Saying "Success" with Flowers

Thomas Duggan took hold of a bankrupt business—and made it worth half a million

ALAN MAURICE IRWIN January 1 1924

Saying "Success" with Flowers

Thomas Duggan took hold of a bankrupt business—and made it worth half a million

ALAN MAURICE IRWIN January 1 1924

Saying "Success" with Flowers

TWENTY-EIGHT years ago a man in the little village of Brampton, Ontario, saw a vision. To-day

that vision has become a reality, has developed into a business which gives employment to three hundred and fifty people, has paid its owners a tidy little fortune and has reached in several ways world-wide distinction.

The man is T. W. Duggan, the business Dale’s, and any florist will tell you that Dale’s is Duggan, and Duggan is Dale’s. That, statement “any florist” is no exaggeration, either. Literally every florist in Canada who can be reached by express knows Duggan.

Winnipeg, Vancouver, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Chicago, Pittsburg, New York, Montreal—the list of places where the products of Dale’s greenhouses are bought would sound like a station-master calling the stops of a transcontinental train.

The man who built and runs this marvelous business does not hold one share of stock in it. For twenty-one years he was a trustee, and now as manager he still controls the destinies of this overgrown conservatory.

TN 1895 Tom Duggan was deputy-sheriff of Peel -*• County. He was also agent for the Canada Life Assurance Company, sold fire insurance and represented R. G. Dun and Co., in his spare time.

He was thirty-seven years old, and according to the doctrine erroneously attributed to Osier was therefore almost ready for the discard.

If there is such a thing as a romance of business,

Tom Duggan’s career constitutes one. Sound common-sense and an evident belief in the maxim that honesty ■ is the best policy formed the foundation of a structure that his vision foresaw.

One thing London visitors to Canada admire is the beautiful appearance of our florists’ shops. These are indeed a far cry from the flower-girls of Ludgate Hill and Piccadilly or the rough-lumber stands of Covent Garden Market. But while we pride ourselves upon our Canadian superiority in this respect we seldom stop to think of the places where the flowers thus tastefully displayed are grown.

We imagine, probably, that just outside the city limits of our own particular “home town,” truck gardens produce these now indispensable aids to table and interior decoration. It is safe to say that we never think that behind all this beauty lies romance and a half million dollar business; and that back of that again is a man who has risen from comparative obscurity to a unique position.

Tell a merchant prince or a manufacturer that a payroll the size of his own lies back of the Columbia roses on his dining room table and you will surprise him. Tell him that in twenty-eight years this business has grown out of a small truck-garden and he will ask you how it was developed.

A study of the principles involved in the building-up of his own concern will show him. A thorough knowledge of the business coupled with a"desire to learn all that could be learned through investigation and from others, an obvious sincerity and almost uncanny powers of: concentration constitute the qualifications which made possible the evolution of a prince of florists and with him the development of a business which long after he has passed on will remain a tribute to his ability.

During the course of a recent interview the following incident, which admirably illustrates his powers of concentration, took place. In the midst of a sentence, Mr. Duggan was interrupted by the entrance of a third person into the room. Introductions were effected and for four or five minutes a general conversation ensued. When the4

ALAN MAURICE IRWIN

Thomas Duggan took hold of a bankrupt business—and made it worth half a million

visitor left, the “Flower King” not only picked up the thread of the discussion but he completed the sentence which had been left unfinished.

The ability to do that will be envied by many business men who are interrupted while dictating.

From vegetable peddling to the thirty acres of flowers under glass that constitutes the Dale Estate of to-day is a far cry. Thirty-five or forty years ago a second generation, Canadian of English extraction, named Harry Dale, had worked up a small but successful truck garden. He climbed onto his wagon daily and peddled his products in and around Brampton, and in 1890 built a greenhouse to force early onions and lettuce. Inheriting the Englishman’s love of flowers from his father, he planted a rose-

_. bush in the centie of this glass-house

[ and as it flowered he plucked the blooms

and gave them as premiums to his fair customers. So great was the demand that he decided to commercialize his open-handedness.

This was the genesis of Dale’s. By 1895 the business had grown and there were two or three additional houses, but with his increasing business the truck gardener found that he needed loans for expansion.

A practical grower, but a very impractical business man, he was dismayed to find when he asked for a rating that the mercantile agency would not give it. He found that his business, seemingly so prosperous was insolvent. The absence of books made an Investigation difficult and consequently borrowing from the bank was out of the question and no loan company could be found willing to take a risk. The financial agency suggested that a young man with a knowledge of the fundamentals of business should be engaged to take charge of the financial end of things and recommended T. W. Duggan.

For a month this many-sided deputy-sheriff sorted the wheat from the chaff and at th41e end of that time reported to Mr. Dale that if his creditors decided to take concerted action his affairs were in such shape that he would find himself a bankrupt.

“What shall I do?” Dale asked.

The substance of the reply was:

“If you caie to have me take over your books and make your financial arrangements I think things can be straightened out.”

Salary Depends on Accomplishments

THIS was agreed upon and another job was added to the list of undertakings of T. W. Duggan. He kept on his other work because he had accepted the new one on condition that he should be paid no salary until the end of the first year. Then—and not until then—Mr. Dale was to decide what he thought a book-keep'r was worth to him. From that day to this Mr. Duggan has been paid on the same basis. He has never stipulated what his own salary should be but always has left that to be decided at the end of his year’s accomplishments.

Dale’s first act was to execute an unconditional power of attorney in favor of his new book-keeper. Armed with this he went to the bank and during that first year borrowed from $15,000 to $20,000 in order to pay off the notes which were owed for coal and other supplies. At the same time a vigorous campaign was instituted to change the business to a thirty day basis. To this day, Mr. Duggan thinks that too much credit is an evil.

They tell in Brampton, amongst the old-timers who knew Harry Dale, that it was only in the early days of Tom Duggan’s incumbency that there was ever a danger that the two would seriously disagree. This was over the credit question. Dale, under whose management about nine months of a total year’s business was not paid for, feared that to press these customers for payment within thirty days would result in the loss of their custom. Duggan thought otherwise and for a week they were undecided. Then:

“Look here Mr. Dale, I can’t grow flowers and I don’t interfere with you; you can’t keep books so— ’

The other saw the point.

“Tom, you’re right, but I’m scared. Do what you think best, but for heaven’s sake' don’t tell me about it.” A dealer in Medicine Hat said not long ago that this was one of the finest moves that had ever been made in the flower business. At that time customers frequently owed the retailers for a long time, with the result that the retailers were not able to pay the producer. In 1900, when he became managing executor Mr. Duggan changed this to Piteen days and there it now stands although fifty per cent, of the customers, representing twenty five per cent, of the volume of the business, pay C.O.D.

When Duggan took charge of the books, one of his first actions was to have Harry Dale execute a will and take out life insurance to cover the loans which had been obtained from the bank to pay off the various creditors. These loans had as the:r only security the endorsement of T. W. Duggan—and it was well known that “Tom” hadn’t that much money. Qu;te a tribute to his integrity and ability!

When Harry Dale died in 1900 the fifteen thousand dollars of life insurance constituted sufficient working capital to enable the business to be wound up without losses That winding up was completed two years ago when the estate was changed, at its thenbook value, into a joint stock company. The book value, which did not include an allowance for good will, was approximately $450,000. In 1900 ;t was worth $35,000 as a going concern and considerably less than that [as improved real estate.

Some idea of its growth under the management^

T. W. Duggan can be gained by a comparison of size when he took over complete charge and now.

In 1900 there was about three-quarters of an acre under glass; now there are between twenty-eight and thirty acres. Then

there were seventy-five thousand square feet of glass, now there are one million seven hundred and fifty thousand square feet. In 1900 it was worth $35,000. Two years ago it was valued at almost $450,000 and is still expanding. Eighteen acres of land have grown to one hundred and forty acres and the number of employees has increased from eighteen to more than three hundred and fifty.

The Dale Estate, Ltd., now grows about thirty different varieties of flowers, nearly all of which are in the following list, in the order of their quantities and importance:

Roses, carnations, orchids, lilies of the valley, chrysanthemums, sweet peas, violets, Japanese lilies—white and fancy, antirrhinum—familiarly known as snapdragon, marguerites, calendulas, tulips, daffodils, narcissus paper whites, narcissus soleil d’or, fresia, gladioli, gypsophila, peonies, pyrethrum—the daisy family, gaillardia, delphiniums, achillea, scabiosa, statice, celosía and pansies.

In what are known as “greens” the Dale Estate grows, asparagus plumosus, adiantum— maiden hair fern, smilax, mignonette and fountain grass.

That this list represents but a small proportion of the total varieties grown, however, is evident from the fact that in roses alone there are twenty different kinds. These are, Angelus, Annie Laurie, American Beauty, Butterfly, Betty Uprichard, Commonwealth, Columbia, Claudius Pernet, Captain Kilbee Stewart, Ethel Somerset, Hoosier, Lady Maureen Stewart, Ophelia, Premier, Rev. Page Roberts, Sunburst, Sweetheart, Premier Sport and seedlings.

Last year, estimating conservatively, the Dale nurseries grew more than twelve and one-hali million blooms. Their output is from one-third to one-half of that of all the greenhouses in Canada, so a mathematical mind is not required to find that Canadians bought between twentyfive million and thirty-five million cut floweis last year. These flowers, which cheered the sick, beautified ho'uses, honored the dead, bedecked the brides and ornamented the tables of Canada cost from a million and a half to two million dollars.

As a result of quantity production, inspection and grading, there is now a quality for every purse, although at one time only the rich could afford cut flowers.

Commenting upon the three or four occasions when flowers are considered a necessity, Mr. Duggan says:

“The principal demand for weddings is for orchids and lilies of the valley, although roses have a tremendous popularity. Roses seem to be preferred for funerals. For brightening the sick room people want, flowers which have not too strong an odor. Floral decorations for tables depend upon a great many things. The bangings of the room, types of flatware, glass and cutlery and the nature of the occasion govern this.”

Jt is obvious that with a growth such as Dale’s has

experienced under the guidance of one man there must have been many times when only a man with vision could have seen it through. In the early days some pictures of the vast enterprise of the present day must have shown themselves to the man’s imagination, and only confidence, supported by sound judgment, could have foreseen such tremendous development.

Like many other successful men, T. W. Duggan’s one hobby is work. In his younger days he was a lacrosse player of some note and now he is honorary president of the Brampton lacrosse team and goes to the games when he can get away from his work. But he does not play golf; he may know an ace from a ten spot, but not from experience; he comes back with a grip innocent of liquid ballast when he goes to Montreal and he doesn’t smoke. He is a kindly business man, keen and likeable, shrewd but unswervingly honest, sympathetic though not to be imposed upon. In fact T. W. Duggan is just a very human man of sixty five who impresses you with his sincerity when he shakes hands with you, who looks as though he had taken good care of himself: a man with a pleasant cleanshaven face, smile wrinkles and, as he himself describes it, “a shiny old bald head.”

T. W. Duggan sags that just as there are fashions in clothes so there are fashions in flowers. A few years ago the Killarney rose was introduced, into Canada, and for tivo or three years it enjoyed a great demand, then, for 8 yean the demand entirely ceased and only recently has it again became popular. Every year Dale’s tries to develov a new variety or introduce one that has been created elseivhere.

A good deal of his success may be attributed to his selection of lieutenants. He has manned the comissioned ranks of the business with able men who have come up through the ranks. One departmental manager started twentysix years ago in thefurnace room, shovelling coal; two others have been with him since the period antedating the death of the founder. He says that when any executive picks an assistant he should give that man full responsibility.

“Unless he feels he can’t handle a situation, I don’t want him to come to me,” is Duggan’s dictum. “H'*s department is his own concern. If he thinks that my experience may be valuable to him, he is welcome to it, but it is never thrust upon him.”

“But if he falls down?”

“That, to a great extent, is the fault of the manager. When you pick a man for promotion, it should only be after you have studied him thoroughly and are assured of his ability to handle the job. Don’t give a man a job that is too big for him, but when you do give it to him let him, run it."

He was asked what guided him in h’s derision not to w’nd up the estate immediately, when the reading of the will named him as joint executor.

“A study of the situation,” he replied. “I gathered all the information I could, read everything I could lay my hands on, and the following year I made an extensive trip through England, France, Holland and Germany. As a result of my investigation I found that the flower industry there was as staple as the cloth industry.

“The facts were that co-incident with the growth of the country, continuous expansion was justifiable. As the Dominion grev in population and wealth, it must grow in culture. Culture and wealth would demand flowers. So I bon owed from the banks and private individuals and expanded the plant.”

These early borrowings totalled approximately $140,000 over a period of three years and much of it was obtained in loans of five and ten thousand dollars. Here again Duggan’s personal reputation made this possible, as a business composed of glass structures and highly perishable stock in trade is not a very good risk. Without the confidence of his friends that growth would not have been possible. With the exception of two war years, there has been a steady annual enlargement, and this is explained by Duggan’s market policy. He doesn’t believe in waiting for markets. He makes them. Since the advent of large scale production, cut flowers are within reach of the average purse and for this Duggan’s unit cost principle is responsible. He explains:

“Everything we sell is based upon the actual cost of production, plus a reasonable profit, and as a result of this policy, an ever-widening market is created. Take orchids for example. At one time these beautiful blooms were available only to the very rich. Now they are priced so that most tastes can be gratified.

“I have been given to believe that the recent increase in the tariff upon cut flowers entering the United States was directly aimed at the Dale Estate, but even at that we can lay down orchids in New York, after paying forty

per cent, duty and transportation charges, at a lower price than they can be produced there.”

Not many industries in Canada can do that!

The Origin of Orchids

COME years ago a Danish “grower” who had been hard ^ to get along with walked into Mr. Duggan’s office to announce that he was going to quit. He had made this same announcement several times before but had been dissuaded. This time, however, he seemed obdurate.

“No, Mr. Duggan, you can’t stop me now,” he stated emphatically. “All my life back home, I been growin’ lilies of the valley and orchids together and here I only got lilies. I’m so lonesome for my orchids I got to go back to England where I grew them.”

He was a valuable man and quick thinking combined with vision saved the day.

“Would it be the same if the orchids came to you?” his boss asked.

The Dane’s face lit up. “Would you do that? Would you buy me orchids to grow with my lilies?”

The upshot was that two hundred plants of four different varieties were imported, and Dale’s is now—just eighteen years later—the largest grower of orchids in the world.

One day recently Mr. Duggan received telegraphic orders from Pittsburg and Chicago for, respectively, four hundred and six hundred orchids. More than a thousand dollars’ worth of flowers!

The reasons for these imports from Canada lie largely in the United States system of distribution. Between ninety and ninety-five per cent, of the business there is done through commission houses. T. W. Duggan is strongly of the opinion that where possible the middleman should be eliminated.

“Flowers are cheaper here than in the United States because we sell direct to the retailer,” he says. “Of course, in some circumstances the middleman is of great service to the retailer. There is but one firm in Canada and it is indeed helpful to the retail tiade. Situated in Montreal, rather remote from the growers, and carrying stocks in a well-kept cold storage, the Montreal Floral Exchange is able to fill rush orders and take care of emergencies.

‘Throughout most of Ontario, however, our railway express facilities are so good that we can supply the flowers just as quickly as a wholesale distributor.”

Asked as to how he accounted for Dale’s nation-wide business, Duggan summed them up: “Price, quality,

friendship and service. We—and I think this must apply to any business where accessories are required—make a point of handling everything that a dealer requires. It was the outcome of our policy of carrying every kind of flower that he might ask for. Now we supply baskets, frames, designs, paper, twine, ribbons, chiffon, clips, cards, and many other items.

“The result is that there is a tendency on his part to do all his business with us, as it saves him time and trouble, reduces his express charges and eliminates a considerable amount of bookkeeping.”

An old dealer in flowers in Wolf ville, N.S., still tells a story of a visit paid to him by T. W. Duggan some years ago.

“He came into my store one day, looked at my flowers, and asked me where they came from. I told him that I got them from a man up in Canada named Duggan and he asked me if I had ever seen this chap. I said that I hadn’t but I’d like to because I always had square dealing from his concern. He looked at me and said: ‘You seem to be truthful, but you’re not telling the truth when yousayyou never saw Tom Duggan!’ Then I tumbled.

“Didn’t want to sell me anything either, just came in to shake hands!”

That is the sort of thing to which Duggan alludes, when he says that friendship has helped in the expansion of his business. Periodically he takes trips across the continent just renewing his acquaintance with his cus tomers. He never sells and he has no travellers. “You can’t know your customers too well.”

Some of the Hazards

WHILE in many essentials the business of growing flowers is comparable to other types of industry it is, of course, attended by greater hazards than others.

In the winter when breath mists in front of you and you muffle yourself up in a heavy coat, fur lined gloves and goloshes, the “growers” in Dale’s are going about their work coatless. They mop their brows and complain of the heat while you, separated from them only by an eighth of an inch of glass, stamp your feet and pray for the gentle zephyrs of Summer.

Imagine what would happen to the hundred thousand dollars’ worth of plants if the heat failed. A burst waterpipe spells discomfort to a householder. It would spell stark tragedy to Dale’s with its hundreds of workers.

Last June Ontario experienced a windstorm which played havoc with property throughout a considerable portion of the province. Luckily, all Duggan's business suffered was the loss of about a third of the glass in one house. What would it have meant if all the glass had been destroyed?

Continued on page 44

Saying “Success” With Flowers

Continued from page 10

In a factory where the steam-power fails a certain amount of material may be ruined but as soon as the break is repaireo production can go on. In a greenhouse, one day’s failure of the heating plant would destroy the whole source of supply.

Failure to water flowers in your garden results in their early demise. Picture the destruction, if hundreds of thousands of blooms were thus parched.

The city gardener knows, and dreads, blight and insect destruction. Such destruction is a business risk of great magnitude in the gigantic conservatory at Brampton.

A staff of expert steamfitters constantly engaged in the inspection and repair of pipe-lines, boiler-rooms and radiator pipes eliminates much of the danger of a freeze-up. Foresight with regard to coal purchases and a steam generating plant which reminds one of the engine room of a battleship further reduce this hazard.

Foremen are responsible for the condition of the flowers in their houses and constant inspection of plants is carried out to lessen the danger of insect attack. Spraying with insecticides and watering are two other important safe-guards.

One thing which cannot so far be guarded is the lack of sunshine in the Winter.

“Losses are practically unknown now,” says Duggan. “At one time, tons of flowers were wasted each year, but now nothing remains unsold. We keep here a daily record of sales and production. And each week, at least, comparisons are made with the corresponding weeks of former years. In this way we can arrive at a definite forecast of the probable demand.

“Then, of course, there are special occasions such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In two minutes or less I can tell you just what was the demand a year ago, two years ago or much further back than that.

“No, we don’t often have any flowers left over. We grade them now as First, Seconds, Thirds, Fourths and Shorts with the result that retailers are able to make special prices on some of these grades and take our output. Our product is so highly perishable that it was only sound business practice to make this arrangement and to point out to the dealer the advantage of occasional low-priced sales.”

Long Wedded to a “Bike”

IF YOU ask a Bramptonian who was the best mayor the town ever had he will tell you “Tom Duggan.” It is still told that he is the only chief magistrate who never missed a committee meeting He finds time to preside at the meetings of the Children’s Aid Sociéty and to act as chairman of the Mother’s Allowance Board and to work for the Methodist Church. In fact, it is often said that he is the Methodist Church in Brampton. Some years ago they built a new Sunday School—Duggan gave twenty per cent, of the cost.

I asked him how he reconciled these activities with his statement that he had no hobbies outside of business and the reply was characteristic. His reply was:

“I think any man who directs a large enterprise has a duty to perform to his employees. In the smaller towns, particularly, there is often a dearth of practical business men on the councils. There are certain civic and national obligations we should all perform. From a material standpoint a businessman will find that the change freshens him.”

Duggan knows all his employees by name and always addresses them as “Mr. So and So.”

A fine feeling for the workers’ sensibilities prompted an action that was for a long time a matter of conjecture and amused comment in Brampton. For nearly five years after he purchased a car T. W. Duggan continued to walk, or to ride his bicycle, to the plant. He was afraid that his possession of an automobile might create a little jealously in their

minds. When I reminded him of this he laughed.

“There’s no need to worry about that any longer, many of them come down in their own cars now.”

Many of his employees could tell, if they were asked, of personal loans which helped them to buy their homes; every one of them will tell you that they never ask for an increase in pay. Every six months in some cases and at least once a year, salaries and wages are revised and in the twenty three years of his management, only six men have left because of dissatisfaction with their wages.

When Harry Dale died, he left one son and five daughters. In addition to caring for their inheritance, Duggan acted in loco parentis to the heirs until the son reached his majority. For twenty-one years the estate under his management paid them considerable incomes, and when his status was changed from executor to general manager it was worth approxi mately half a million dollars. He has prospered with them and this prosperity is not grudged as the following story illustrates:

It is said that a busybody once asked Ted Dale—the son—why he let Tom Duggan make out of his property a sum well into five figures each year.

“It’s a lot cheaper for us to hire T. W. Duggan to look after our affairs than it would be for us to try to run the business,” was the answer.