Imagine 64 football fields of thriving orchids — millions creating a colorful kaleidoscope.
Matsui Nursery, headquartered near Salinas, Calif., sells more than 3 million orchids annually, making it one of the world’s larger potted orchid growers.
In California, their greenhouses in production encompass 70 acres, about 2.8 million square feet.
The nursery’s founder, Andy Matsui, 84, pioneered the nation’s first orchid grocery retail program in 1998.
“Our scale was so large it was impractical to sell to individuals or flower shops,” said Teresa Matsui, 59, Andy’s daughter and company president. “We had to find large outlets for our products.”
While the retail program was a sound business decision, it was also a way for Andy to fulfill a personal aesthetic vision of literally making the world a more beautiful place.
“At grocery stores, consumers often choose potted orchids instead of cut flowers because orchid blossoms are long-lasting and retain their beauty for months,” Teresa said.
Her father’s interest in owning a nursery started when he was 26. In 1961, he was accepted into a one-year Farm Bureau program and traveled from Japan to the U.S. and learned to grow mums.
In 1967, impressed with the availability of farmland in the western U.S., he and his wife, Mary, bought 50 acres in the Salinas Valley, where he built greenhouses and began growing chrysanthemums, then roses.
Their four children worked in the greenhouses through high school.
“We did whatever needed to be done,” Teresa said.
In the 1990s, Andy at age 63 traveled the world to learn from orchid experts and transitioned his business to grow only orchids.
In 2014, Andy asked Teresa to return home and work as the nursery’s chief financial officer. To celebrate his 80th birthday a year later, he announced he would retire and named Teresa the company president.
A graduate of Harvard University, Teresa had earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg School of Management. She had worked a successful career in real estate investment, hospitality management and hotel development consulting in Minneapolis.
“My business and life experiences prepared me to run the nursery for the long-term and to sustain our family business as a community asset,” she said. “When Dad asked me to lead the company’s day-to-day operations encompassing sales, production and finance, I didn’t hesitate.”
Many of Matsui Nursery’s more than 200 employees include families spanning two or three generations.
The labor-intensive business requires hand and automated watering, depending on the orchids’ stages of growth. Their most popular varieties are cascading Phalaenopsis and fragrant Miltonias, Oncidiums, Intergenerics, Nobile Dendrobiums, and Zygopetalums. The orchids are obtained worldwide.
Orchids have not only beautified the world but have enabled Andy to become a philanthropist. In 2004, he established the Matsui Foundation to provide educational opportunities to underserved students. Since then, the foundation has provided more than $8 million to 240 students in the Salinas Valley.
He and Mary also donated $500,000 to the Natividad Foundation to establish an infusion center for patients with cancer and other chronic diseases. Last year, he gave land to nearby Hartnell College, a gift valued at $20 million.
“Dad has found many ways to brighten the world — through orchids, starting a business that treats employees well, and a foundation to pay it forward,” Teresa said.