When most people see an arrangement of flowers and plants such as ferns, they typically focus on the lush aromas and visual beauty of such greenery. Denny Anderson, however, views them very differently: as goods that have a shelf life measured in days, if not hours, with profits measured by the same slim margin.

That's because Andersen is director of transportation for San Antonio, TX-based Continental Floral Greens, and he's tasked with making sure the company's goods get delivered on time, every time, to its customers across the U.S.

“To make deliveries to wholesalers and grocery stores, we need an efficient transportation system in place,” says Anderson. “We have more than 950 customers and one key to our success is having our own fleet of tractors and refrigerated trailers to handle deliveries. When you can put your own trucks in play, you're not at the mercy of anyone's schedule but your own. And that's critical in terms of the extremely perishable goods we ship.”

Founded in 1954 and still family owned and operated, Continental booked more than $45 million in revenues last year serving the ultra-competitive U.S. floral market.

Two company farms in Mexico make up 30% of the company's business, with a flower growing area and distribution warehouse near Mexico City. Continental also operates a 300-acre farm in Deland, FL; a 100-acre plot in Floresville, TX; and another 100-acre tract in Watsonville, CA. All produce what's known in the business as “greenery,” mainly leather leaf, Latin greens, and tree ferns.

A VAST NETWORK

Continental's production farms are supplemented with distribution houses in New Freedom, PA, and Belfair, WA, with Belfair also serving as a major player in the production of Christmas greens, which are brought in by independent harvesters.

About 78% of all cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported, primarily from Latin America, and amount to roughly 2.9 billion imported stems, most of these coming from Colombia and Ecuador. According to Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential, a book about the global floral trade, Americans buy more roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums than they do all other flowers combined.

Yet flowers and floral arrangements are highly fragile and perishable goods, so a lot rides on how they are transported. Altogether, Continental imports 70% of flowers from outside sources and carries more than 350 varieties of floral containers and supplies, which include vases, baskets, foam and other goods to support fresh cut products.

Most of the floral products and greens come into the company's warehouse, where shipments are sorted, then packaged and readied for delivery, with greens and flowers going to wholesalers and arrangements to grocery stores.

Continental owes its continued success to its domestic transportation arm, a fleet of 16 Peterbilt Model 387 tractors with 70-in. double-bunk sleepers leased from PacLease vendor Rush Truck Leasing. Anderson says Continental runs team drivers, so each vehicle logs close to 190,000 mi. a year, with the fleet totaling 2.7 million mi. annually throughout 44 states.

With each round trip, a Continental Floral rig will make 40-50 stops, which includes a stop at one of the company's farms or distribution houses to backhaul greenery for sorting in San Antonio. And the driver's fingerprints are all over the 1,600 to 1,800 boxes delivered per week, Anderson stresses. “[Drivers] aren't bumping docks out there; they are not unloading these flowers and greens by forklift,” he points out. “Most of our customers don't have docks so our drivers unload those boxes by hand and with great care.”

Continental's business plan centers on always delivering exceptional customer service — and having its own fleet on hand is key to their success.