Waldo & Associates Inc.
In 2009, Rick Cottier made national news for unintentionally growing a tomato that looked like a rubber duck. While his 15 minutes of fame passed, the planter that he grew the tomato in is still one of the niche products sold by his company, Waldo & Associates.
The Ohio-based, midsized horticulture products distributor and manufacturer sells “almost everything” to greenhouses and commercial growers across the U.S., Cottier says. While it doesn’t sell seeds or bulbs, it does sell greenhouse structures, heating and cooling systems, irrigation systems and consumables, including growing containers, pesticides and fertilizers.
Cottier admits that horticulture isn’t a large industry and, within the industry, Waldo & Associates isn’t the biggest player. But the company’s niche products, including a unique approach to sign making and quality customer service, help it stand out.
Notable niche products
Waldo & Associates was established in 1980; Cottier and his three business partners, Kim Bunge, Ken Lewandowski and Martin Cipriani, purchased the company in 2004, when the founder Waldo Donaho died.
In 2014, the partners purchased Premium Horticulture Supply Co, in Louisville, Kentucky, and today the expanded Waldo & Associates has 28 full-time employees and a national network of customers.
Cottier is aware of the company’s modest position in the market. As he explains it, the horticulture industry has three tiers of product distributors—three large players at the top, about 10 companies in the middle and approximately 50 to 75 smaller companies.
While Waldo & Associates primarily services medium and small greenhouses, garden centers, nurseries and landscapers, Cottier says every one of Waldo & Associates’ U.S.-based competitors purchase product from the company.
“We have a distributor program that we call Greenhouse Specialties, and through that, we offer products to other distributors, and we have some products that we own all the rights to, so [competitors] can’t get them through anyone else,” he says.
One of the company’s best-selling products is its Wonder Waterer. Donaho developed the device in order to water seedlings and flowering plants without applying too much force or pressure. Waldo & Associates now owns all of the tooling for the Wonder Waterer, and in a given year, it sells approximately 5,000 of them.
The company’s other niche products include its line of “Nature-Real™” decorative containers made with natural fibers, such as black rattan, water hyacinth, palm leaf, banana leaf and many other natural products; its ultimate garden basket and ultimate tomato basket, which grew the rubber duck tomato; space-saving baskets and metallic-finish containers.
Waldo & Associates’ customers have come to expect new and niche products.
“Every time we [visit] a customer, the first thing they want to know is what’s new,” Cottier says.
To keep the new product ideas flowing, Cottier travels to Asia every year or two, visiting factories and trade shows like the China Import and Export Fair. When it comes to production of commodity items like basic grower pots, though, Waldo & Associates tends to keep its manufacturing in the U.S., which simplifies logistics and product-delivery times.
“I personally really handle most of the design and stuff,” Cottier says. “A lot of times when I’m at the factories, I’ll present them with the design, and usually they can make a prototype before I leave.”
A traveling print shop
It’s not just niche products that distinguish Waldo & Associates. Its niche service—printing—helps the company stand apart, too.
The company’s founder, Donaho, recognized that commercial growers needed signs to protect workers and customers from pesticides that were sprayed on the plants. Cottier came up with the idea to offer signs that distinguish plant types and guide customers through their properties. Donaho started the printing aspect of the company as a way to “bring the print shop to the customers.”
“In our industry, most customers have always been afraid to go to print shops basically because the first impression is that it’s going to cost a lot of money and the second one is that they’re not going to understand what we’re talking about because how do you spell Geranium and Impatiens and where do you get pictures of them?”
Today Waldo & Associates uses a commercial-grade digital printer that’s 13 feet long and can produce photo-quality images on any material, as long as it’s less than two inches thick and has a flat surface to print on. The company specializes in signs and banners.
While Waldo & Associates’ success is partly due to its niche products and niche printing service, Cottier says, “It all comes down to customer service—what we offer to our customers and making sure they have the products they need when they need it.”
“Even though we’ve grown a lot in the last 10 years, we’re still a family-run type of business,” Cottier says. “We might be a corporation, but we’re not so big that we don’t know who our customers are.”