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Flourishing hothouse flower business sprouts up for sale amid Covid-19 lockdown industry shake-up

A flourishing chrysanthemum hothouse nursery business whose market has opened up substantially as a result of industry changes brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown is on the market for sale.

GAIT Flowers Nursery in the Hauraki Plains township of Kerepehi produces 15 varieties of chrysanthemum – encompassing yellow, white, pink/mauve, red and green colourings.

While the nursery’s activities were stymied during level four lockdown at the end of March and early April, production resumed quickly under level three constraints when the business began resupplying thousands of blooms ultimately sold through the supermarket chains.

The nursery sends freshly-picked deliveries three times a week to its Auckland wholesaler Fresh Direct, which has expressed a desire to buy as many stems as GAIT Flowers can produce.

Chrysanthemums are used by wholesale and retail florists to bulk out floral arrangements around more higher value blooms such as roses, tulips, and lilies. When demand for more expensive stems fell off during Covid-19 level four and level three lockdowns, a number of rose, lily and tulip growers pulled out their flower plantings and reseeded hot house beds with fruit and vegetable crops instead.

The resulting drop off in supply meant more chrysanthemums were required to flesh out bouquets around New Zealand – a demand which positioned GAIT Flowers Nursery to quickly ramp up its production.

Realising that the industry shake-up scenario has positioned GAIT Flowers Nursery well for the future, its retiring owners have placed the going concern business, freehold land, and hothouse growing and packing buildings at 346 Reservoir Canal Road on the market for sale by negotiation through Bayleys Hamilton.

Salesperson Josh Smith said that while Covid-19 level four lockdown had been a testing period for GAIT Flowers Nursery – as it had been for many Kiwi businesses – the resulting retail circumstances which evolved when the New Zealand economy entered into level three and beyond had been totally unexpected yet incredibly positive for the nursery.

“The business has in fact become more robust as a result of what happened to the New Zealand economy over the March to May period - and there is the potential now for increased stem sales,” Smith said.

“Chrysanthemums can be grown all year ‘round. They can be grown from clippings, not seeds, so there is an instantaneous planting process. And alongside the varietals of daisies and alstroemerias, they are one of the base bloom varieties used when creating bouquets – arranged to bulk out displays where the more expensive tulips, roses, lilies or peonies are the ‘hero’ blooms,” said Smith.

“GAIT’s access to supermarkets through its wholesale supply contract has ensured consumer demand for its harvests has remained intact. Being totally domestic end-buyer focused also meant the nursery has not been effected by the impact of international supply chain breakdowns as a result of Covid-19 trading restrictions.”

The business’s temperature, humidity, and light-controlled greenhouse and shedding infrastructure at Kerepehi consist of a pair of three-bay greenhouses, one two-bay greenhouse, two propagation houses, a three-bay implement shed and skyline garage.

Combined, the Kerepehi greenhouses encompass some 4,214 square metres of covered growing space on two hectares of flat land surrounded on three sides by dairy farms.

“Two converted shipping containers provide storage facilities for the cut stems before they are sent to market. The business chattels also include a 161-square metre open-plan four-bedroom owner/manager’s residence with adjoining staff offices and lunchroom facilities,” Smith said.

“The nursery currently draws on council-supplied water for its irrigation. There is provision on the property for installing a ‘green’ water supply system that could utilise water collected off the hothouse rooftops and be diverted into holding tanks – with an area between the sheds kept aside specifically for this potential.”

“Heating within hothouses is currently run throughout the colder months by waste oil burners. Productivity has been further increased year-on-year by the development and implementation of good old fashioned ‘Kiwi ingenuity’ - which has seen the installation of bathroom-style underfloor heating placed under the propagation trays where the seedlings bloom.”

In summer, the hothouse roof tops and sides are opened up to natural warmth. Nutrients are supplied to the plants and soil via the automated watering system.

GAIT Flowers Nursery currently employs seven part-time staff and two school students on weekends – equating to four full-time staff, and the two owner/managers working in a ‘hands-on’ capacity in the day-to-day running of the business equating to approximately 10 hours a week.

“The hothouse buildings only occupy some 50 percent of the land at 346 Reservoir Canal Road. There is an opportunity for any new owner of the business to expand the number of hothouses even further within the current boundary,” Smith said.

In the completed 2018/2019 production year running from June to May, the GAIT Flowers nursery harvested 464,251 stems – nearly 43 percent more than for the 2015/16 growing year.

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