By Phyl Newbeck
You’d think winter would be a slow time for a wildflower seed company, but Mike Lizotte, co-owner of American Meadows, begs to differ. Lizotte said that as the calendar turns to January, orders start coming in to the Williston-based company on a regular basis from those who see spring on the horizon.
Back in 1981, Chy and Ray Allen started American Meadows as a wildflower farm, but soon added a catalog to increase business. They were early adopters of the Internet and soon came to rely on their website for most of their sales. As the couple began to think about retirement in 2007, long-time employee Lizotte asked if he could have the opportunity to purchase the company. 2008 was a tough year to put together a business plan, but along with his high school friend and business partner, Ethan Platt, Lizotte was able to purchase the company he first worked for at the age of 13.
Originally based in Charlotte and then Shelburne, American Meadows has been in Williston for nearly 15 years. It has more than 20 salaried employees and adds some seasonal workers in the spring when sales really heat up. Since plants don’t do very well in Vermont in March, it also has a distribution facility in Pennsylvania where it starts some of its bulbs and seedlings. Lizotte and Platt recently expanded with the purchase of High Country Gardens in Santa Fe, which specializes in desert plants and plants that require little water.
When Internet sales took off, American Meadows owners decided to concentrate on that avenue for the business, but in 2012 the company produced its first catalog in years. “We’re gradually diversifying our marketing mix,” Lizotte said.
Although the company has branched out to include sales of bulbs and perennial plants, its biggest sellers continue to be wildflower seeds. Lizotte said the company specializes in “pure” flower seeds, which are not readily available elsewhere.
“That’s still our strong point,” he said. “We are one of the largest direct-to-consumer wildflower suppliers in the country.”
The nation wide company still has a distinctly local presence. Customers can bypass shipping costs by picking up orders directly at its location on Avenue D. Lizotte said many local landscaping firms take advantage of that option, particularly for bulk purchases of grass seed.
Many of American Meadows employees are master gardeners, since the company encourages them to pursue that certification. They can provide individualized assistance to those calling, emailing or visiting the company.
Lizotte said he and his staff have noticed a number of trends in recent years. One development is the increasing number of people who are growing their own food.
“People want a better understanding of where their food is coming from,” he said—something which has led to an increased interest in vegetable plants, berry bushes and herb gardens.
In addition to growing food, Lizotte has seen a trend towards small-space container gardens. “People are doing more with less,” he said. “They are more in tune with the environment as a whole and are looking for sustainability.”
In addition, customers are more conscious about plantings that require less water and are not invasive species. “There’s greater awareness,” said Lizotte.
November and December are the slowest months for American Meadows. Now that the calendar has turned, people are starting to look at their dormant gardens and think about next year. There may still be snow and ice on your front lawn, but remember, spring is just a few months away.