Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Robert Kitayama - Greenhouse Grower Interview

Robert Kitayama: Big-Picture Perspective

What's going on at Kitayama Brothers, number 54 on the Top 100 Growers list.

Cut flower grower Kitayama Brothers topped our Top 100 Growers List for six straight years from 1990 to 1996, reaching 5.1 million square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse space across six locations during its peak in the mid-’90s.

Kitayama Brothers is still a Top 100 Grower in 2012, holdingg the 54th position with 1.3 million square feet. But because B and H Flowers recently moved out of a Kitayama-owned glass greenhouse facility, Kitayama Brothers expanded into the 189,000-square-foot range. Kitayama planned to add another 125,000 square feet of greenhouse space for cut flowers last month, as well, and it may expand by another 150,000 square feet this fall.

Kitayama may never return to the 5 million-square-foot mark, but its president, Robert Kitayama, is excited about new opportunities the business is creating for itself in the cut flower market. GG recently caught up with Kitayama to discuss these opportunities and reflect on the glory days of California cut flower production.

GG: Take us back to the days when Kitayama Brothers was the largest greenhouse grower in the United States. What factors led to the slide of cut flower growers like Kitayama, and how did the business manage to sustain itself for many of those years?

RK: For a lot of years we wondered if we were going to be able to sustain the business. The shareholders, wise or otherwise, were committed to the flower business. One thing we didn’t do at that time was put a whole bunch of money back into the business, but we did make huge transitions because we used to be 100 percent cut roses.

When Kitayama Brothers started more than 60 years ago, we were carnation growers. When South American carnations came onto the scene, we migrated into cut roses. We did the same thing when South American roses came onto the scene. Our last transitions happened in the mid-1990s, transitioning from a ground rose to a hydroponic rose. Then we diversified into more crops like lilies, gerberas and snapdragons. In the ‘90s, a combination of getting by with new flowers and leasing sustained us when probably more than 50 percent of the cut flower growers in Northern California closed.

GG: What adjustments are Kitayama Brothers making these days to reposition its cut flower business for success?

RK: In the last few years, our business needed help in sales and marketing. We purchased a brokerage company, G.E. Moore Flower Company, because they had expertise selling outside product. In 2009, sales went down as a result of the recession. At that time, Ginger and Winston [Moore] wanted to sell their company and move on. They gave their staff and sales people an opportunity to work with Kitayama, and immediately we had a very good year in 2010.

I came in less than two years ago, and the thing I really wanted to work on was reinvesting in our facilities. Most of our competition had not reinvested in their facilities, and we decided this was an opportunity for us. Additionally, in August, B and H Flowers declared bankruptcy. So we moved back into growing in the greenhouses we were leasing at that time. Since then, I’ve hired a new person to start a mass market division. We sell to a lot of bouquet makers and small stores. But with this added production, I think we can go after some of the grocery store chains. I’m optimistic we can be as profitable as we were in those days – there were times we sold a lot of flowers, and I’m not sure how we took a lot to the bank.

See the original post on the Greenhouse Grower blog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

KB supports Amgen Cycling Race

Happy winners with bouquets. See
race-live/photos.html for more event photos.
Kitayama Brothers supports several local community events.  A special event this year was the second stage of the Amgen Tour which ended at Cabrillo College in Aptos.  Kitayama Brothers sponsored the bouquets this year and were proud to be part of this special event. Amgen Tour of California Cycling Race came to Santa Cruz County, on Monday May 14, 2012.  Stage 2 Started in San Francisco and ended at the Cabrillo College campus in Aptos, about 10 miles from our greenhouse.  Last year 18 of the finest race teams in the world came to California to compete in the 8 Stages that cover northern and southern California.

We live and work in Santa Cruz County and it’s a wonderful place to live, a great place to grow flowers, and it’s a great place to bike.  Our good weather, beautiful scenery, and terrain that spans mountains and beaches, attracts a huge number of road bikers and mountain bikers, so it is fitting that the Tour de California passes through Santa Cruz.  And for us at KB it is great that the race comes through the day after Mothers Day, we can relax and watch the race.

Robert and I both mountain bike and appreciate the training and determination these professional road racers must have.  So we are very excited and honored that Kitayama Brothers will provide flowers for this event. 

Stuart Kitayama

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kitayama Cup and Open House

Please join us for our annual open house featuring greenhouse tours, a farmer's market, wine tasting and the Kitayama Cup Floral Design Competition. Please check out our event web page for current info and contest guidelines.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mother's Day Harvest at KB

Here is a Mothers Day video update from Kitayama Bros.  We have come in with a big crop of lilies, gerberas, snaps, lisianthus etc for this holiday.  We were a little nervous about being able to sell it all but the market has been good.  Thank you to those who have ordered.   We still have some product so please call ASAP if you need to reserve anything still for this holiday. Happy selling..