N. Casertano Greenhouses & Farms Inc.
The Casertano family, owners and operators of N. Casertano Greenhouses & Farms Inc., has called Cheshire, Connecticut home since the early 1900s. For three generations the family has been growing a range of greenhouse products, mainly perennials, to supply the retail garden center industry.
Casertano Greenhouses traces its roots back to 1929 when Louis Casertano began growing produce and greenhouse flowers in the central Connecticut town. At first, the business resembled other truck farms, supplying both wholesale and retail customers with a wide variety of farm-raised products, but as Louis’s son Nick Casertano joined the family business, the company found a footing in the perennial market.
“My grandfather started the company and then my father joined him after receiving a horticulture degree from Michigan State,” recounts John Casertano, third-generation president and CEO of Casertano Greenhouses.
Doing it differently with perennials
In Cheshire, a town often called “the annual capital of the state”, Nick Casertano saw an opportunity to change up the business model and enter a nontraditional market in perennial production. “About 15 years ago we saw an opportunity to grow perennial plants as opposed to annual bedding plants and change the nature of the market,” explains John. “Perennials have always been grown in a traditional crop cycle and we saw the opportunity to sell them as ‘finished’, which in our industry means in matured in the pot and often in bloom.”
After completing his college education at Bowdoin College in Maine, John joined the family business in 1995. “My parents always encouraged us to try whatever we wanted, and pursue an education outside of horticulture, which my siblings and I did,” says John. “I actually started my career as a teacher, but I came back to the family business.
Since joining the company, John has focused his efforts on developing and marketing perennials. “Growing perennials and finishing them the way we do here has resulted in extraordinary business around this model,” he says. “We’re now one of the leaders in perennial production in the Northeast.”
Furthermore, Casertano Greenhouses is one of the largest growers of ground covers in the Northeast. “Plants are available in open flats and cell packs, including ivy, pachysandra, ajuga, euonymus and myrtle available year-round,” notes John.
Today, Casertano Greenhouses has 88 full-time employees and upward of 200 during peak season, along with 450,000 square feet of greenhouse and nearly 40 acres of outdoor growing capacity. “We now have two physical locations; one is our historic Cheshire site where we have been since 1929 – we have 78 acres here – and 3 miles down the road we have a 60-acre site in Wallingford.”
Cashing in on Christmas-time decor
The family-run greenhouse ships all over New England, including New York state and parts of northern New Jersey. “Perennial production makes up the majority of our business in the Northeast, but we have also developed a business for Christmas decorations such as wreaths, kissing balls, table centerpieces and associated holiday products,” adds John. “Maintaining a seasonal business is always a challenge, so having the holiday side helps us keep the cash flowing through the winter.”
Wintertime décor is something Casertano Greenhouses has been doing for many years, but John says this side of the business has grown more and more over the last eight years. “It’s just another unique niche that helps us stand out among competition,” he says.
Combined with a booming perennial business, the seasonal market has led to double-digit growth for Casertano Greenhouses. “Over the last decade, we have almost doubled the annual revenue of the business,” says John.
John says the company’s primary goal for 2015 is to make the best use of recent expansions. “We’re going to be adding more shipping space in Cheshire to make us more efficient,” he says. “This is part of a three-to-five-year plan. We want to gain more market share in our existing territories.”
As a family-run company with a soft spot for smaller producers, John says the company has been sad to see many of its independent garden centers go out of business as they struggle to compete with big-box players. “Unfortunately, we have seen a dwindling list of independent garden centers,” he says. “As a result, some of our business has shifted to larger, national accounts, but we really enjoy supplying smaller independents.”
In a competitive market, N. Casertano Greenhouses & Farms Inc. has not only survived, but thrived, growing year over year while remaining rooted in three generations of family ownership.