Karthauser and Sons Greenhouse

Gateway horticulture students in the Horiculture Marketing class had the opportunity to visit Karthauser and Sons Greenhouse in Germantown, WI a couple weeks ago.  Karthauser is a wholesale greenhouse selling potted blooming plants, and more recently cut flowers, to retail florists and garden centers.  The business is now also expanding into the chain store floral market.

Brian Karthauser, shown below, led students on a tour of the production facilities. Students enjoyed seing row afte row of greenhouse benches filled with poinsettias, blooming plants and foliage plants. Potting areas and huge walk in coolers for bulb forcing were also seen. In the photo below Brian is showing students stacks of pots filled with lily bulbs that are being stored at 50 degrees while roots form.  Soon after Christams the pots will be brought into the warm greenhouse to form shoots and soon – but not too soon – beautiful white flowers for Easter.

 About five years ago Brian invited Greg Wilke to join his business as a marketing person.  Greg comes from a long line of of cut flower wholesalers in his family so of course the first thing he did was add cut flowers to Kathuaser’s product mix.  A floral supply specialist was soon asked to join the business and now Karthuasers is able to offer customers a full line for floral products from potted blooming plants to cut flowers to all the supplies needed to make a complete floral package.  

Greg also organized several major marketing campaigns fro Karthausers including ‘Think Flowers’ which is directed at the independent retail florist.  All Karthauser’s delivery vehicles are painted with bold colorful floral graphics and the words ‘Think Flowers’.  This serves to market flowers in general and not just the Karthauser name.  This idea was reinforced fro Greg  when he and his kids drove past a Kraft macaroni and cheese truck emblazoned with pictures of the cheesy goodness.  His kids had an instant craving for macaroni and cheese whcih couldn’t be denied!  A different promotion is offered chain stores “Grown in Wisconsin’ is very popular with the grocery florists and encourages customers to support Wisconsin agriculture and ‘buy local’.  These promotions come with point of purchase materials such as banners, labels and signs for use in store displays. Stores also recieve points towards marketing based on purchase quantities.Stores often choose to recieve these points as free plants to give away during special events or fundraisers.

Students were able to gain an understanding of the international scope of floriculture by touring the cut area and flower cooler and seeing flowers grown around the world.  Karthauser also produces their own hybrid and Asiatic lilies in crates which we will begin doing at Gateway in the next few weeks.  About 15 – 20 pre-cooled lily bulbs are planted in growing media in plastic crates and forced on greenhouse benches. The quality of the resulting flowers is superior to those grown elsewhere thus creating strong demand for the Karthauser grown flowers.  You can see in the picture below how much larger the bunch is on the right which are the in house produced flowers. 

This lily growing is considered part of the  ‘specialty cut flower’ market, a market that has allowed a certain share of flower production to remain in local communities.  In the past twenty years production of the big three floral crops – roses, carnations and mums has moved offshore.  Like many industries, places like Mexico and Equador can supply cheap labor and operating costs. This has caused a big part of the floral industry to move out of the U.S. It just so happens that the high altitude, cool, sunny mountain conditions of these countries is also ideal for quality flower production.  Couple these factors with traditionally low fuel costs to transport this high vaue crop and you can see why the cut flower industry in America has been decimated.  Unforseen factors such as rising fuel costs and government instabilities may see this change in the future. 

For now a strong secondary market has arisen in locally grown specialty cuts.  Wisconsin is home to one of the largest specialty cut flower growers in the nation – Star Valley Growers in Viroqua, WI just north west of Madison.  They were even featured in Martha Stewart Magazine several years ago.   It was quite interesting  to see the woody plant branches purchased from Star Valley in buckets at Karthausers. The same plants we are studying as landscape plants in another class are sold as cut flowers here.  Plants seen at this time of year include a lot of berried branches such as Viburnum trilobum and Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’ and sprays of bright orange red rose hips.  Many different kinds of hydrangeas, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, oak branches, redtwig dogwood, curly willow, Winterberry and ornamental grasses of every kind were seen.

Greg spoke to students at length about employment opportunities in the floriculture industry and encouraged them to complete their horticulture education at Gateway.  Greg was such a gracious host and spent a lot of time answering the student’s questions.  We even got to meet a Karthauser sales person that graduated from Gateway twenty some years ago and has been employed in the field ever since!

All in all it was a marvelous trip to Karthausers!  I am so very grateful to Greg Wilke and Brian Karthauser for taking time from their busy day to speak with students, and most importantly, to inspire them! 


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