Bachman's Inc. History

Address:
6010 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55419
U.S.A.

Telephone: (612) 861-7600
Fax: (612) 861-7745

Private Company
Founded: 1885
Employees: 1,000
Sales: $65 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 5261 Retail Nurseries & Lawn & Garden Supply Stores

Company History:

Bachman's Inc., family owned and operated for over a century, provides homes and businesses with a variety of horticultural-related products and services. The company's distinctive purple delivery trucks are a fixture of the Twin Cities floral market. In addition to marketing flowers and plants, Bachman's operates nursery and landscaping services and floral, gift, and garden centers.

Vegetable Farm Roots: 1880s-1920s

Henry Frederick William Bachman moved to the Minneapolis area in 1882, at the height of German immigration to Minnesota. Bachman worked in his uncle's vegetable and garden business and at a large fruit and produce company before striking out on his own. With his wife, Hattie, Bachman established a vegetable farm in 1885 on four acres of land. Their first harvest included potatoes, lettuce, onions, and squash.

Over the next decade the couple's family and holdings grew. By 1895, Bachman had 150 hotbeds and 11 greenhouses on his 44 acres of land. The Bachman children helped sustain the growing business. The boys worked in the fields and the greenhouses, while the girls helped their mother with meals for the hired hands.

In 1911, Bachman convinced a railroad company to build a spur line to his property, and he began transporting his produce to New York and Boston. In the winter months he manned the coal stove in the boxcars to keep the squash and potatoes from freezing during the long haul. He returned with a load of Eastern coal to heat the greenhouses. But in the 1920s, capitalizing on improvements in transportation, Southern farmers began pricing Northern greenhouse growers out of the market. Bachman's began shifting the balance of production from vegetables to flowers.

Appeal of Flowers Transcends Tough Times: 1930s--40s

Floral production began with Albert Bachman, who had inherited his mother's passion for flowers. Despite teasing from his brothers, he began raising carnations on his greenhouse bench--each of the brothers had an allotment of space. "Before long he was tying bunches of carnations together and selling them outside the gates of Oak Hill Cemetery. His modest income did not challenge his brothers' belief that there was anything but folly in the growing of flowers," according to Purple Packages: Bachman's 100 Years.

Two years later, in 1916, Henry, seeking relief from his asthma symptoms, moved to California with Hattie and their three daughters. The homestead was divided among their sons. Albert and his wife, Olga, expanded the flower production. "By the end of the 1920s an armful of carnations was earning more than a truckload of Minnesota-grown vegetables and everybody had stopped laughing at Albert," wrote Dick Youngblood. On April 9, 1929, the family business was incorporated as Henry Bachman's Sons.

In the early 1930s Albert established a nursery and landscape division which was operated by his son Larry. As their parents before them, the third generation of Bachmans had begun working in the family business at an early age. The boys worked in the fields and made deliveries. The girls helped with meals and laundry for the hired hands and worked in the retail store, which had been established in the mid-1920s.

Situated between a greenhouse and a tropical conservatory, the retail store offered flowers for 35 to 50 cents a bunch during the Depression years. Bachman's also filled floral arrangement orders, such as funeral wreaths, and began carrying some gift items.

World War II intervened in the lives of every American including the Bachmans. With the young men in military service, the women moved into accounting and production areas. Additional employees joined the ranks of the family business--some of whom later became family members as well. Albert and Olga lost a son to the war.

Bachman's began expanding in the postwar days. The Edina retail outlet, which had opened in 1941, was replaced by a larger store in 1947. The next year, the company established a vehicle service operation and purchased additional land and greenhouses next to Lake Minnetonka. The company also began to establish a reputation as an industry innovator by marketing techniques such as displaying premade floral arrangements in large coolers in the retail stores.

A Third Generation Makes Its Mark: 1950s--70s

In 1949, seven cousins formed the new leadership of the company, renamed Bachman's Inc. The business structure was formalized with Ralph Bachman heading the company as president. The goal of the third generation, according to the Bachman's company history, was "to sell more flowers to more people more often."

A flower shop opened in Dayton's downtown Minneapolis store early in the 1950s and in Southdale mall, also owned by Dayton's, in 1957. The Lyndale Avenue store--part of the original Bachman family homestead--was converted to a "supermarket" operation in 1958. Cart-pushing customers picked up plants from display tables and paid for their purchases at checkout counters. Sales skyrocketed.

With 1959 sales of $2.2 million, Bachman's ranked among the top five retail florists in the United States. Retail florist business accounted for 78 percent of sales, and the garden store and nursery operations brought in the remaining 22 percent. Sales had more than tripled in the decade since the passing of the torch to the third generation of Bachmans, who held all the company stock.

"More than two-thirds of Bachman's products are homegrown, progressing from seed to sale in its 34 greenhouses and three growing areas," wrote Bob Ylvisaker. But with expansion of air transportation during the 1950s Bachman's, like others in the florist industry, began bringing in more flowers from around the U.S. and the world. Some plants were more economical to purchase than produce. Bachman's reached out to the world in another aspect of its business as well, by telegraphing flowers internationally.

Bachman's moved into the mass marketing of flowers in the late 1960s. The first European Flower Market opened at Byerly's Foods in 1968. The small kiosks carried cut flowers and plants priced below regular florist shops. Ralph Bachman, then president, extended the concept to other supermarkets, as well as airports and department and discount stores. By 1970, the company operated 22 European Flower Markets in Minnesota. An additional 35 were operated by local florists in 15 states, Canada, and Norway.

The Pillsbury Company purchased the division in 1971, and Ralph Bachman ran the operation for the Minneapolis food giant. Stanley Bachman succeeded his brother as president of Bachman's. When expansion plans failed to meet expectations, Pillsbury sold the Minnesota segment of the operation back to Bachman's in 1976.

Bachman's upgraded its production facilities early in the 1970s. A $1 million greenhouse complex was added at Lakeville, Minnesota--a 438-acre site purchased in the mid-1960s for nursery production. The modern facility was equipped with artificial lighting and an automated watering system.

Although marked economic inflation during the 1970s hit the florist industry, causing fertilizer, transportation, and energy prices to escalate, Bachman innovation and persistence continued to drive the company forward. In the late 1970s, Bachman's spent over $2 million to transform its Lyndale Avenue store into a shopping center-greenhouse offering customers a broad range of products and services.

According to a February 1980 Corporate Report Minnesota article, average annual sales for retail florists--typically family-owned businesses--were about $100,000. Bachman's ended the 1970s with sales of $25 million. And after-tax profits had been averaging two to three percent of sales from 1975 to 1980. According to John Lundquist, the company invested about a half million a year on advertising.

Decades of Change: 1980s--90s

In an effort to keep the company vital, Bachman's shifted from a general manager to executive committee system in 1979. Merchandising Vice-President Ed Bazinet was one of the non-family members moved into a leadership role. Three years earlier, Bazinet had convinced the Bachman family to invest $50,000 in a gift wholesale division, eventually called Department 56. "Department 56's gift lines--virtually all developed by Bazinet--include ceramics, porcelain, bone china, toys, brass, ornaments, and music boxes. The most popular line is Snow Village, a collection of picturesque miniature buildings," reported Corporate Report Minnesota in December 1983.

Southeast Asian and European companies manufactured the giftware, and Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Neiman-Marcus, and Dayton's, were among the department stores carrying Department 56 items. The operation, which became known by its original accounting number, also sold to thousands of gift shops and national catalog companies. In 1984, the $15 million department was spun off as a subsidiary, and Ed Bazinet was appointed president. By then less than 10 percent of Department 56's products were sold by Bachman's retail stores.

The European Flower Market outlets, which had produced sales of $7.5 million in 1984, were eliminated in October 1989. The majority of the kiosks were closed and the names of the remaining outlets were changed to Bachman's. The company had shifted its retail focus to the other end of the spectrum.

"Bachman's opened a new store this month, but it isn't another of the firm's small gift shops that sell flowers in the company's signature purple wrap," wrote Barbara Pokela in a November 1989 Star Tribune article. The floral and garden center, their third store in the 75,000-square-foot range, carried everything from gardening supplies and gifts to patio furniture. Pokela reported the company wanted to alter the perception that Bachman's was only a flower and plant retailer, while remaining committed to its 30 smaller shops.

According to Bachman's company history, the company was an early promoter of foliage plants for home and business and began leasing plants in the 1960s. The interior landscaping division had sales of $3 million in the early 1980s. A decade later the Twin Cities plant leasing market, estimated to be about $10 million, began leveling off. Bachman's held about 1,000 accounts--ranging from $50 to several thousand dollars a month--in the increasingly competitive field.

Fourth generation family member Dale Bachman was named president early in 1992; his cousin Todd Bachman, who had headed the company since 1986, became CEO of Department 56. Forstmann Little & Co., a New York investment firm, purchased the Bachman's wholesale gift subsidiary late in 1992 for $284 million in stock and subordinated debt. Department 56, which had been growing by nearly 20 percent a year, had sales of $122 million in 1991.

The Twin Cities lawn and garden market, in spite of a series of setbacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s--drought, economic recession, and flooding--was expanding. In addition to the local garden store chains, Bachman's competed with discounters, home warehouse stores, and the Mall of America for the garden-related merchandise dollar. Bachman's closed three of its smaller stores and opened a fourth "superstore" in the Twin Cities in 1993.

Todd Bachman departed Department 56 and succeeded Stanley Bachman as chairman in 1994: the tradition of family leadership endured. Other traditions went forth as well. The annual Dayton's-Bachman's Flower show, held for over 30 years, continued to draw large numbers of Minnesotans eager for a taste of spring. And Bachman's persisted in its effort to creatively serve a changing marketplace.

The Corporate Report Fact Book 1997 estimated Bachman's sales to be $65 million. At year-end the company operated 21 retail floral stores, six of them the large floral and garden centers; the indoor and outdoor landscaping divisions; and the wholesale nursery division. Bachman's continued to grow many of its products in its seven acres of greenhouses and on its 513-acre growing range. A seventh floral and garden center opening was planned for 1998.

Further Reading:

  • Apgar, Sally, "Ceramics Dynamics," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), December 22, 1995, p. 1D.
  • "Bachman's Bullish Bear Market," Corporate Report Minnesota, December 1983, p. 22.
  • "Bachman's Inc.," Corporate Report Fact Book 1997, p. 533.
  • "Bachman's to Add Garden Centers," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 8, 1993, p. 3D.
  • Carideo, Tony, "Major Players Destined to Make a Killing from Department 56 Buyout," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), May 11, 1993, p. 2D.
  • Carol, Susan, "Services Plant, Prune and Pot Their Way to Profits," Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, July 22, 1991, pp. 12--13.
  • Feyder, Susan, "New Bachman's President Has Roots in the Business," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 17, 1992, p. 2D.
  • Howatt, Glenn, "Department 56 Is Sold to New York Investment Firm," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), October 8, 1992, p. 1D.
  • Lee, Betsy, "Bachman's: The Family That Prunes Together ... ," Corporate Report Minnesota, February 1980, pp. 58--61, 106.
  • Lundquist, John, "Bachman's: From Family Florist to Nation's Largest," Minneapolis Tribune, February 9, 1981, p. 11A.
  • Maler, Kevin, "Plant Sellers Grow Like Weeds," Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, July 30-August 5, 1993, pp. 1, 30.
  • "Marketplace Pulse," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), August 11, 1989, p. 1D.
  • Pokela, Barbara, "Bachman's Opens 3rd Center in Maplewood," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), November 27, 1989, p. 7D.
  • "Todd Bachman New Chairman, CEO," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), September 9, 1994, p. 3D.
  • Wilkinson, Mike, "Bachman's in Bloom," Corporate Report Minnesota, July 1974, pp. 28--30.
  • Ylvisaker, Bob, "Bachman's Blooming Sales Put It Among U.S. Busiest," Minneapolis Tribune, March 20, 1960, pp. 9--10.
  • Youngblood, Dick, "A Fertile Field," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), September 4, 1988, p. 1D.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 22. St. James Press, 1998.