Sales are blooming again at Bachman’s.
Along with the flowers. The family-owned florist and landscaping business has had to hoe a long row since sales bottomed during the Great Recession of 2007-09.
CEO Dale Bachman said a leaner Bachman’s is “working our way back to pre-recession revenue” that peaked at $81 million in 2005.
“We had some losses during the recession, but we have been growing since we bottomed out in 2010, and we are profitable,” Bachman said of the company, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary. “Is there a plan to do better? Yes. And it’s just good to be growing again.”
The recession, driven by the housing industry collapse, contracted new-household formation and related landscaping spending. It also left owners of depreciated homes shaken, unwilling to reinvest in home improvements, design and landscaping.
Bachman’s shed employees through attrition and downsizing marginal businesses.
Some say that one-third or more of independent florists and garden centers closed or sold out nationally. The list includes 1910-vintage Linder’s Garden Center of St. Paul, which closed in 2013.
Terri McEnaney, president of Bailey Nurseries of St. Paul, a supplier to Bachman’s and others, said the recession was tough on a plant-and-flower industry that already is risky, thanks to the vagaries of weather and growing season issues, as well as being a labor- and capital-intensive industry.
The task was compounded by the emergence of flower shops at big-box retailers. And traditional florists like Bachman’s also are challenged by the growing popularity of urban and suburban farmers markets that peddle greenery as well as food.
“It’s a high-risk business,” said McEnaney, who runs a fourth-generation wholesale business and who also is a member of the industry’s national trade-group board. “Bachman’s is one of our largest and best customers. They care about the industry, being a family business and their community. And I’m thrilled to see their business turn around.”
The Bachman organization was shaken in 2008 by the death of then-CEO Todd Bachman, 62, who was stabbed to death while attending the Beijing Olympics by an apparent madman who then killed himself. Todd Bachman was succeeded as CEO by his cousin, Dale Bachman, 64, also a fourth-generation family member and a plant science major from the University of Minnesota who joined the company full time in 1972. His cousin, Paul Bachman, 64, is president and oversees retail and marketing operations.
Bachman’s was a few years into a successful transformation of retail operations when the recession hit.
The company since the 1990s had slowly exited leased spaces at shopping malls. The big malls increasingly were populated by national retailers. Bachman’s, as a small independent, couldn’t control rent or location over the long term. It moved to control its own destiny by investing in six expansive floral and garden centers, including the Lyndale Avenue campus. It acquired some of the sites and invested in and expanded them all. It also operates outlets through its historic partner, Lunds & Byerlys, at 27 stores. Bachman’s also operates an outlet store at its nearly 660-acre growing range south of Lakeville.
The retail business accounts for more than half of Bachman’s sales.
Bachman’s invests in attracting and retaining long-term customers over four seasons. In fact, it employs fewer part-time seasonal employees than it did a decade ago, because it sells less product through its retail stores at holidays such as Mother’s Day and Easter and more throughout the year, including through Lunds & Byerlys.
It uses special events, workshops and niches, such as incorporating the trends of reuse, repurpose and recycle into its “vintage” gift line. A few years ago, Bachman’s transformed one of its historic family homes on Lyndale Avenue into an “idea house” that shares decorating and landscaping ideas with the public, with a charity the beneficiary of a modest admission charge. And it hosts a south Minneapolis farmers market in a greenhouse on its 22-acre Lyndale campus during the winter.
Bachman’s managers try to attract multigenerational customers with an emphasis on the popular “grow local and buy local” theme. And it goes after young people with Internet how-to videos for novice gardeners, pre-planted grab-and-grow containers and a spruced up website.
Susan Bachman West, 41, the late Todd Bachman’s daughter and a Bachman’s vice president in charge of all perishable merchandise, began with the company as a teen, cashiering part-time at the Apple Valley store.
“There’s a lot of pride in the company and the legacy,” said Bachman West, the highest ranking of three members of the fifth generation of Bachmans who work in management. “And we also want to keep the business relevant and resonating with millennial customers. We’re told by 2017 that their purchasing power will exceed that of the baby boomers.”
The fourth generation, led by Dale and Paul Bachman, is starting to turn over the business to younger managers. Paul Bachman plans to retire in 2016.
Bachman West is the only fifth-generation corporate officer and has the broadest portfolio of “perishable merchandising and floral design.” A cousin, Karen Bachman Thull, 37, is marketing director. And another fifth-generation cousin, Adam Bachman, is in store management.
“It’s likely that a family member will succeed me sometime,” Dale Bachman said. “I’m 64. But I have no immediate plans to retire.”
Bachman West deflected when asked whether she would like to lead the company. “I aspire to continue to be a leader at Bachman’s and to serve the company and the family to the best of my ability,” she said.
Dale Bachman’s successor as CEO ultimately will be chosen by family shareholders and the company’s board.
For now, the Bachmans say they are just happy to be part of the rare family business that has survived for five generations. And growing again.
“The garden is never done,” Bachman West said. “It’s always a work in progress.”