta, president and CEO of the family-owned business.
A Family-Owned Business
Bartolotta is the second generation in the horticulture business; his father had a small growing operation. And today, he and the next generation run the family business. Ed’s son Ryan is the executive vice president of operations, and daughter Jessica, serves as the vice president of merchandising.
The family business, taking its name from its hometown of Cromwell, Conn., started out small in 1995. In its partnership with The Home Depot, Cromwell Growers now services 55 Garden Centers in four New England states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, supplying annuals in spring, mums in fall and poinsettias at Christmas. Cromwell is south of Hartford, and about a two hours’ drive from New York City and Boston.
Getting Ready for Spring
In spring, Cromwell Growers produces annuals like impatiens, begonias, geraniums and other bedding plants under the Proven Winners, Vigoro, Wave and Drop n Decorate labels to be sold in their local stores. Hanging baskets are also popular.
“We deliver plants every single day from April to June,” Bartolatta says. For the five busiest weeks of the season, from late April to the first of June, the greenhouse is busy every day of the week. Cromwell has 150 employees year-round, and ranks swell in peak season with an additional 75 workers to help get the plants from the nursery to the stores and then to the customers.
The season kicks off with Spring Black Friday, with sales on mulch and garden soil helping gardeners get started on their projects. The shoppers return each week for more annuals, perennials and shrubs for their patios, porches, decks and landscapes.
Commitment to The Home Depot
Although they’re independently owned, Cromwell Growers employees proudly “bleed orange,” just like the orange-aproned associates in stores. “We treat our Home Depot stores just like our own business,” Bartolotta says, delivering fresh, high-quality plants, watering and pruning them, and talking with customers about plant care after they are home.
“Merchandising is as important to us as the product we grow,” Bartolotta says. “Educating the customer is part of the job.”
Cromwell Growers employs a merchandising team of seven district managers and 80 to 90 managers and merchandisers to keep the product looking its best in store. Merchandisers are responsible for displays, watering the plants and keeping the flowers looking their best.
They take merchandiser training to a new level with a mock Garden Center display at the greenhouse, with stock benches and tables. “We need to know how the product performs for the customer,” he says.
Sustainability and Growth
Keeping up a nursery operation requires more than just growing plants and marketing skills. Maintaining sustainability for the environment and for the business, are important, too. To that end, like a lot of growers, Cromwell recycles plastics like nursery containers.
They’ve also added a machine shop to manufacture and repair the growers’ carts that transport the plants from greenhouse to truck to store. “Our goal is always self-sufficiency,” Bartolotta says.
Following industry trends, Cromwell Growers does not use neonicotinoids, insecticides known as neonics. Just about all plants sold by The Home Depot are produced without neonics. In Bartolotta’s experience, having rigorous standards and keeping the greenhouses meticulously clean prevents the need for insecticides. The air flow from an open roof greenhouse helps, as well.
“If you control the climate and keep everything clean, you will not have problems,” he says.
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