You must love your job if you drive 200 km to work early morning and back again several times a week in the evening. Marco Heijnen is the commercial manager of Dutch breeder Floricultura, and he is exactly where he wants to be. Let's meet the spider in the web that connects the threads between product development and marketing.
In case you did not realize it, Floricultura is truly a worldwide active breeder. Name a region anywhere on the planet, and they're represented by their own people (like in the US or Brazil), by agents, or by growers everywhere.
The commercial manager operates internationally along the lines of the company mission, whilst knowing the cultural differences between all these regions worldwide. It takes a globalist to perform this task, someone who speaks languages, and knows how to organize successful commercial activities that help the local growers produce the right varieties for the short and long haul.
"Six and a half years ago during an internship in Brazil. During that period I visited the modern nursery of Sítio Kolibri, which was my first encounter with a phalaenopsis grower. So, when I met Floricultura's CEO Ronald van Geest a little later, I was already impressed by the products his company was breeding. When Ronald asked me to join his Floricultura team, I said "yes."
I started as a trainee, investigating how to start up a branch in Brazil. In 2018 this branch was actually opened in Holambra. I then became an account manager and was promoted to become a commercial manager."
Being the Commercial Manager
Q: What is so fun about being the commercial manager at Floricultura?
"What I like most about my job, and why I drive the 200 km to the office with a smile, is that working with a living product here at Floricultura makes that no two days are the same. And I love working with people, especially from many different cultures."
Every company that is trading its goods or services needs somebody to translate the products to the company vision to commercialize the products. At breeder Floricultura Marco Heijnen is the connector who activates this breeder to the rest of the world. His opinion about doing business is that you have to know the country, the culture, the market, and the people:
"When I started in my job practically the first thing I did was visit all the customers that I was responsible for at that time. I believe that you can only do business when you know the person, the company, and the market.
I noticed that when growers are located in a region close to an auction - which is an easy way to sell - they tend to specialize more to one product group. This happens in countries like there Netherlands, and Brazil. In countries where there is no auction close by, like Australia, Colombia, or Mexico - and growers have to search more for their sales market - growers have a multitude of products. Amongst several other reasons to serve these latter growers, we started with Anthuriums in 2018, to broaden our market with these growers that we were visiting already anyway."
Besides the fact that a grower decides on his product assortment based on how easy and close his sales market is, there are more factors that make a grower successful. Floricultura supports its growers and their markets in many ways and takes the learnings from their own breeding as well as what they pick at growers to help other growers. Marco explains:
"With all the experience and knowledge we have, we understand markets and growing conditions worldwide. We know that a phalaenopsis can grow differently in every region of the world. So we inform and inspire growers to plant the right crop. How we do this? Well, Marketing Manager Marc Eijsackers and I came up with the idea of holding trials in Brazil, as 'Local Inspiration Days'. Showing locally grown products to local growers. Due to the big success in 2021, we repeated this annually, also in other countries, like the 'Mex Trials' in Mexico.
Next to that, we are able to inform growers about things we learn elsewhere, like particular diseases or funghi that can severely damage the plants, or various ways to perfect the phalaenopsis, or successful concepts from a grower that is applicable in another region as well. In the end, everyone gets better from this, also Floricultura."
The Market Changes
Relatively young as he is, 29 years old, and only working at Floricultura since 2016, Marco Heijnen has seen the markets change and adapt to new ways of living that created new demand. The job of Marco and the team of account managers is to explain what's happening to their growers. One perfect example is that the pot size is changing. Where bigger used to be better, now it seems smaller is smarter.
"In Brazil, pot size 15 cm used to be the standard for a long time. However, the consumer situation and behavior are changing. Globally, people live in smaller houses and don't have the space for big plants, whereas their income per capita increases. Another trend is that people rather buy several smaller plants rather than one big one.
The signs were there already back in 2012 when 12 cm pots were offered more and sales at the Holambra clock skyrocketed by a staggering 3,800 percent! Nowadays, most growers in Brazil have switched to 12 cm pots, added with 9 and 6 cm pots.
We notice this and then start making the calculations for our growers. What is the Return on Investment (ROI)? Yes, the revenue per plant will be lower, but with more plants per square meter and more plants in a tray, it is overall a good idea. The trend prognosis and the ROI convinced the growers to start with smaller pot sizes, which turned out to be great."
Floricultura is constantly working to find the next best phalaenopsis. This is not just about getting new colors, but also improving existing species.
Marco about their future varieties policy:
"For any breeder, innovation is paramount, looking into the future. This counts for both the existing colors and the undiscovered ones. We look for new hues like neon orange, lemon green, or firetruck red, those kinds of unique colors. At the same time, we want a better version of the standard white phalaenopsis. Growers need these future varieties to improve their own businesses as well, orchids that are perfected for their local situation."
Bottom line is that future varieties are necessary for any market, including horticulture. Innovation secures the future of companies. Constant improvement of the assortment brings the breeder, grower, trader, and florist to a higher level, from which everyone, including the consumer benefits.
What Is a Beautiful Phalaenopsis - Marco's Personal Taste
It's a personal and tricky question to ask the commercial manager of a phalaenopsis breeder. Is Marco a fan of the Lingua series, more Eccentrix, or into the Standard varieties? If you represent Floricultura, you have over 500 varieties in your portfolio, of which 200-300 can be commercialized, and every single one of these deserves equal attention. But, to keep it personal, everyone is allowed to have his own preferences when it comes to this orchid variety.
"It is often said that more stems means more money, but I prefer to look at the whole picture of a phalaenopsis. I think a phalaenopsis should be full of flowers; rather two stems filled with flowers than four with fewer each. Also, one stem with many branches can be beautiful.
I think very slowly we are moving away from the concept of a plant with one very long stem and flowers on top and going toward a more compact plant, like watching a wall of orchid flowers.
Although the white orchid is still the most popular, my personal taste goes more toward a nice color that you don't see every day, flowers with specks or color variations. My personal favorite is Phalaenopsis Safe Haven from the Flowerful series. This is a white one with a red lip and 100+ flowers and a lifespan of half a year.
I also like our Phalaenopsis Magic Art because of its special drawing. It's really one that you don't see very often. People visiting me at home are always totally surprised when they see this one, stunned by its beauty. You have to look a little harder to find beauties like these, but it's worth your while."
The Dilemma of Plants vs. Cut Flowers
Why should a florist or a consumer buy a phalaenopsis orchid with so many choices in horticultural products? Here is where an interesting point of view emerges from Marco. He makes a direct link to the current awareness of sustainability and the environment and the choice of buying plants vs. cut flowers.:
"I believe with a plant you get more value for money than with a bouquet of flowers. I agree that a bouquet is just lovely. But I am still surprised nevertheless that people spend without any problem 25 euros for a bouquet of cut flowers that stands beautifully for two weeks and then disappears into the bin. And it takes another 25 euros to have nice flowers in the house again.
What if you would invest perhaps 15 or 20 euros in a beautiful phalaenopsis once, and be able to enjoy this for three, four, some even seven months? These orchids are still often thought of as old-fashioned, but just look at the varieties and colors. One phalaenopsis can be the showpiece of your flower shop, office, or living room."
And why not? Marco calls out to all flower lovers to try a phalaenopsis, if it were for just once, and be convinced of its presentability, durability, and value for money. Basically, you can never go wrong here. Have fun picking the color of your dreams within the huge palette of these cute orchid plants.