The Bailey family has flourished during its business’ 110-year history. But Bailey Nurseries’ leaders still operate with the belief that the family doesn’t always know best. The company has grown from a one-man operation selling fruit trees and ornamental shrubs to one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the United States, thanks to insights from those who are family and those who aren’t.
“For a business to thrive, you have to ask for outside help,” says Terri McEnaney, president of the Newport-based company and a fourth-generation family member. “We get an outside perspective through family business programs, advisors and our board, because you can get a bit ingrained in your own way of thinking.”
When Bailey Nurseries chose its current leader in 2000, it brought in a facilitator who gathered insights from key employees, board members and owners. Third-generation leaders (and brothers) Gordie and Rod Bailey picked Rod’s daughter McEnaney, who had experience both inside and outside the company.
That facilitator came in handy. The extended family—some of them members of the management team, others not—have often expressed different ideas and visions about the company and its direction. “There have been some challenging times and where we don’t agree on things,” McEnaney says. “In the end we try to come together and agree to disagree.” Despite the struggles, “I think now we really feel like we are in a position where we understand the role of the ownership, their guidance in the overall direction of the company and what the ownership is wanting out of the company,” she adds.
McEnaney took over as president in 2001 from her father, whose title is now past president (Gordie Bailey’s current title is board chair.) Despite the challenges she’s faced during her 13 years as president, she has also stood on the solid ground that the three preceding generations built up. And Gordie still provides valuable insights.
Founded in 1905, Bailey Nurseries has grown a national reputation for quality and for developing successful new products. In the 1970s, the family business branched out of Minnesota with the purchase of 360 acres in Oregon, where the growing season is longer, and warmer-climate plants can be grown. The company now owns more than 5,000 acres in Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. This facilitates growing and distributing trees, shrubs and flowers to more than 4,500 retail and landscaping company customers worldwide.
“We were very fortunate” expanding in Oregon, Gordie Bailey recalls. “We picked a guy that was very good at it, a fellow by the name of Don Pond, who was a university graduate with a farm background, who had been running our shade tree storage here.” Pond, who recently retired, built the Baileys’ Oregon operation “up from nothing to I think one of the largest and best nurseries on the West Coast.”
Besides its physical expansion, Bailey Nurseries has created 60 new varieties of plants, including such strong sellers as the Love & Peace Rose, the Fall Fiesta Sugar Maple and the Endless Summer collection of reblooming hydrangeas.
The company also encourages innovative thinking among its employees. One of its territory sales managers, Ted McDonald, came up with a product idea that eventually became what is now called JumpStarts, which Bailey Nurseries started selling to its grower customers this year. It’s a quart-sized plant liner designed to help plants develop stronger roots before being placed into larger containers for retailers. JumpStarts received a good response from its grower customers this year, and Bailey is introducing them for many other plant varieties in 2015.
Its conservative approach and continuous innovation helped Bailey Nurseries withstand the Great Recession. After seeing significant revenue drops during the downturn (during which the U.S. horticulture industry lost 30 percent of its members), it now is bouncing back, and projects double-digit sales growth this year.
Still, the recession “was by far the most difficult time that I’ve dealt with in the 55 years or so that I’ve been in the business,” Gordie Bailey says. Bailey Nurseries, he notes, has a long history of giving employees opportunities to grow—“valuing their opinions, giving them some leeway to do their jobs, providing opportunities for advancement to nonfamily members”; for instance, the company had established a profit-sharing plan early on, in 1955. So it was particularly painful for the Baileys when, for the first time in their company’s history, they had to reduce headcount a few years ago. It has since been able to add positions.
Gordie Bailey gives much of the credit for the company’s ability to withstand those cold years to McEnaney. “She has made difficult downsizing decisions in the wake of the Great Recession and added the [big-]box stores to our customer list, as they have acquired a significant portion of the green goods business,” he says. “Through all of this change, she has managed to keep focus on our core strengths of providing excellent-quality plants and dependable service.”
Though they no longer run the company day to day, Gordie Bailey and his brother Rodney serve as the two family board members, and they give input to the management team at regular meetings. For instance, when the company is presented with opportunities for diversification and expansion (organically and through acquisition), family board members help the management team determine the best opportunities.
McEnaney is grateful for her father and uncle’s guidance, though she felt ready to lead once the time came. Before becoming president, she spent a decade at Bailey’s learning about sales, production and meeting customers’ needs. Before that, she worked at 3M for many years, gaining experience on cross-functional teams. She rejoined the family business in 1991 and “fell in love with the company, what it stands for and what our product does,” McEnaney says. “We help beautify the world.”
In her tenure as president, McEnaney has focused on new product introductions and branding, and she has led an expansion beyond the North American market. Other initiatives under her leadership include boosting productivity and process improvement, and developing partnerships with breeders and growers around the world to increase global sales.
A member of another long-established Twin Cities-based family gardening business, Dale Bachman, served on Bailey’s board for more than 25 years. The chairman and CEO of the company that bears his family’s name, Bachman cites as Bailey Nurseries’ strengths its continuous improvement in its products, as well as in production practices, investing in everything from plant breeding to cutting-edge technology such as robot mechanization. His company has been a customer for more than 70 years. “They just have fabulous product, innovation—they are introducing new plants all the time,” he says. “And the customer service we get through Bailey’s is excellent.”
Bachman also praises the Baileys’ commitment to giving back to the community, especially horticulture education at the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the Minnesota State Fair Foundation. The company’s employees also volunteer at Habitat for Humanity.
Now the fifth generation of the family is becoming involved in Bailey Nurseries. “There are not a lot of people who have the opportunity to carry on a legacy that comes from your previous generations,” McEnaney says. “We have been fortunate that we’ve had the ability do that, and I hope we will be able to do that for the next generation.”
Family name: Bailey
What it does: Distributes its trees, shrubs, roses, vines, and fruits to 4,500+ independent garden centers, landscapers, growers, and re-wholesalers worldwide
Type of ownership: 100 percent family owned
Principal owners: Seven owners from the fourth generation
Number of employees: 500+ year-round, 600+ seasonal
Number of family members in the business: 10
Number of family members on the board: 2
1905 – John Vincent Bailey starts J.V. Bailey Nursery, selling a “complete line of fruits and ornamentals” at the St. Paul City Market.
1929 – Second-generation family members Vincent, Gordon Sr. and Beth join the company.
1955 – Vincent and Gordon Bailey Sr. introduce a profit-sharing plan for permanent employees, a first in the industry.
1967 – Gordon Bailey Sr. purchases J.V. Bailey Nursery and begins operating under the name Bailey Nurseries Inc.
1976 – Bailey Nurseries buys 360 acres in Yamhill, Ore., establishing the company’s West Coast headquarters.
1978 – The third-generation of leadership takes the helm: Gordie Bailey is named president, managing administrative functions; his brother, Rodney, is named secretary/treasurer, managing production.
1998 – Bailey employees develop the Drop-Trailer, which moves entire loads of freshly potted plants to the fields with reduced labor and increased productivity.
2001 – Terri McEnaney, fourth-generation family member and daughter of Rodney Bailey, is named president of Bailey Nurseries.
2003 – The company introduces its Original Endless Summer Hydrangea, which it says is the world’s first reblooming hydrangea.
2009 – Operations begin in Onarga, Ill., on 377 acres, joining Bailey Nurseries’ other sites in Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota and Washington.
2014 – First fifth-generation family member, Terri’s son Ryan McEnaney, starts working full-time at Bailey Nurseries.