Shlomo Danieli, Blooming of Beloit, Beloit, Wisconsin

“What are the differences between a flower importing business and a flower growing business? Which do you prefer and why do you prefer it?” I asked Shlomo Danieli, who worked for eleven years (1969-1980) for cut flower importer Carmel/Agrexco as their marketing manager and then started his own importing company, S.D. Trading, running it until 1996, before venturing into specialty cut flower growing.
    
“By far, growing and marketing is a larger challenge than just marketing. It is harder; but then, the satisfaction is much higher. It is far less profitable, but who among us is really just doing this for the money anyway?…. I love what I am doing. I have almost full control of the product, aside from our ‘beloved God factors’. I control all aspects and I cannot blame anybody else for any mistakes.”
    
That remark about “beloved God factors” returned to my mind as I viewed Shlomo’s farm from The Cut Flower Quarterly’s executive helicopter.  Seen from above, the Blooming of Beloit farm looks like a huge open prayer book: a ninety-five acre rectangle sloping gently from the north and south borders into a draw that runs through the middle from east to west (or possibly west to east; I got a little confused what with the heavy intracranial cloud cover).    

Illinois by Way of Israel

Blooming of Beloit farm is located in Beloit, Wisconsin, just about 90 miles northwest of Chicago, about 40 miles south of Madison about 60 miles east of Milwaukee and a half dozen beverage services west of the Oberlin helipad. By the way, the ASCFG helicopter needs a restroom; I nearly froze an appendage off over Kalamazoo. If the board could attend to this before my next assignment…
    
Shlomo himself lives in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb just north of Chicago, and commutes to the farm.  He came to specialty cut flower growing by a far more “logical” route than most us.  He was actually educated for this calling. “In 1971, I finished my master’s studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Floriculture and Agricultural.”
    
Why would an educated and successful importer of cut flowers choose to become a grower? “As an importer I realized that there is a need in the industry here in the U.S.A. for certain lines of product that, if you grew them here in the U.S.A., you would enjoy certain advantages.”  

Was he referring to financial advantages, I wondered?
    
“It is fun, interesting, challenging, very, very hard and frustrating and I am not always getting the answers that I like to get, but nothing is perfect and as a third entrepreneurial project in my life, it was a change for the good.”
    
I asked him to give us examples of what he found frustrating. “Our major problems are controlling diseases and pests and the constant fight for weed control. Our biggest losses are attributable to these factors [our beloved God factors?]. Verticillium is a soil-borne disease that eliminates a large portion of what we like to grow. Pseudomonas in lilac, mock orange and viburnum can reduce production to ZERO! When you grow a top grade product marketing become the easiest part of the job.”

Achillea to Zinnia, and Practically Everything in Between

As listed on his website, www.da-sh.com, Shlomo grows the following. “During fall and winter assorted twigs such dogwood, curly willow and later on yellow flowers of forsythia, blooming Prunus, fantail willow and pussy willow (black and French).”
    
“When Spring comes, nature provides us with over 15 varieties of lilacs, viburnum, hydrangeas and spiraea. We produce a multitude of berries that provides the floral industry with an additional dimension of ornamental colors. The list includes: crabapple berry, purple Viburnum dentatum, red Viburnum opulus, red and rust colored rosehips, white and pink snowberry, pink euonymus, black and red aronia, orange and gold bittersweet, and red winterberry. Annuals include amaranthus in red, green and orange, French tulips, sunflowers and zinnias. In our bulb selection, we grow five varieties of allium, five varieties of eremerus, and peonies.”
    
Why do you grow these particular crops, Shlomo? “From a marketing point of view we tried to find what we could grow in Wisconsin that will allow us to have advantages over any other sources, such as imports, California and even vs. the northwest growers. Our advantages include weather conditions, time of production and closeness to marketplace.”
    
I think it is commendable that Shlomo considers the weather in Beloit, Wisconsin, an advantage; don’t you?
    
Earlier I had asked him what USDA zone his farm was in and what that meant in terms of weather. “We’re in Zone 4b. In the last five years we have had five different types of winter, spring and summer.” Shlomo is displaying a level of optimism here that is consistent with the spirit of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
    
As to the ASCFG, Shlomo said that it provides Blooming of Beloit “the personal contact with the grower members who share the same problems that we are facing from growing to marketing. Bear in mind that our local extension office and the local university have very limited knowledge, or even any ideas, about more than half of our problems or needs from the plants. I can still see the looks on the faces of the staff members, when I told them and showed them that we grow crabapple for its ornamental decorative berries, and Cornus for its ornamental appearance in the twig stage. To my regret there is no knowledge that we know about any practical application for what we are looking from our ornamentals.”
    
Where do you market your flowers? “We sale wholesale and ship locally and all over the country from the top of the northeast to the bottom of the southwest, by local delivery, cargo trucking and air.”  How did that evolve? “From the customer base that I developed in the last 20 years doing business with the wholesalers in the USA.”
    
What would you say is good and what is bad about your market? “Wholesalers are professional: they recognize what it is we deliver and can compare it to others; they look for certain standards.  The fact that we ship all over the country lets me have the possibility to offer different climate market “un-seasonal” flowers. But like all other markets there is a wide spectrum of clients starting with the ones who only look at price and then going across that spectrum to those who look for top quality and prices are in second place. Generally speaking, selling flowers over the phone to a wholesaler, week after week, is a challenge to both parties. Your customer must learn of the products that you offer, must trust your word, and be willing to assume some of the risk himself, taking unexpected surprises in stride, and then continuing to work with you again and again. And you must show, through repeated deliveries, that your quality earns that trust.
    
“It is like a day and night difference from selling to the public at an open farmer market.  My instinct feeling is that if I delivered to the wholesaler flowers such as those that I have seen come to the farmers’ markets; I’d be out of business in four weeks. The demand from the wholesaler is by far the more challenging and requires a certain amount of ‘investment’ of added value, to be sure that, week after week, you will have the same quality and grading.”
    
The following is a quote from Shlomo’s web page: “The ‘marketing law of merchandising’ dictates that during your best potential sales day (“flower-holiday”), you offer to your clients the highest quality product for the best available price. In our industry, we use our best potential marketing day to push away our best customers by raising prices and by providing them with the worst quality of flowers (mostly offering old flowers) partially because of poor marketing imagination.”
    
Let me play devil’s advocate here: the prices for flowers during Valentine’s Day (in particular) are higher because February 14th has traditionally been a very out-of-season time for cut flowers. Domestic rose growers must pump the heat to their greenhouses in order to produce any roses at all, let alone nice ones. Why have those who import South American roses, particularly the Miami companies, also asked for high prices at Valentines, even though their production prices remain the same year around? I don’t know. I have long thought that it would be better to discourage flower purchases at Valentines Day than to sell poorer quality flowers for exorbitant prices. Mother’s Day is the biggest flower holiday; it comes when production is adequate, and so far as I know, there is not much price gouging for that holiday. What do you think?
    
Shlomo: “There are many alternatives and options. For sure, we are missing in the United States the main factor that every other producer has all over the world, namely, a producer organization that has an direct interest and impact on the marketing of its own product, a body that runs promotions, gives marketing direction and help with policy advice to legislators, etc. We have so many differing fractions pulling each to his own corner, not seeing the whole picture from the ‘total market’ point of view. Look at the wire services for example, they promote in their holiday arrangements red mini carnation for Christmas or Valentine’s. There is no way to even describe the foolishness of that: promoting an item that constitutes only about 5% of all miniature carnation production available or red roses for Valentine’s! Why not colored roses? What they do is forcing growers to store flowers for weeks to meet demand, that what they do! You have to promote the weaker demand items not those that everybody’s looking for anyway.
    
“There are so many good ways to try to work it out correctly. If we just reached the consumption levels of the European countries, there would not be enough flowers here and overseas together to cover the demand.
    
“And by the way, Will, your idea about selling ‘teddy bears’ during Valentine’s instead of 21-days-old red roses for $69.00 per dozen is a very healthy one as long as it is part of a general policy of marketing for the rest of the 51 weeks of the year.”
    
With passion and keened interest like this I wondered why he had sold S.D. Trading and if he’s still handling imports. “After being in the business for almost 25 years and after I reached my entire business “dreams” in America and proved to myself that ‘yes, you can do it’ financially and intellectually, I decided that it was time to change my direction in life. I started to study history, (and to develop the “Nature Color Catalog” a tool that came to eliminate color confusion between all the segments or our industry) which I loved as much as I loved flowers. So I looked to sell the business so I’d have the time to study. I met a guy by chance through his family, trained him for a year and left him a gold mine that is still doing very well today, by following the ‘right rules’ of the industry: i.e., quality and service pay!”
    
As to importation: “Yes, in a certain aspect of it. Due to the fact that we sell to wholesalers, we need to be a steady and reliable source of product all the time and not just a “seasonal butterfly”, so based on that concept we developed a specialty cut flowers line of imports that supports our operation so that for 52 weeks so we can offer our wholesalers specialty cut flowers. We provide them, for example, with 7 months of peonies, 5 months of eremerus, 7 months of aconitum, etc.”
    
As the pilot lifted off, and I looked down upon Shlomo’s fertile prayer book, I wondered to myself, “When does he find time to study history?”