The word team in this day and age is most commonly associated with sports, and like most good sports teams when all the players are talented, driven, on the same page and totally bought into the system, the sky’s the limit. Here at Bremo Trees our Team exemplifies all of these qualities and more. My name is Thomas Keller and I am the grower at Bremo. This February will mark my first full year with the company and I couldn’t be more excited about the future of Bremo. Our Team is very passionate about trees and it shows in the trees and our nursery. Regardless of age, race, sex or stature the love for the tress and the work involved is the same. Every member of our Team brings something different to the table whether it be years of experience or fresh ideas. Each morning our Team assembles with the same goal in mind, growing and selling the nicest Bremo Tree possible. Just in case anybody asks you what a Bremo Tree is, your response is: “A damn fine tree!”
Bremo Trees, like many other nurseries, emerged from the recession of 2009 with a robust inventory of unsold trees. For many years supply had exceeded demand in the B&B nursery industry, driving down pricing and ultimately leading to many nurseries having to close their doors. This sent shock waves through the industry as many adapted a risk-averse, conservative approach to their business, planting fewer liners and downsizing staff and infrastructure.
By the 2013 season, this trend had reversed itself in many instances and demand quickly grew to exceed supply. This transformation from a buyers’ market to a sellers’ market was abrupt, which has surprised many in the industry. The past three years have been amongst Bremo’s best in terms of number of trees sold, and today there is little sign of the glut of large caliper material that once existed. Instead, thousands of young trees in the 1.5” range line the fields- staked, pruned and awaiting the landscape.
Due to the rich, loamy soils found at Bremo Trees, our rate of growth exceeds most nurseries in the region. An ‘October Glory’ Red Maple that is 1.5” in caliper this spring will easily make 2.5” in the fall, if not larger. With this in mind, it is our intention to hold from the market a number of small caliper trees this spring so that they reach larger sizes this fall. There are still significant shortages of large caliper trees throughout the industry and this is expected to continue for at least a couple of years. It is our intention to help fill this void in the fall of 2017 and going forward.
With that said, there are still a number of trees available for the spring of 2017 at Bremo Trees. Please check our inventory on line or send your tree needs directly to Ed Yates ([email protected]) to quote. We also love to give tours of Bremo Trees, so please contact us and set up an appointment to come out and survey the nursery for yourself.
A mentor and competitor in the nursery industry, whom I hold in great respect, called just after I became the manager of Bremo Trees.
“All right,” he said. “What is the plan?”
“Well,” I mumbled, feeling unprepared for the question. “I am going to grow relationships one at a time.” It was an off-the-cuff remark.
There was a pause in the conversation.
“You just scared the heck out of me,” he replied.
Within his comment I uncovered what would become our core value and most important marketing strategy at Bremo Trees. A goal was set to seek to be genuinely nice and friendly in all interactions, often more so than our competitors. The best way we can develop loyalty among our customers is to develop genuine and lasting relationships with them.
It is an across-the-board strategy, which should exclude very few and include anyone and everyone, from potential and current customers both large and small, to vendors, truckers, industry groups, civic organizations, places of learning and society at large. Basically, what comes around goes around. Good energy that is put forth is more often than not rewarded with a positive outcome.
In practical terms, we embrace our fellow nurserymen and support their operations whenever possible. We post lists in our office of who grows what and refer potential buyers to others when we can’t meet their needs. It is impossible for any single nursery to provide the diversity of trees needed to meet current demand. Our willingness to share information is often returned in the form of lasting loyalty from both our customers and the vendors whom we have referred to others.
The single most effective way to maintain customer loyalty is to cultivate a genuine friendship with those you service. This should not done for calculated or selfish reasons, but because it is natural and the right thing to do. You do not focus this friendship only upon those who have the potential to spend the most money or write the checks, but upon everyone in an organization, from the receptionist on the phone to the mechanic and shipping coordinator. Customers both small and large, from those that buy a thousand trees per year, to those that buy ten, should be coveted and offered our loyalty. It will be argued that too much time and energy is wasted upon those with limited buying potential, but good deeds of little significance at the time have a way in returning in the form of dollars spent in the future.
Before becoming manager of Bremo Trees, I spent a number of years performing the duties of a plant buyer for a residential landscape company. The company’s needs were diverse and I typically bought from over sixty different nurseries per year. Over time I developed a core group of vendors of whom I preferred and focused my purchases upon them whenever possible. I continually justified this by extolling their virtues in terms of horticultural expertise, quality, customer service, etc. I now realize that more than any other factor, I bought plants from the people that treated me the best and that I liked and trusted the most. It came down to something that simple. Friendship.
It is our desire at Bremo Trees to be transparent, honest and upfront at all times. It is clear that nothing is gained by selling and shipping trees today that will reflect poorly upon us tomorrow. We make every effort to cultivate and shape each tree in a way that will maximize its value to the customer, but admittedly nature has a mind of its own. We always welcome buyers who would like to tag their own trees and are also happy to send photos when requested. It is all part of an open, honest and candid communication process.
While it is clear that the process of learning and adapting will never stop at Bremo Trees, we can be confident in the fact that we have settled upon a time-tested marketing model. It is based simply upon respect, understanding and friendship. We are literally growing relationships one at a time.
As a former resident of Northern Virginia, I used to shock and awe my neighbors and coworkers by grabbing a hand full of plants from the lawn and gobbling them down without saying a word. The most typical reaction was dismay and disbelief, often followed by laughter, as if this officially confirmed their inclination that I am crazy. They had never heard or seen anything like this and many expected that I would soon die.
Despite doing their very best to scours the lawn of all life except for Fescue and Rye Grass, a plethora of edible weeds managed to survive the wrath of the homeowner in nearly every Northern Virginia lawn. You could count on there being a crop of Broadleaf Plantain in the summer and Chickweed in the winter. The hated and ubiquitous dandelion, which is edible from top to bottom, is frequently available for harvesting.
Just for good measure, I would often take down a Kousa Dogwood Fruit and tempt a neighbor to taste it. The few who dared could not get past the spiny, lizard like texture of the exterior and never experienced the refreshing liquid on the inside. There were also Persimmons, Mulberries and Crabapples in many of the lawns, planted there by previous generations. The birds and wildlife took full advantage, but the humans were mostly missing out.
The truth is that if the food supply were to fail, your first and best source of nutrition would exist in your own yard. You can eat a salad of Plantain and Dandelion Greens, with Viola flowers for the sake of plating and grated wild ramp for flavor. Don’t forget to add Plantain seeds for protein. The young leaves of Lambs Quarter taste like Spinach, but they are a lot better for you. You might chase it all down with a glass of Dandelion Wine and have roasted Cattail root and Mulberry jam for desert.
The American Lawn in its current incantation could be considered an arrogant and wasteful creation. Despite a passionate life-long love of weed-eating, I would be happy to see the size of the average lawn reduced and more area allowed to go wild. However, I must admit that lawns do serve a key purpose. Despite their painful lack of biodiversity, they are a source of fresh, nutrient and antioxidant rich food. I think I will go out for a snack.
When I began my tenure at Bremo Trees I knew that I would be seeing a lot of neat things, but sometimes I am still amazed by the amount of wildlife that we see in the nursery on a daily basis. Bremo Trees stretches along the bank of the James River, which is a major thoroughfare for birds, mammals, fish, insects, amphibians and creatures of all sorts. This fact has been especially evident this spring, as nearly every day seems to bring a unique sighting.
Last week as I drove into work I watched a coyote run through a field for a good ten seconds before it was able to find cover and disappear. It was a larger beast than I had imagined, seemingly the size of a hefty German shepherd. It would not be fun to be a rabbit when this guy is around.
There is a resident bald eagle that shows up every week, gliding along the river bank. Of course, there are deer and turkey, which appear along the margins of the fields in the morning. Most notably, a number of bobwhite quail have been heard calling throughout the nursery this spring. This is their first appearance on the farm in several years and a promising sign, for local quail populations have declined precipitously during the past few decades.
The trees themselves harbor a fascinating web of life, which this week has included a variety of tree frogs. They rest motionless in the crotches of branches, their color nearly identical to the bark and leaves that surround them. When approached they do not move, for they are confident in their camouflage.
We noticed that a few young trees were being eaten by deer inside our fenced enclosure. Eventually, Larry and Salvador discovered a baby deer, but no mother. Larry displayed Jack Hanna-like courage when he caught the spry lad and released him into the wild.
Not all of the wildlife has been of the cuddly sort. There have been a number of copperhead snakes lurking by the irrigation pump and a black widow was poised at the base of a tree, inches from Justin’s hand. Each rain spurs a new generation of mosquitoes and the biting flies have a way of showing up on the hottest, sweatiest days.
Of course, when speaking of wildlife, I must mention our resident rabbit Bremo (AKA: Buenos Dias). Since escaping captivity years prior, he has become a regular member of the team. His ability to escape and outwit the farm’s predators and still appear so calm and warm the next morning is legendary.
All in all, we are lucky to spend our days at Bremo Trees. Growing and selling the trees that will one day adorn the American Landscape is a great feeling and doing so at such a beautiful place is all the better. The next time you are out tagging trees, be sure to keep your eyes open, for there is no telling what you will see.
The field operation at Bremo Trees has been run by “The Captain” Adan Mondrogan for the past twenty years. Adan was recruited by former manager Woody Cumbo during the nurseries fifth year of operation. Together Woody and Adan mapped out and began planting what is now a 250 acre B&B tree nursery. They learned to stake, prune and dig trees, using techniques and machinery that were only beginning to emerge at that time in Virginia.
Adan takes great pride in the “packaging” of each tree that is dug and sold at Bremo Trees. He has learned what works and what does not, through years of hands on nursery management. He demands that each ball is tight, accurately placed and up to industry standards, all of which helps to minimize transplant shock. All trucks are loaded safely and up to his strenuous standard, ensuring safe passage.
Adan grew up in the small town of Las Canoas, Mexico, supported by nine siblings, two strong parents and the rest of his extended family. It is clear that he learned at an early age the importance of family and community, for he is always there and willing during times of need. He is now the proud parent of five children, three of whom have grown up at Bremo Trees.
Earlier this week it snowed nine inches, which was followed by windchills well below zero. I spent the next day at a conference in a heated theater, sipping hot coffee while conversing with fellow nurserymen. When I returned the next morning Adan informed me that he had spent the day before pruning young trees alone, upon the windswept, frozen tundra of Bremo Trees.
“Was it cold?” I asked
“Very,” he said.
“How many trees were you able to prune?” I asked
“Only a few thousand,” he replied.
We feel very fortunate to have access to so many great resources. These resources include the rich riverside loam in which we grow our plants, a manageable size, close proximity to the mid-Atlantic and northeast states, and a quality infrastructure put in place by Woody Cumbo over a twenty-five years. While all of these are great assets, none are greater and more beneficial than the Bremo Trees Field staff, led by foreman Adan Mondragon.
Adan has been leading the daily operation of Bremo Trees for the past 18 years and has done so to the best of his ability each and every day. He has developed a keen and in depth understanding of all operations, gaining recognition for the quality product he routinely produces. Adan is assisted each day in the nursery by his two brothers Salvador and Arturo as well as Arturo’s son Freddy.
The Mondragons have been working together as a cohesive unit for many years now and operate as a well oiled machine. They bring knowledge, dedication and efficiency to the field, not to mention impressive physical strength and mental fortitude. The Mondragons are an easy going, happy group, who always have a smile to offer and have an amazing knack for demonstrating friendship without saying a word.
There is little doubt that in 2014 our greatest strength at Bremo Trees is our field staff!
There has been a lot going on at Bremo Trees during the past year. Ed Yates became the Manager in February and Bremo Trees will be welcoming Justin Kilmon as Assistant Manager and shipping coordinator on July 21st. Sandy Bohanon was hired on as Accountant in January and James Johnson has been serving as driver and maintenance supervisor for the past few months.
The nursery has experienced a significant uptick in sales during the 2014 calendar year, which has at times pushed both man and machine to the brink of exhaustion. We are taking every available moment to improve upon the quality of our trees and shrubs and the efficiency of all operations. The core of our mission remains the desire to cultivate new and existing relationships and provide genuine customer service in every instance.
We are very excited to debut our new revamped website, where we will update our availability on a regular basis and seek to provide a glimpse into the people, operations and plants of Bremo Trees. We will also be sending out a hard catalog this year, with our current plant list and pricing. Our customers should look to receive this catalog in August.
There are a number of reasons for Bremo Trees to feel optimistic as fall approaches. Signs are strong that the upward trends experienced by the nursery industry during the first half of 2014 will continue into next year. At Bremo Trees we feel we have the staff, soil, infrastructure and personality to exceed well into the future and we are looking forward to the journey!