Growing with the times

Growing with the times

Nortex Wholesale Nursery still prospering after 46 years

By Sonia Duggan

Long before Wylie became a sea of suburban growth, land was plentiful, and so were opportunities. It was 1972 when Jon Pinkus took a chance and purchased land to start a growing center. Since then, Nortex Wholesale Nursery has been changing the landscape of Dallas, selling to national retailers, landscapers, high-end grocers and independent garden centers, all from its greenhouses at 1300 Brown Street in Wylie.

The Pinkus name is well known in the horticulture industry with roots that run deep in Dallas. As the son of Ralph Pinkus, founder of the popular North Haven Gardens, Jon knows the plant business. He grew up working with his parents at the retail garden center on Northaven Road in Dallas, and as a landscaper for 30 years before starting the growing center in Wylie.

Forty-six years after the first acre was planted, business has blossomed into an over 10-acre spread with multiple greenhouses. Jon has taken on more of a consulting role in the business since passing the baton to the third generation Pinkus: his son, Aaron, the vice president and general manager of Nortex.

Though he claims he’s not a grower like his father and grandfather, Aaron considers himself a plant guy. “I have the staff who gets us to where we need to be to sell the product,” he said.

With a background in business and finance, Aaron has certainly helped propel the family business to the next level and considers himself more of a visionary. “I try to identify the best direction to grow as a company,” he said.

Whole Foods, H-E-B stores, Calloway’s Nursery, independent garden centers and large landscape companies in the DFW area purchase from the facility in Wylie. No roses, trees or shrubs are sold there, only perennials, annuals, tropicals and herbs.

The business focuses on organic programs and conventional programs. Conventional uses salt based
fertilizers and conventional insecticides, and organics avoid harsh pesticides or fertilizers.

“The organic program is really taking off while the conventional is doing really well at the same trajectory,” Aaron said.

There is a greenhouse on the property dedicated to organics. Aside from Calloways, Nortex grows organics for H-E-B’s Garden Center brand and they are working on a pilot project growing hydroponic plants for Whole Foods. Trays of plants are suspended in a shallow pond in the greenhouse. There are not a lot of organic growing experts says Aaron and some of the process is trial and error.

Blue Label Herbs is a successful organic line that the company launched in the mid-90s. They offer 86 different varieties of herbs. “We used to do way more than we do now,” Aaron said. “We had 17 varieties of mint alone.” Now it is down to eight, Apple, banana, pineapple, and chocolate to name a few. Basil is another herb with tremendous varieties. Though they started with 12 types, they have since drilled it down to five favorites but add new flavors periodically throughout the season.

Researching new products to offer clients gives Nortex an edge in the market. They talk to plant breeders from all over the world says Aaron. “The Israelis are doing a lot of good stuff. It’s very dry there – much like Texas,” he said. “They (company called Hishtil) have a lot of neat new herbs that never existed before such as the ‘Mushroom Plant.’ It has foliage that tastes like, and smells like, mushrooms.”

As a wholesale grower, the fall and winter sales season is quite small. The biggest product they sell is a poinsettia, about 40,000 of them, for Christmas. Other seasonal products include New Guinea Impatiens, Pansies and Ornamental Kale. July and August are the slowest months.

In January and February the company starts gearing up for the spring season early, hiring around 55-60 additional employees. Fifteen people man a potting production line and every growing area needs two people to search for problems, irrigate, space things, look for nutritional deficiencies and communicate directly with growers. “The company puts a lot of emphasis on training people,” Aaron said. “We’re in the business of growing people, not just plants.”

In the fall, retail buyers place their orders for the spring and landscapers place orders specific to their jobs. Everything is presold, often 25-40,000 flats of color for landscapers for the season.

Spring is when the bulk of profits are made but weather can bring challenges. Aaron said it’s rare to have more than one weekend with bad weather. “We have difficulties with inventory control because in April (2018), of the first three Saturdays, two were cold and the last was rainy,” Aaron said. “You’ve got to get your sales that weekend. It’s challenging to make that up and to work around the weather. We can’t hold on to it all so we have to decide do we cut it back or try to sell it later in the summer.”

Nortex is known for its customer service and they offer store delivery in radio dispatched delivery trucks seven days as week. Aaron says they’ve worked hard to cultivate relationships with their clients. “We’ve actually been selling to Calloways since the late 80s,” he said. “They are a fantastic customer and they are on the cutting edge of trying to identify what the best new variety releases are every year.”

The wholesaler strives to stay up on the latest trends, cultivating hearty plants with good color programs that will take the Texas heat. “A lot of it is driven by the customer’s desire to find the newest and best products,” Aaron said.

Petunias are considered a cool season annual, good only up until the middle of May when it gets too hot and they die off. “Wave petunias are an example of how a breeder developed a heartier, more heat tolerant plant,” Aaron said, “It’s a beautiful product with good color selection.”

The Ball Seed Company and Pan American Seed are the two top plant breeders in the industry, according to Aaron, and they compete to get the best breed they can get.

“Every year they crossbreed two different products to develop a new product or different color. Petunias and begonias are popular plants for crossbreeding,” he said. A Calibrachoa crossed with a Petunia is a Calitunia. One retailer may sell the ‘Big’ Begonia while another retailer may offer the ‘Whopper’ Begonia – both are basically the same product, just from different breeders.

“We find the best products they offer,” Aaron said. “We add them to our line to test and trial them and report back to them.”

Staying on the cutting edge of automation is important in the plant business as everything is perishable. Nortex’s greenhouses have automated temperature control systems. If the sensors get wet they can get triggered in the middle of the night prompting a call to Aaron’s Dallas home 40 minutes away. Steel pipe runs under all the benches and are connected to a boiler system. “We have 10 miles of pipes in the facility,” he said. Water is key to a grower in many ways not just for plant survival, but for cooling. The back wall of the greenhouse is a water wall with big fans for when it gets hot. “ It cools the greenhouse down through evaporation,” he said.

Aaron and his team have learned about drip irrigation advances and how to dramatically reduce the amount of water they use from an Israeli company called Netafim.

“They are the cutting innovation when it comes to water retention,” he said.

While the buzzword in garden centers is drought tolerant plants, Aaron said water tolerance hasn’t impacted the business from a retail standpoint because there is no such thing as a drought tolerant plant.

Much like the plants, personnel, clients and vendors they have nurtured over the years,  “They all require water to get established.”

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