To weather all the changes in the flower industry and the strong competition from offshore growers you have to be a survivor. That’s exactly what Alan Mitchell and John Furman of California Pajarosa Floral are. Not only has their Watsonville company been marketing flowers for over three decades but it has flourished in a tough, competitive environment where others have gone out of business.
Mitchell, vice president and grower of the firm, said that it was in the late 1980s, about 10 years after the company was founded, that the competition from offshore operations really began to cut into domestic sales for those in the cut rose sector.
“First it was carnations, then mums and roses were then next,” he said, explaining that Central American and South American growers began flooding the market. The imports have pretty much tied up the large box-store market.
Mitchell felt California Pajarosa survived because they didn’t cut corners and maintained their quality. They were also ahead of some of the other domestic growers on technology and kept adopting new varieties to attract new business.
“At the time we were big in sweetheart roses but then we began growing spray or multiple flower varieties and we became very big in that niche,” he said. “We grow about 140 varieties of roses today.”
Mitchell doesn’t gloss over the struggle to make the business a viable one. “It has been tough. There have been times we wondered how long we were going to last,” he explained. “The last years, though, have been really good. Being one of the few domestic growers left helps too!”
Mitchell grew up between Merced and Modesto in the Central Valley, attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and went to work as an agricultural pest control adviser or PCA.
For years Mitchell worked as a PCA and then at Vannie Nursery before he and his friend, John Furman, launched California Pajarosa Floral in 1979 in Watsonville.
They started with 33 acres of what was formerly an apple and plum orchard and transformed the property into a 100,000-square-foot greenhouse operation. “We designed and built our own greenhouses which kept the price down,” Mitchell said. ” I think we were able to do that at $1.80 a square foot at the time. Today that would probably be $20 or more.”
California Pajarose Floral began providing a variety of cut roses to wholesalers in the San Francisco Bay Area and then throughout California.
Mitchell and Furman were the first in the area to use hydroponic growth methods for roses — and still do. Their greenhouses are now computerized and they use high-tech fertilizer systems and post harvest equipment that grades the cut flowers.
Today the firm has expanded to 50,000 square feet of greenhouses on 17 acres, plus there is additional acreage of outdoor growing areas. “Right now I believe we are the largest provider of cut roses in the United States,” Mitchell said, explaining that most of the other domestic suppliers of roses either have gone out of business or changed to other flowers.
The company sells flowers throughout the country, though Mitchell estimates that about half of their accounts are in California.
Besides bulk sales, California Pajarosa also has an online presence and ships small arrangements overnight directly to the consumer.
In addition to their mainstay, roses, the firm does grow a limited number of “field flowers” which include ranunculus, hydrangeas, sunflowers and a few other varieties.
Being able to weather the ups and down of the cut flower industry has been a challenge for California Pajarosa Floral, but Alan Mitchell and John Furman have figured out how to not only survive but actually grow their market share.