Holland America Bulb Farms Inc.
In 1980 Benno and Klazina Dobbe emigrated from Holland to America with their three children, Nicolette, Ben and Stefan. The family was allowed to bring two suitcases each when leaving the old country. The Dobbes settled in Woodland, Wash., calling the spot a perfect location for Holland America Bulb Farms Inc. (Holland America). From that moment on, the Dobbes started importing and growing tulips, daffodils, irises and lilies.
“We didn't know anybody at all on the West Coast,” Benno says. “We arrived, and we started basically from scratch with little money to buy a used car, some furniture for the house and a very small down payment for a farm.”
Six years later Benno extended the business. Benno bought another farm in Arroyo Grande, Calif., allowing him to grow year-round crops, mainly lilies and freesias, while Woodland Washington’s climate allows for seasonal flowers like tulips, peonies and the production of Salal.
Fast-forward to 2014, the Holland America name is recognized by flower wholesalers across the country. According to Benno, the company’s success requires the knowledge of one thing: the love of growing flowers.
Equally important, though, is the entire Holland America management team for taking proper care of growing, harvesting and selling flowers to keep customers happy. “We created a great relationship with our customers,” says Benno, “Mainly due to the superb quality we have delivered to them over the years they are asking for our flowers, bouquets and greens.”
Benno notes that his team is also crucial to success. “Next, of course, are our employees,” he says. “Without them we would not have been able to achieve our successes, they are our extended family. We know without them we couldn’t achieve what we have accomplished.”
Benno travels back and forth between the two farms and takes time to meet with management, discussing how the company can improve products and services. “I believe involving the employees will bring about long-term gains,” he details. “The employees understand that their input is crucial. They can see that the environment for success is here. They can feel it, they can taste it. There is a good group of people behind our company, a family atmosphere that inspires them to do a great job.”
A Great Job, Indeed
Although Holland America alone has displayed an impressive array of financial growth since 1980, the company is actually only one of four entities under the Holland America Flower Connection umbrella. Holland America Flower Connection boasts five board members, including: Benno and Klazina, president and vice president, respectively; as well as their son Ben, senior sales executive; Thijs Vink, grower manager; and Christy Sundahl, general office manager. The board holds quarterly meetings to ensure Holland America Flower Connection succeeds.
Holland America Flower Connection’s three additional entities include: Holland America Flowers, which boasts 75 acres of year-round production in excess of 2 million square feet undercover in Arroyo Grande, Calif.; Holland America Greeneries, which harvests greens in the Northwest from its Woodland, Wash., location; and retail outlet Holland America Flower Gardens, which is also located in Woodland, Wash. Together with Holland America, the four entities form the arms of the Dobbe family floral reach, each supporting the others, to ensure continued corporate growth.
Benno is proud to note that the companies have surpassed all expectations. “There are opportunities here in the U.S. that you won't see anywhere else in the world,” he continues. “Anyone with a vision and the willingness to work hard and do what it takes to get something off the ground can achieve those opportunities. Of course there’s good health, a solid family foundation and some luck involved, but in a lot of ways you can help to direct success by trying to avoid certain difficulties and learn from the hiccups and experiences of the past, create positives out of negatives. We actually lived the quote-unquote American Dream.”
A Bipartisan Industry
The Holland America name has become such an integral part of the American flower industry that the company is now a recognized member of the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC), as well as part of a group of American-cut flower growers mostly from the West Coast. The group frequently meets with representatives of both primary political parties to promote American-grown flowers and greens.
Benno is actively involved in the CCFC. “Meetings within this organization led to the creation of a new congressional caucus American Grown Cut Flowers dedicated to understanding the needs of cut flower growers across the country,” Benno explains. As one of the three largest cut flower growers on the West Coast, Holland America has the pleasure of providing in-depth knowledge to congressmen interested in supporting the industry.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Ben, who lives on the farm in California, is a board member of Society of American Florists (SAF). It is evident that the family is truly invested in the company.
“It is amazing to see a bipartisan effort for our industry,” says Benno. “Besides food and wine, everyone loves flowers, no matter the political agenda, which is the reason that it can see both sides come together to talk. I think we, as cut flower growers, are in a special place where we can enjoy the support of both sides of the political aisle.”
For a couple that came to the country 30-plus years ago, Benno and Klazina have done the amazing: built four companies, raised three children, lobbied for the empowerment of the industry and enjoyed the fruits of labor that few others get the chance to taste. Holland America Bulb Farms Inc. may have begun as a dream, but Benno and Klazina Dobbe have turned that dream into a successful reality.