It was 1968 when Alan and Catherine Kraemer canned 3,000 liners on a half-acre and started their first nursery.
“Growing ornamental and woody shrubs looked like a good opportunity since the industry was very small at the time,” Alan said.
Today Kraemer’s Nursery includes six farms totaling more than 750 acres in several locations around the Mount Angel, Ore., area.
The nursery is now owned by Alan and Cathy Kraemer and their son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Michelle Kraemer.
They operate 300 acres of gravel can yards, 260 acres of field-planted stock, 42 dock spaces and about 80 acres under various types of greenhouse cover. The nursery employs about 250 people year-round, and more as needed.
“In many ways, we look like any other business of our size,” Paul Kraemer said. “We employ a full-time IT manager, a CFO, an HR manager, inventory specialists and a fully staffed sales department led by a long-time industry sales professional.”
The plant side encompasses a propagation department, a plant health division, and a distribution department.
Kraemer’s Nursery ships about 4 million plants a year across the country with a primary focus from the West Coast to Denver, Colo.
“Our goal is continuous improvement,” James Martinez, chief financial officer, said. “In 2018 we engaged Rick and Elizabeth Peters of The Peters Company to help us develop an understanding of ‘lean’ concepts and processes, and we have been working to implement those principles ever since.”
The lean methodology started in the Toyota Production System and focuses on optimizing an organization’s resources through the elimination of waste and customer value creation.
“The nursery business is full of risk,” Martinez said. “Managing risk and forecasting future trends during these uncertain economic times is our biggest challenge.”
Barry Gregory, vice president of sales, said that determining what to grow is one of the most important tasks of Kraemer’s Nursery.
“We do our best to grow what the end-consumer wants,” Gregory said. “The challenge is that we are often looking forward two or three years and it can be difficult to predict the market that far in advance. We look at prior years’ sales, market trends, economic forecasts and, of course, profit margins.”
Alan’s son, Paul Kraemer, grew up in the nursery.
“In a way, the nursery and I grew up together,” he said. “I’ve worked in just about every aspect of the business and I don’t believe that anyone can do it all. My most important job at the nursery is building the right team and making sure we are all pulling in the same direction.
“It’s a complex business, and challenges come from all sides,” Kraemer added. “We’ve tried to build a team with a broad range of talents and skills and a good understanding of the business. We then encourage them to use their skills to focus on the areas of their expertise.”
“We are slowly moving toward more technological solutions to many of the problems we face,” Kraemer said. “If resources weren’t an issue, we would likely move more rapidly toward process automation.”