History Of Reynolds' Greenhouses
The following article appeared in Wal-Mart Shareholders Edition of The Benton County Daily Record on June 1, 2001.
The History of Reynolds' Greenhouses
By Robert Reynolds
My grandfather, Lee Reynolds was listed in The Record, published by the Arkansas Historical Society, as operating a dairy located at Malvern and South Cedar Streets in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The dairy was located along what is now Hollywood Lane. The old Reynolds' house was situated in a sharp curve on Hollywood Lane next to where Shults' Greenhouse is located today. The house was torn down recently when Hollywood Lane was widened, because of increased traffic associated with AMI Hospital, which stands where the pasture was. It might be interesting to note that part of the old dairy barn still exists and can be seen today. The House of Flowers renovated the old dairy barn and turned it into a flower shop, giving it a rustic look.
My father, Aubrey E. Reynolds, grew up on the dairy. When we were growing up, he told us many interesting stories about his experience growing up on a working farm. It wasn't always easy, especially when he became a teenager and was old enough to drive the delivery truck on the milk route. It was up early enough in the morning to help milk the cows and then load the milk truck for delivery to customers. Then it was back home, get dressed, and off to school. These stories built within me a good work ethic and were reinforced when I entered the job market.
Fortunately for us, Reynolds' Greenhouses are automated so that we don't have to get up in the morning at four o-clock to begin our work. We do get a taste of longer hours during our busy season, when we are processing orders and shipping plants all over the state of Arkansas. These are long, hard-working, busy days during the spring bedding plant season.
Dad also told us about our great-grandfather, Peter LePatourel, who established the first commercial greenhouse operation in Hot Springs, Arkansas during the mid 1880s. It was located between Oaklawn and Henderson Streets across from present-day Oaklawn School. Peter was from the Isle of Gurnsey and built several glass greenhouses after moving to Hot Springs. My dad, as a boy, visited the greenhouses often and remembered that they were heated with a steam boiler. Pipes were run through benches filled was soil, which provided heat to keep the soil temperature just right for growing fresh vegetable crops year-round for use at the local hotels. The greenhouses were built to utilize natural ventilation, which cooled them by venting heat through vents that opened and closed.
I have always been interested in growing plants and perhaps the idea of a greenhouse operation was instilled in me as I was growing up listening to the stories told by my dad.
My late wife, Bonnie, and myself started Reynolds' Greenhouses in 1976 growing peppers and tomatoes to sell to local garden centers and discount stores. We had very little experience in horticulture but were interested in gardening and had grown vegetable transplants successfully in cold frames for personal use. We had a small accumulation of capital amounting to 1200 dollars. With this small investment we purchased a greenhouse from Clover Gardens, which was 12ft by 48ft long. We didn't have the money to purchase supplies of seed, soil and plastic inserts to plant in.
Bonnie's mother, Adell Standiford, graciously loaned us five hundred dollars to stock our greenhouse, and without this small investment, Reynolds' Greenhouses wouldn't be here today. It might be interesting to note that our mutual interests laid the foundation for the present operation of over 36 greenhouses and a large outside area devoted to growing hardy annuals.
Today my wife, Deborah, son Shane Reynolds, and his wife Lisa operate and employ 20 persons to run the greenhouses and production areas. We grow a large selection of spring annuals such as geraniums, impatience, petunias, marigolds and many more varieties, which are planted in containers ranging from six packs to 10-inch hanging baskets, color bowls, 6-in. and 5-in. annuals. In the fall, we grow pansies in about 65 colors and varieties. When ready for harvesting, plants are loaded onto shipping carts and delivered directly to customers.
During our first year of operation, we filled the little greenhouse with tomatoes and pepper plants. We had some vague notion in the back of our minds that we would be able to sale all the plants retail from the greenhouse. With no marketing strategy in place, we waited for the customers to appear, remember the movie Field of Dreams, and we waited while our plants grew. This was a valuable lesson for us; we learned that perishables grown in greenhouses could become non-saleable if they're not sold in a timely manner. The anxiety of waiting became unbearable and I had to act quickly. We had an old pickup truck, which we were using to transport supplies to the greenhouse. I built some plant racks which I attached to the bed of the truck and covered the racks with a canvas tarp. After I completed the work, I loaded up all the tomato and pepper plants that I could get on the truck, hoping to peddle the product to garden centers. There was a local Wal-Mart Store located in Malvern, Arkansas about 16 miles east of Hot Springs and I headed in that direction. I went in and asked for the manager of the store. I invited him to look at the plants, which he said, "He would be glad to do". After looking he said, "I think I can sell all these for you. Just unload the plants in front of the store and line them up where the customers can see them. I know they will sell." This was one of my first sales and I learned a valuable lesson that day, retail discounts chains can sell large quantities of merchandise. This was back in the old days when we peddled product to the stores.
Marketing has evolved dramatically since the business began in 1976. During the early years, routes were established to sell retail florist. Pot chrysanthemums, poinsettias, gloxinias and other floral crops were sold to retail florists and garden centers. Inventories were sold directly from the route trucks. After my first wife, Bonnie died in 1984; I discontinued the floral routes and stopped growing for retail florists.
By the spring of 1985 I decided to change over to bedding plant. This segment of the industry was growing and becoming more profitable; Reynolds' Greenhouses converted all production to flowering annuals that year. The change would prove to be the right decision. As our market share grew, more business was done with major chains, and Wal-Mart played a significant role in our expansion.
Reynolds' Greenhouses now market two ways; pre-selling part of crops to chains and faxing availability sheets to customers, which generate purchase orders. Computers play a major role in marketing strategy. I married Deborah in October 1985, and she became interested in the business, serving as our office manager. She utilizes the computer system EDI to receive purchase orders and send acknowledgments and invoices. She is the site administer of retail link, which is used to stay in touch with Wal-Mart through the Internet. It tracks sell-thru and markdowns on store level, by district or by region and is an important tool in Wal-Mart's strategy to stay ahead of the competition.
I remember sometime during this period, possibly the latter part of the '80s; I was visiting the Benton Wal-Mart Store. Fortunately for me my timing was just right, Sam Walton was visiting the store and I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Walton and talk to him. Sam was a celebrity creating quite a stir and everyone wanted a chance to visit with him, both customers and associates of Wal-Mart. I remember an old codger dressed in bib overalls came up to Sam and said, "Where have you been Sam? I haven't seen you here at the store lately." This was said in such manner implying that Mr. Walton should be there more often. After he left, Sam turned to Mr. Henry, the manager of the store and said, "I believe that fellow must be one of our stockholders." Mr. Henry and his assistant manager, Robert Cox, laughed at his reply; Sam had a good sense of humor.
I had the privilege of briefly talking to him and told them that Reynolds' Greenhouses had furnished the flowering annuals out in front of the store. Sam told me that Wal-Mart didn't know as much as they should about the plant business, but they were trying to learn more about running a garden center in the future. His comments impressed me, because from that point I decided while visiting the stores I would try to take time to talk to associates and department managers on how important it was to water the plants in order to keep the plants alive. I sensed he was trying to say that the vendor partnership relationship with Wal-Mart was one of learning together. Wal-Mart has come a long ways in the garden center business since then. All the new super centers that have been build are equipped with permanent installations to house plants and nursery stock, with greenhouse roofs to protect the plants from troublesome storms.
In 1999 the Reynolds Family received the honor of being named 1999 Garland County Farm Family of the Year, which we considered a highlight of our contribution to agriculture. This program is sponsored by Entergy, the Arkansas Press Association in cooperation with the Farm Bureau, Cooperative Extension Service, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, and Arkansas Department of Workforce Education, which worked together to develop this program each year.
The Arkansas Farm Family of the Year was started in 1947 and serves as a vehicle to recognize out standing farm families throughout the state. The object of the program is to give recognition and encouragement to farm families who are doing an outstanding job in farming, community leadership, and home making. It is designed to disseminate information on improved farm practices and home management. We thank the sponsors of the Farm Family of the year, all are wonderful customers, and those associated Reynolds' Greenhouses in helping to make our business possible.
Robert E. Reynolds
192 Crabtree Road
Hot Springs, AR 71913
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