Rural location becomes a destination for customers
By John O’Connell
Virginia, Idaho — John and Karen Brady initially sold their ornamental plants on the wholesale market, until they lost a major account in 2002.
To become more self-reliant and capture a greater share of profits, they switched to direct sales, opening their own expansive retail floral and garden center, called Brady’s Plant Ranch. They acknowledge their marketing strategy was a gamble, given their remote location in Virginia, Idaho, population 70.
John estimates fewer than 2,000 people reside within a 10-mile radius of the business, and the nearest sizable city, Pocatello, is more than 30 miles north. Yet, the family believes its focus on quality and unique product offerings have made prime real estate of the middle of nowhere.
Brady’s has become a shopping destination for customers ranging from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City, lured by a selection of about 3,000 hanging baskets, a variety of flowers and vegetable starts grown on location and even grass-finished beef.
“Nobody lives very close to us and it’s not particularly visible, but it was land we owned and we had a good water source here,” John said. “We wanted to work where we live, so we just decided to build it here.”
Karen said customers appreciate that the plants are grown on-site and acclimated to the local environment, rather than shipped in from warmer climates, as is the case with most garden centers in the region.
“What’s the major rule for retail? It’s location, location, location,” Karen said, laughing. “Everyone told us we would fail.”
Counting a recent expansion of their retail showroom, they operate 10 greenhouses covering 30,000 square feet and have 320 acres of farm land, raising alfalfa, wheat and other crops to sell as feed.
“Our delivery van says garden center, floral and grass-finished beef,” John said. “I don’t know anybody who is doing those three things.”
They opened their first greenhouse in 1985 to raise tomatoes for sale at farmer’s markets. Back then, their farm was primarily a dairy. At a friend’s suggestion, they started raising ornamental plants the following year. They sold the dairy in 1995, when prices were depressed, to focus on ornamentals, forage crops, continuing to raise replacement heifers for a while for other dairies, utilizing management intensive grazing. The method entails moving cattle frequently from small paddocks with electric fencing to more uniformly utilize forage. They continued management-intensive grazing when they started raising grass-finished beef in 2005. Beef from their 100-head herd, produced without hormones or antibiotics, is sold at the garden center or delivered directly to regional residential customers.
John starts planting his ornamental crops on March 1, digging up the floors for vegetables in late May. Once produce is harvested, they bring in a pig and a few chickens to clean up the dead vines and waste, saving the meat for personal use. Produce is sold at local farmers’ markets.
For the past two years, they’ve also operated their own, private farmers’ market at the shop starting in late July, inviting a few other vendors and banking that it, too, will eventually become a destination for the public.