Bailey Nurseries, Inc. History

Address:
1325 Bailey Road
St. Paul, Minnesota 55119
U.S.A.

Telephone: (651) 459 9744
Toll Free: 800-829-8898
Fax: (651) 459-5100

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1905
Employees: 500
Sales: $65 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 424930 Flower, Nursery Stock, and Florists Supplies Wholesalers

Company Perspectives:

Bailey Nurseries, Inc. is widely recognized as one of the United States' largest wholesale nurseries, serving customers throughout the U.S., several Canadian provinces and beyond. Our products are distributed by more than 4,500 nursery retailers, landscapers, and garden center operations and can be found as far away as Beijing, China. Through its 95 years, Bailey has earned a reputation as a leader in the nursery industry with inventive techniques, high-quality plants and active involvement in industry organizations. The integrity and innovation on which the company was built remain its hallmarks today. Still a family-owned business, the fourth generation of the Bailey family is now actively involved in all facets of the nursery's daily operations.

Key Dates:

1905:
John Vincent and Elizabeth Bailey establish Bailey Nurseries.
1911:
Bailey Nurseries diversifies to sell flowers, shrubs, evergreens, and cattle; Bailey establishes catalogue.
1926:
J.V. Bailey becomes first president of the Minnesota Nurserymen's Association.
1933:
Bailey holdings include over 300 acres, an office, and ventilated storage facilities.
1943:
John Vincent Bailey dies of heart problems.
1950:
Bailey Nurseries hires its first full-time salesperson.
1956:
Gordon and Vincent Bailey, sons of the founder, decide to only pursue wholesale business.
1989:
Bailey Nurseries begins producing container grown trees.
1991:
Rose hybridization program is begun at Yamhill, Oregon.
2002:
Bailey's Love and Peace rose wins national rose award.

Company History:

Bailey Nurseries, Inc. is a family owned and operated wholesale nursery and ranks consistently among the top ten U.S. nurseries. Bailey's corporate headquarters is in Newport, Minnesota, in the suburbs of St. Paul. The company conducts business in 47 states and has a small international presence with sales to Canada and China. In addition to its Minnesota operations, Bailey has growing facilities in Oregon and Washington state.

The First Generation, a Labor of Love: 1800s to 1943

The Bailey family tradition of working the soil dates back many generations, and the Bailey Nurseries story itself encompasses four generations of Bailey family members who have devoted their careers to cultivating trees, shrubs, and plants.

The genesis of the company came at the end of the 19th century, when a young Minnesota farmer's son, John Vincent (J.V.) Bailey, realized his passion for the land and sought out a modern education in agriculture. Bailey enrolled at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota's Agricultural School in 1892. Students at the school were taught the most recent agricultural and technological innovations of the day. J.V. Bailey was a conscientious student who committed himself to his study of all manner of agricultural science. Bailey worked his way through school by staffing the entomology laboratory on campus and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1896.

Though Bailey was well educated, his financial reserves were limited and he found himself with very little money for acquiring land on which to practice his newfound knowledge. Challenged but not despondent, Bailey took what was left of his life's savings, a mere $10, and invested it in some agricultural rental land his first year out of school. The venture on the rented land proved unsuccessful and Bailey failed to turn a profit.

Bailey remained undaunted and leased land a second season. This time his prospecting paid off. Bailey had planted a melon crop on a rocky hillside near Newport, Minnesota, land for which conventional farmers of the time saw little use. In a remarkable turn of luck, Bailey realized a $3,000 profit.

In order to accomplish his bountiful harvest, Bailey had enriched the soil using additives to make the rocky soil adequate for planting; next he built miniature cold-frame greenhouses out of recycled glass photo negatives and lumber. The combination of hard work and innovation paid off and left Bailey with enough money to purchase 80 acres of land and begin his farm in earnest.

Several important factors contributed to Bailey's fortune in the early years. The St. Paul Farmer's Market was a newly created Minnesota enterprise which afforded J.V. Bailey a convenient place to sell his produce, and Bailey was willing to work hard to achieve his goals.

The market supplied city dwellers and restaurateurs fresh farm products at reasonable prices, and became an instant success. With his wagonload of produce, Bailey was one of the market's principal vendors, and as such earned a citywide reputation for high-quality goods.

In the first decade, the St. Paul Farmer's Market had several hundred growers represented in individual stands. The industrious Bailey was determined to get to market early and set up his wares in one of the choicest positions on the market floor. This was not an easy accomplishment when one considers that the trip to St. Paul by wagon took Bailey two and a half hours from his farmstead. The route was a little more than eight miles by horse and cart, with a heavy load to pull on bumpy and dusty dirt roads that made the trip arduous.

With the initial triumph of the market, a bank known as the Produce Exchange Bank was begun, with J.V. Bailey as one of the bank's founders. In other market lore, Bailey was immortalized as the first vendor to arrive at market by motorized vehicle. The primitive automobile was a kind of makeshift truck. Bailey had attached a large crate for produce on the back of an automobile and his creation helped improve his business considerably. The rudimentary pickup allowed Bailey to arrive at the market in less time and enabled him to make several trips back and forth to his farm to restock his supply. More sales meant more revenue, and revenue for Bailey translated into additional land holdings.

In 1911 Bailey saw a need to diversify his product offerings and began to introduce nursery products to his goods at market. Flowers, ornamental shrubs, and evergreens were sold at the Bailey stand with immediate success. In a short time Bailey began to catalogue his nursery stock and increased demand led to his hiring his first employees.

While the company flourished in the beginning of the 20th century, Bailey married and bought more land, but like most businesses the hard times of the 1930s caused a rapid decline.

During the Great Depression, Bailey Nurseries suffered some minor setbacks. The Baileys mortgaged some of their land holdings in order to support the family. The family's fruit trees, especially their apples, proved to be an important cash crop during these lean years. The family and business weathered the Depression and by 1933 the company held over 300 acres, and housed a modern office and plant storage facilities. It was at this time that the second generation of Baileys began to manage the company. Vincent Bailey was hired as superintendent of production and Gordon Bailey took over the administrative duties of the company. J.V.'s daughter, Beth, partnered with Gordon in the offices in her role as secretary and bookkeeper.

When war broke out in the 1940s, Bailey Nurseries faced challenges on several fronts. The workforce that the company had relied on to work its land--predominantly young, male, blue-collar workers--had joined the military ranks and left a tremendous labor shortage on the homefront. To keep up with production, the company relied on migrant laborers, mainly Mexican nationals, to fill the gap.

New Generation at the Helm: 1943-80s

In 1943 company founder John Vincent Bailey passed away from heart problems, leaving the business fully to his offspring. In 1950 Bailey Nurseries hired its first full-time salesman, who traveled the countryside searching out vendors interested in stocking Bailey trees, shrubs, and container grown nursery plants. Many of the small roadside nurseries that exist in small towns along rural Minnesota routes got their start selling Bailey Nurseries' products.

In 1955 Bailey Nurseries became the first business of its kind to institute a profit-sharing plan for its full-time permanent employees. The profit-sharing standard Bailey set did not reproduce industrywide for many years to come. Under the second generation, an important directional decision took place. In 1956, with a growing wholesale operation, the Bailey brothers decided to eliminate the retail division and focus solely on expanding the company's wholesale services. Retail facilities were converted to growing space, and the company readied itself for large-scale expansion.

By 1962 Bailey Nurseries had over 600 acres of land and maintained 450 acres of trees, shrubs, and nursery plants. The company had been rapidly expanding and concentrating its resources on further refining the operation.

To improve upon its plant stock the company invested in its storage facilities throughout its operation. Beginning in the late 1960s Bailey installed automatic humidity and refrigeration controls to provide a safe climate-controlled environment for its bareroot stock. These state-of-the-art facilities contributed greatly to the production of high-quality nursery stock. The dormant storage areas maintained temperature levels by means of a mechanized ventilation system, refrigeration, and rapid humidity controls produced when compressed air is circulated over water. By the time representatives of the third generation of Baileys--Gordon, Jr., and Rod--became chairman and president, respectively, those family members that had maintained an active role in the company bought out other relatives who had inherited equity in the company.

In 1977 Bailey Nurseries expanded its facilities by establishing business sites in the Pacific Northwest. It opened farms in Yamhill and Sauvie Island, Oregon, and in Sunnyside, Washington.

In 1980 Margaret and Gordon Bailey, Sr., established a faculty chair in environmental horticulture at the University of Minnesota. Gordon, Sr., was honored for his substantial work in the nursery industry by being inducted into the American Nurserymen's Hall of Fame. Bailey's father, J.V., had helped organize the Association and served as its first president.

In 1981 the nursery instituted a central propagation center in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. The facility, known as Nord Farm, served as the seeding operation for over 4.6 million trees and shrubs each year.

Nord Farm seasonally shifted its production from bedding plants (perennials and annual flowers as well as vegetables and herbs) to soft wood plant seedlings in summer. Bailey grew over 175,000 flats of annual plants and over 40,000 hanging flower baskets for the home gardener.

The decades of the 1980s and 1990s saw a significant increase in hobby gardening. Spurred on by television celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Rebecca Kolls, shows including the Victory Garden, and the HGTV network, landscape centers and do-it-yourself home centers grew exponentially. In 1996 Bailey Nurseries became home to the nationally syndicated show Rebecca's Garden, with local master gardener Rebecca Kolls. Bailey Nurseries as a wholesale supplier did not miss out on these boom times and grew with the nation's renewed interest in home landscaping.

Blooming with Roses: 1990s-2000s

In 1991 Bailey Nurseries began its rose breeding program. Based at the nursery's Yamhill, Oregon site, the company produced a vast variety of high quality rose stock for its retailers. The rose program resulted in over 35,000 rose variety crosses each year. The 250,000 seeds that were produced through the hybridization were then evaluated for several important qualities that produced a good rose.

In 1992 Bailey Nurseries hired a professional rose hybrider named Ping Lim to oversee the cultivation of new roses. The company focused its production on hardy shrub roses that could tolerate tougher climates with good disease resistance. A rose catalogue was made available to retailers to keep current with the new varieties Bailey had developed. By 2003 roses had become one of Bailey Nurseries' largest selling products, with over 800,000 roses planted each year. The company produced its first All-American Rose Selections award-winning rose "Love and Peace" in 2002.

According to the company web site, by 2003 Bailey Nurseries had over 5,000 acres in active cultivation. The company maintained over five million cubic feet of cold storage space dedicated to housing over 7.5 million dormant plants. The company planted 2.7 million fruit and shade trees and more than six million shrubs and vines.

In 1998 Bailey Nurseries had bought land in Hastings, Minnesota, to serve primarily as a tree farm for container tree production. The company produced over 100,000 container grown trees each year. Tree sizes and prices varied greatly with container sizes ranging from five to 25 gallons.

In 1999, Chairman Gordon Bailey, Jr., continued the family philanthropic tradition by taking part in a cross-country bike trip to raise money for the Horticultural Research Institute. Bailey logged over 2,100 miles for an endowment fund at the Institute.

Industry consolidation had not been an enormous factor in the nursery industry as of the 2000s, but predictions were being made that such consolidations were coming. Bailey's diversification, large size, and strong name recognition placed it in a solid position to remain one of the industry's leaders.

Principal Competitors: Ball Horticultural Company; Shermin Nurseries; Celebrity Inc.; Florimex Worldwide Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Broede, Jim, "Woodbury, Minnesota, Eyes 100 Acres for a Business Campus," St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 3, 1998.
  • Egerstrom, Lee, "Newport, Minnesota-Area Nursery Shows Classic Challenges of Family Business," June 10, 2002.
  • "Flexibility Helps in Adjusting to Tight Labor Market," Employee Benefit News, May 1, 1998.
  • Solberg, Carla, "Gordon Bailey: Chairman, Bailey Nurseries," Corporate Report Minnesota, August 1999, p. 8.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 57. St. James Press, 2004.

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