Floral Family

The Tanouye family’s business has grown with the floriculture sector

April, 2004

For many local folks, a trip to Hilo would not be complete without hand-carrying fresh-cut anthuriums on the flight home. That pleases Eric Tanouye, vice president and general manager of Green Point Nurseries, one of the Big Island’s largest floriculture businesses. The 45-year-old, third-generation farmer recognizes the value of tradition – especially one that helps his family’s enterprise – in a competitive business that demands innovation to succeed.

“You have to love working the land, seeing things grow and developing a work ethic,” he says of the fundamentals of nursery farming. “But, today, you need to see yourself as a businessperson in agribusiness. You must continue to reinvent yourself and your product.”

In the floriculture business for more than 20 years, Tanouye is optimistic about his business, which has experienced steady growth, of about 3 percent annually, over the past decade. He has good reason to be upbeat, as the state’s $92-million floriculture sector posted a record year in 2002, up 4 percent over 2001, and helped Hawaii’s agricultural industry enjoy year-over-year growth.

Tanouye’s specialty, flowers and nursery products, is Hawaii’s leading diversified agriculture product, accounting for nearly one-fourth of agriculture sales in the state, including anthuriums, orchids, foliage, landscape and ornamental trees and plants. About 60 percent of Green Point’s products are exported to the U.S mainland. With more than 800 nurseries statewide – almost half of which are located on the Big Island – Tanouye has plenty of competition.

One of his biggest challenges is lowering production costs for his higher-value crops. He is working on outsourcing his insurance and finance administration to Florica Insurance, formerly Florists’ Mutual Insurance, which provides specialized insurance products and financial services to horticultural businesses nationwide. Over the past decade, Green Point has stayed profitable, without raising its prices, by lowering production costs, says Tanouye. He also sees a growing need for professional middle managers who “know the agriculture business,” an indication of the increasing business complexity and sophistication needed to run an agribusiness operation.

To continue to thrive, Tanouye sees more alliances and partnerships in the future to do business “smart.” He helped form the Hawaii Florists and Shippers Association (HFSA), which secured a 40-percent discount from Federal Express on shipping charges by providing pooled nursery products from a number of growers. HFSA is hoping to extend the discount service this year to nonagricultural products, to help small businesses export their products.

Tanouye pays attention to his product by working with the University of Hawaii, to grow experimental flowers and plants with new colors, scents and disease-resistance qualities. In Kurtistown, just outside of Hilo, Green Point successfully experimented with environmentally controlled greenhouses to produce new flower breeds, with novelty colors that can benefit the entire industry and that will diversify his nursery’s market products of potted plants.

Innovation appears to be a family tradition for the Tanouyes. In the 1950s, Tanouye’s grandfather, Harold Sr., a research development director under Hawaii County Mayor Helene Hale, helped diversify the Big Island’s agriculture industry, then limited to sugar, coffee and macadamia nuts, by promoting floriculture as a major export.

In the late 1960s, his father, Harold Jr., proved there was worldwide export value in Hawaii’s cut flowers, when he sent off his first international shipment of 250 dozen anthuriums to Naples, Italy. Today, Eric gets overseas orders for 2,500 dozen a week. Cut anthuriums topped the list of Hawaii’s floriculture exports, with $7.7 million in sales in 2002. Harold Jr. was also instrumental in adding potted anthuriums and orchids, to give the nursery business statewide an economic boost in the 1990s.

Does Eric Tanouye want his sons, ages 18, 14 and 7, to follow in the family business?

“I will not force them to go into the business,” he says of the family tradition. “But, if they do, I tell them they had better be good.”

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