Story updated Aug. 17 at 8:47 a.m.
Wednesday night the Ecke Ranch announced it has . Here, Paul Ecke III talks with Patch about what motivated the sale, and what’s next for him.
Patch: How long have plans been in motion to sell the ?
Paul Ecke: I don’t know exactly but it seems about six months. In our industry there has been a lot of consolidation going on for some time. Over the last five years, most of the small breeder producers have been bought and that was one of the things I looked at. When I was growing up we were a big company and today we are on the small side through no fault of our own. What’s going on is consolidation, and that’s natural in all industries. Retailers such as Walmart, The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Costco are driving more and more business, so growers are getting bigger and demanding more from breeder producers. We had ideas to grow, but we had to have capital to grow. The last three or four years was not a good time to find capital.
Patch: Will you be involved with the new company?
Ecke: No, I will not be not going along, but they are taking all our employees both here and in Guatemala. They will be staying in Encinitas and leasing the greenhouses here for at least three years. For the Encinitas operation, not much has changed. They are buying the name as well. It will still be Ecke. From the outside, nothing is different. The leadership team is staying, and they will have more opportunities because they will be senior officers in the North American market. It makes it easier to go to retailers and customers when you have a bigger basket of products to sell.
I’m excited because hopefully they will be good stewards of our name, our products, and our people. Hopefully, they will go to another level because they have access to capital. This company sells over a billion cuttings a year, but they didn’t have a large U.S. presence and that’s what they got when they acquired us.
Patch: Will there be layoffs?
Ecke: Everyone will transfer to the new company. I can’t tell what happens afterwards.
Patch: When will the actual hand-off of control happen?
Ecke: The target is around Sept. 1.
Patch: What accomplishments did the Ecke Ranch realize under your watch?
Ecke: For my grandfather, and his father a little bit, this was an outdoor business. They grew poinsettias —it started in Hollywood and they moved here in 1923 and, until 1963, that’s what they did. In the 1960s, my dad did three things: he transformed the business from outdoors to indoors. He started marketing the poinsettia, and he started our breeding program. Instead of selling big, dormant stock plants he sold cuttings. This was able to happen because after World War II the air freight business started up. Then in the mid 1990’s, we started getting lots of competition, mostly from Europe, and then we went offshore, to Guatemala. My grandfather started it outdoors, my father took it indoors, and I took it offshore. Every one of the moves was necessary at the time.
We are almost 100 years old. I’ve always been amazed that we lasted that long with all of the changes in the marketplace. If you don’t adjust, you die. This move, even though there is a change of owner, our company, the name and our products will live on and go on to another level. I’m proud of all of that.
Patch: At one time, your company was the largest producer of poinsettias in the world. What is your market share these days?
Ecke: We have a large market share. In the US, it is about 70 percent—and worldwide, over 50 percent. This was higher pre-1992, when we started getting competition, but we are still very proud of these figures. Most companies would love to have a 70% market share!
Patch: How do you feel—relieved?
Ecke: It’s bittersweet. It certainly is something I did not take lightly. I told employees yesterday that it was the hardest decision I ever made. This has been a family company, my life’s work. At the end of the day, I’m a long-term planner. Looking into the future, five or 10 years, we would never have caught up with the big guys. It’s like the car business. A “little” company like Porsche was recently purchased by VW. You can survive as a boutique for a while, but it’s getting increasingly hard to survive without more products, more capital and being more efficient. I decided not to be stubborn, and to take the opportunity that presented itself. In that regard, I feel relieved because I believe the company will be going to a higher level.
Patch: What do you want the community to know about you and your decision to sell?
Ecke: One thing I was trying to tell our employees yesterday is that this was always a team effort and even though I’m going away, the business is not going to collapse. It was never about me, my dad or my grandfather. We all contributed the vision and the effort, but it was our people who did the work. I have the upmost respect for everybody on our team now and in the past. They made me look good on many occasions which was always nice. The Ecke Ranch, the Ecke name and the Ecke poinsettia will continue. Even though I won’t be a player or a coach, I will be sitting in the stands, cheering, and will watch the team go to the Super Bowl! At least now I will have more time to go to football games, and cheer for my Chargers.
Patch: What do you think about ?
Ecke: I’m really very, very excited about what they are talking about. They are planning and have been doing a ton of work. The Leichtag Foundation is a first-class organization. They have very unique ideas about how to use this land, and some very cool agricultural concepts about growing plant material and food for local use. I’m thrilled that they will restore the ranch house my sisters and I grew up in. Not only did I find the right steward for the company, I found a great steward for the land as well. I handed it off to the right people and I can sleep well at night.
Patch: What accomplishments are you most proud of that benefitted the community?
Ecke: The will be an awesome legacy for our whole family. My sister and I have been very involved in the Paul Ecke Central School garden program. If you haven’t checked it out, I would encourage you to do so. Our foundation has been supporting them, and sending plants. Next year kids will grow produce and that is on the school site on Sundays. I think that’s a cool idea. The whole curriculum is incorporated into the garden—science, math, cooking, and water quality. We are all humans, but we are connected by the land. Maybe we’ve become disconnected, but programs like this are a great way to reconnect.
My wife is involved with the Community Resource Center. The last five years, we’ve had Of course, the is one of our favorite charities. My sister is on the board.
I am president of the Encinitas Preservation Association. We purchased the boathouses in downtown Encinitas to preserve them.
I’m involved in the Don Diego scholarship board at the fairgrounds and another scholarship foundation. I love to get involved in the education of kids. And Scripps Encinitas—I’m involved in that is being built right now. They are well on their way to meeting their goal, but could still use more help!
Patch: Will you be staying here?
Ecke: Yes, I am. Why would I go anywhere else? It’s paradise here. My sister and my mother live here, and we love it. I may have more time to go surfing, riding my horse, cheering for the Chargers, and skiing, but we have no plans to move.
Patch: What will you be doing?
Ecke: We still have an 11-year-old-daughter at home. I expect to go to more of her soccer games and drive the carpool more than I did for our first child. On a personal level, I’m not worried about staying busy. On a professional basis, I still have work to do including completing the land deal, the option to sell to the Leichtag Foundation. In the meantime, I’m involved in nonprofit work such as Scripps Hospital, the Don Diego Scholarship and we have the Ecke Family Foundation that I am president of. Fortunately, I will also have the time to think about what I’m going to be when I “grow up.”
Patch: Ecke poinsettias have graced The White House along with stages of America's most iconic TV shows, such as The Tonight Show, during the holidays. Is that still the case, and how did that tradition start?
Ecke: Yes, we still provide poinsettias to the Jay Leno show, and have for many, many years. My father started doing that as a way to market poinsettias by providing poinsettias for TV shows. He also provided poinsettias for magazines, especially woman’s magazines. This effort put poinsettias in photo shoots of Christmas scenes and made people want to mimic those magazine shots.
Patch: In the future, what will come to mind when you hear, or see, “poinsettia?”
Ecke: Good question. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like even this Christmas. I grew up with poinsettias all around me, even before I was born. You know I can’t divorce myself from that. I’m sure I will enjoy them even more. I’ll probably hold them more dear because I’ll have to pay for them! My friends will probably be upset because they will have to pay for them also. And I will continue to remind people that poinsettias are not poisonous!