Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By David A Kolman
You've Probably heard the expression: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” The implication is to keep on going when life's inevitable storms arise. For one Central Florida nurseryman, after suffering through four hurricanes since 2004, he grabbed key limes, made some key lime pies, and founded a gourmet dessert business.
“I'd been conceptualizing an adjunct business to my wholesale nursery operation for a number of years,” says Louis Morehead, owner of Tiki Lui Nursery in Titusville, Florida, which he started in 1984. The nursery specializes in tropical plants such as Crotons, Cordylines, Gingers, Heliconia, and White Bird of Paradise. The nursery also grows bananas, hot peppers, and key limes on 1.89 acres.
But the deciding factor for beginning a new business, along with the recent storms, occurred in March 2007. That's when Morehead took a fall, breaking his arm in five places. The repair required two plates and fourteen screws.
“I was in a cast for four months and lost ability to pick up and carry plants as well as I use to,” he says. “By not being able to do as much heavy work, I had the time to cement my idea for a key lime pie business and really start developing it.”
Morehead's previous significant business strategy change occurred in 1992. “That's when the large retail chains such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot came to town, and my business — all retail at the time — became much less profitable. I decided to get out of retailing tropical plants and move into wholesaling them.”
Plant production is begun with cuttings, seeds, or rhizomes (horizontal underground stems) in a greenhouse. When the new plants reach a certain age, they are moved into larger pots and placed outside on gravel within shade houses.
It takes about a full year for the tropical plants to reach the point where they are ready for sale. Plants are grown to an average height of 42 inches. At any one time 8,000 to 9,000 plants are on the ground within the main shade house and 12,000 plants on the ground within the greenhouses.
“We ship several refrigerated semitrailer loads of plants a year,” says Morehead. “We double stack the plants. We load the floor of the trailer first. Then we load a deck that is set at 48-inches high. With our plants being around 42 inches tall, they don't get injured during the loading and unloading process.”
Key lime destiny
With time to contemplate business ideas while nursing his broken arm, Morehead says he was struck with a realization: “This is the time to get into the key lime pie business.”
He began looking at key lime pie recipes and comparing them to a longstanding South Florida family recipe for fresh baked key lime pie. He went to other key lime pie producers to check out potential competition. He also began looking at packaging for his products.
Along with his graphic artist Chris Lehmann, the two developed a unique primary and secondary logo and other graphics to be used by the company. They designed product container labels, a retail pie box, shipping box labels, product identification labels, and merchandising material such as menu inserts and table tops for potential restaurant customers. Morehead and Lehmann also developed a website for the company.
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