How did Sunland Nursery get started?
It was 66 years ago that my parents started a retail nursery business in Santa Fe. For many years we relied on outside suppliers, receiving plants from different states at different times and always with a degree of uncertainty as to availability and delivery schedules. That dependence became more critical as the business grew. In the late ‘90s I took advantage of an opportunity to buy a wholesale nursery operation near Las Cruces, which would become Sunland Nursery. It was a good decision as our retail operation is a good customer for Sunland and we can count on a dependable supply. It allows us to produce plants that are typically hard to find.
What is your market niche?
We grow plants that are exceptionally hardy for southwestern and intermountain environments. Because our climate is very dry, yet with enough cold temperatures, we have few problems with diseases. We specialize in a large variety of Zone 4 plants, including many native species. We’re experiencing solid growth in our native plant sales and even get requests for natives that aren’t yet ready for commercial production. Colorado is our largest market due to the number of businesses that use our plants and the fact that our plants have proven well adapted for Colorado’s tough climate. We also sell to independents in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Utah.
What are some of your most popular plants?
It’s interesting that our product mix today has come full circle to what it was 20 years ago. Plants like upright junipers and pyracantha are doing very well for us now, even though some years back they weren’t very popular. We’re also seeing strong sales in anything that has color, like our perennials, roses and flowering shrubs. Our container plants are evolving to include more than just annuals—we’re seeing increased demand for perennials, evergreens and flowering shrubs. Of course, our native plants have always been strong and continue to sell well.
How are you dealing with a tight labor market?
We used to have a sizeable labor pool that mostly came from Mexico. Since that source has all but dried up, we focus on keeping our existing labor as long as possible. To do that, we’ve increased their wages and provided year-round employment. Currently we have about 40 full time people and treat them like family. Although this approach has probably impacted our bottom line to some degree, it is working for us and we have less turnover as a result. Plus, each year we build an increasingly experienced and capable staff.
What advice would you give to CNGA members?
My best advice would be: Participate. From ProGreen, where you can meet numerous suppliers all in one place at one time, to the Owners & Managers Leadership Retreat, I urge all members to get out and get to know your fellow members. They are always willing to share their experiences, and as a result, you can learn how to avoid mistakes that they’ve already made. That can be a big advantage to any business owner. If you’re not participating in the CNGA community, simply put, I think you’re making a huge mistake!
Sunland Nursery Company
P.O. Box 999
Mesilla Park, N.M. 88047