This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Greenhouse Grower magazine.
By: Brian Sparks
Brian and Joe Vitale’s father, Dan, first started growing succulents in New Jersey in the 1970s, selling them primarily to garden centers. After each brother went to college, and then got jobs in the corporate world, they eventually looked back to their roots, realized the growing opportunities in the succulent market, and decided it was time to get back in the game.
When the two of them decided to carry on the family legacy of supplying succulents and cacti to consumers in New Jersey and the surrounding area, they certainly gave their new company a fitting name: ArizonaEast. However, since founding the company in 2005, they have rapidly expanded on this mission, and now find themselves venturing into new geographies and new markets, learning a lot along the way.
When they launched ArizonaEast, their immediate goal was to diversify their customer base.
“Over the last couple decades, a lot has changed in the garden center market,” says Brian Vitale, who handles much of the business management/strategy side of the company. “We saw supermarket and box-store chains getting more involved in the floral end of their business, which meant an opportunity to help us isolate our risk.”
The early returns were very successful.
“We managed to get new customers and diversify, and we also do a better job for the garden center customers we already had,” Brian says. “It’s helped both sides of our business.”
As it turns out, luck was on their side, as well.
“For the first 30 years that our dad was in business, succulents were still trying to find their way,” Brian says. “The market has caught on now, and we’re happy to have the built-in, hands-on experience. It’s paved the way for our growth.”
Taking Advantage Of A New Opportunity
This past October, the Vitale brothers made perhaps an even bigger move when they opened a second facility in Apopka, FL. According to Brian, there were three primary reasons they had for opening the new facility:
• A better growing environment. “There have always been a few succulent species such as euphorbias that just don’t do well in New Jersey,” Brian says. “We’ve retrofitted a few of our greenhouses to get by with that over the years, but ultimately this was a move for us to try and grow these plants in an environment where they actually do well on their own.” He says that taking advantage of Florida’s warm, humid environment, and particularly its milder nighttime temperatures, should help the company extend its plant offerings.
• Direct shipping and delivery to Southern markets. “We recently started pushing in to the South and Southeast markets, and we see the Apopka facility as a good opportunity for us down the road as a second ship point so we are producing product in both locations rather than sending them down from New Jersey,” Brian says. “It also gives us a nice selling point for customers down there who want to buy local. They can buy from us and still achieve that goal.”
• Apopka offered an opportunity for a new location, leased at a reasonable price. According to Brian, industry consolidation and the recession in the mid-2000s knocked many smaller growers out of the market, which led to a huge amount of available greenhouse space.
“We were impressed at the cost differences, per square foot, of operating in New Jersey and other parts of Florida versus in Apopka,” Brian says.
The new facility features 110,000 square feet of gutter-connected greenhouse space, which more than doubles ArizonaEast’s 75,000 square feet of hoop houses in New Jersey.
To continue reading this article, please click here.