Interview with Patrick Vez
Patrick Vez is one of Anthura’s first growers and he still is our customer. He lives in Portugal with his wife and 6 children and owns a nursery there of 5,000m² filled with Anthurium cut flowers for the Portuguese market. More than 6,000 kilometres away, in the Dominican Republic, his other company is situated. With a total surface of 8 hectares of greenhouses and shade houses, Anthuriana Dominicana produces millions of plants and flowers every year. We spoke with Patrick about his company in the Caribbean, its history, the current situation and the future.
Can you briefly tell us something about the Dominican Republic? The Dominican Republic is situated in Central America, the main language is Spanish and the country has a population of 11 million people. The most important sector is tourism. Remarkable is the fact that a lot of Dominicans that live abroad support their family financially. They send all the money they can miss. This is a big source of income for many Dominicans.
How did Anthuriana Dominicana originate? As a grower of strawberries in Switzerland I rented the land and did not have the ability to buy it. There was no possibility to start something there: land was mostly not for sale or unavailable or it was too expensive. At the same time I am an adventurer, that loves challenges and new things. In 1986 the opportunity presented itself that I could go to the Dominican Republic and start something there. I visited this country several times in order to investigate how it all worked over there, before I moved. During that time, I still grew strawberries. After two years, in 1988, I decided to emigrate and invested USD 100,000 in the land and in the business ad started to grow Anthurium cut flowers. After a while I added Anthurium pot plants. The company name indicates it: Anthuriana Dominicana, Anthurium in the Dominican Republic.
From there on my business started to grow. Not because I am a very good grower and manager, but because I made the right decisions at the right time. Being awake and recognizing signs of change helped me with that. That is what makes a successful business as far as I am concerned.
At the start we exported all our cut flowers to the United States. At a certain moment I started to grow Poinsettia’s; in Puerto Rico they sold them on every corner, but nowhere in the Dominican Republic. Anthuriana Dominicana started to sell them locally, even though there are only 100,000 consumers that buy flowers and plants. This is a very small quantity compared to the 11 million inhabitants. However, the elite is very rich. They like to show what they have and spend a lot of money on flowers and plants, among other things.
What is the current structure of the company? I now sell all the plants in the Dominican Republic and a little bit in Haiti. We kept on investing and expanding and now we have about 700 products, among which Phalaenopsis pot plants, Anthurium pot plants and Bromeliaceae: our top 3 products. But we have much more. We also have succulents, cactus, palms, vandas, dendrobiums, calatheas, ficus, spatifillums, ferns, poinsettias, annuals etc. We have 200 employees, 6 nurseries at 6 different locations, sometimes a four hour drive from one to another. The structure is mainly that each greenhouse has its own task, for example for Phalaenopsis we grow one phase in one specific greenhouse and the next phase is on a farm more than 100 kilometres away.
There we also make flowering phalaenopsis and annual plants. Another greenhouse is situated in Tubagua Valley, a very touristic place in the north of the country where we grow all our cut flowers. We have one manager that manages more or less all six locations, he supervises them.
Before it was me that had to go there six times a year and manage my company the rest of the time from a distance, which results in accepting many Any Dutch manager would get a heart attack.
We have a lot of products that do not have the right quality because of the environment and because we do not have the Dutch techniques. In the next six months we will build a greenhouse with heating for phalaenopsis and a new location on the mountain for succulents and Anthurium pot plants. We sell 65% directly to retail and there is not much competition. We always try to get the best plants for them even if we do not have them ourselves. We are market leader in pot plants, especially flowering pot plants. Sales increases with 20% every year for already a long time. In our shop it is always busy, because people from all around the country come there. Our 30 employees do the best they can and deliver good service, that has resulted in an excellent reputation. We are also active on social media: Instagram and Facebook.
Why did you move from the Dominican Republic to Portugal? I lived next to one of my greenhouses, but I had to move to the city because of the school of the children. However, I am not a person that likes the city, so I was not happy with that. At that time it was also not as safe as it is now and the situation was a little bit boring… I wanted and needed a new challenge. I wanted to move to a country where I could live in nature, with a nice climate and good schools for my children nearby. Two of my children work in the company nowadays.
In my opinion the most important things are to be happy and try to help other people to be happy, besides your health. With regard to my business I also wanted to be happy: I really enjoy working with plants. I love to grow them and I also like to have happy employees and happy customers. If I would do it only for money, I would open a supermarket.
How do you arrange business operations from Portugal? My colleagues do the work and I do not interfere too much, it is their responsibility. When it concerns a big project, like the start of the cultivation of 6 cm phalaenopsis pot plants, I arrange a lot, from buying pots to arranging the planting, even though I am nearly retired. The same applies to construction projects, like a new greenhouse or starting up a new garden centre. I work mostly at night due to the time difference with the Caribbean.
Most of my work in Portugal is logistics. A shipment from the Netherlands to the Dominican Republic consists of 5 or 6 shipments that need to be combined to one. Luckily this is quite easy nowadays. I feel that my employees have to feel free to do their work the way they want to do it. I check when it is time to buy new greenhouses. Maria, my head of sales, is also very important. She manages all the sales, coordinates all the logistics and distribution and she manages our two garden centers.
Can you briefly describe the market in the Dominican Republic compared to the European market? The main difference is that we do not have suppliers. Garden centres cannot find good growers and suppliers. And that is our strength: our success is that we supply everything. If somebody opens a new supermarket, there is not much available, because we grow everything. When they buy from us, they can choose. A lot of people buy cut flowers and pot plants because of a certain situation, such as a wedding, party or funeral. For pot plants it is starting to change and people start to buy them as well, also in lower classes.
Florists make nothing in advance. They start making an arrangement or bouquet after an assignment that is payed. If I were an investor, I would make more shops. But I don’t feel like it, because I like to work with plants and not spending my time with paperwork. The opportunities in the Dominican Republic are definitely there…
What are the current trends? Plants and flowers are mostly for the rich here. They are a status symbol. Twenty-five years ago, rich people all lived in houses with huge gardens, so there were a lot of outdoor plants back then and their houses were always filled with flower bouquets. Nowadays nearly all the people live in modern apartments. Modern, so the trend here is black, white and glass and not so much colours. Therefore there is no necessity to fill the apartments with coloured plants. However, if they buy plants, they always order large quantities, like the hotels and restaurants. In this high class market, succulents and green plants are also popular. Dominican people are surprisingly aware of what happens in the world.
How do you respond to this with your company? Like in Europe, we cultivate more and more small plants with a small pot size. They can be used in these apartments. We also want to extend this category, because of the distribution to supermarkets. Big plants do not work in super markets.
What is the difference with the Netherlands in terms of production and sales? Anthuriana Dominicana has so many different products, around 700, and basic greenhouses. There is no high tech available, but we are investing now more than ever. Delivering 60% to retail and 30% to wholesale. All sales and distribution, retail and wholesale are made or organised from our garden centres with our own trucks.
How do you control the distribution of the plants? The complete logistics and transport starts in the city. We bring all our plants to the city and from there it goes everywhere. About 60% stays in our garden centres. Trucks are in front of our shops all the time and we deliver our plants to the same place for retail and wholesale.
What do your greenhouses look like? As I indicated earlier, our greenhouses are basic. We have 3 hectares of plastic greenhouses and 5 hectares of shade nets houses and we grow the plants by using mainly the natural conditions. Our greenhouses are simple because of the risk on hurricanes. Every five years there is at least one hurricane that destroys a lot. Our locations have a lot of difference in altitude, so we have many different climates for different crops, but also many different kind of plants in the same greenhouse. Considering this and the fact that we use low tech greenhouses and not the perfect climate for each plant, I would say we do a pretty good job.
How does Anthuriana Dominicana profiles itself on the market? Our company does not have a marketing strategy to profile ourselves. A lot of people know Anthuriana Dominicana and have one of our products in their shop or at home. Our good reputation precedes us. We are also very active on social media, mainly on Facebook and Instagram, the latter having 60,400 followers!
How do you see the future of Anthuriana Dominicana? Great, we are on the right track, investing more in technology, logistics and maybe we will open another garden centre. We are in a phase of growing. If there is an opportunity, we go for it. We sell beauty and pleasure. Human beings like beauty, even if it is not for use. Flowers are a part of this experience.
How do you experience the collaboration with Anthura? It feels like a partnership. I feel like that Marco (Knijnenburg) and Hans (Prins) care that our company is successful; they want to be sure that all is fine for us. Always available for advice and help, like with the 6 cm Phalaenopsis project when Anthura helped me with pots and advised me on the technical part. I really can trust them, they would never deliver a plant that they do not support. They take care for our product and it is not only about money. I wish I had more contact with the other people from Anthura, but I hope to get the chance next November with the FloraHolland Trade fair in Aalsmeer.
Actually, I am waiting for Anthura to offer more products, because I love all plants and flowers.