Businesswoman and CommBank customer Elaine Duncan knows a thing or two about moving with the times. In her business, Flourish Plants, she responds quickly to opportunity and works closely with trusted advisers to make things happen.
Elaine runs Flourish Plants, a wholesale and commercial nursery which combines the power of technology with the gentle art of nurturing seedlings.
Based in Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands, Flourish Plants produces 30 million seedlings a year. Customers include farmers, nurseries, supermarkets and some of the biggest-name garden centre franchises.
“We’ve introduced lots of automation to allow us to meet market demand and expand the business,” Elaine says. “Our seeding machine can plant 512 seedling trays at once, and we’ve recently worked with CommBank to buy a robotic pot fork that can lift 300 pots at a time.”
“We also have a robotic transplanter which can transfer tiny seedlings into containers where they grow to saleable size. It was probably the third or fourth machine of its type in the country.”
Flourish Plants also supplies commercial quantities of lettuce, herbs and green edibles direct to supermarkets – around 100,000 units a week.
Elaine says that there are two secrets to Flourish Plants’ success – being open to technology that can make production more efficient, and the business’ family ownership.
“The business was started by my parents; I started running the commercial side about 15 years ago, before becoming director four years ago. My two sons, Adam and Thomas, are also in the business. We’ve always had an approach where we work very collaboratively and everyone can take a valued role in the business.
“We support that with good external advisers from CommBank. We have an Asset Finance specialist along with an Agribusiness Executive, Patrick Russell, who has a lot of knowledge and expertise, and the bank has supported us all the way.
"Our banker takes an active interest in the business and has a really intimate understanding of what we are trying to achieve.”
Patrick Russell says the Bank worked with Flourish Plants to understand the benefits of some of the major investments the business has made, and to quantify the potential bottom line impacts.
“When a business is growing quickly, it uses a lot of cash in a short period,” Patrick says. “Our Asset Finance specialist for the area, John McNeil, visited the business to understand what the equipment would offer and advise on finance structures.
“We also worked closely with the CommBank risk team to understand the costs involved, what the business was trying to achieve and the value of the efficiencies that would come from the new equipment. This was especially important during the Coronavirus when labour resourcing was such a challenge, and automation could really help address that,” he says.
Elaine says including the Bank as part of their business planning means Flourish Plants is positioned to move quickly when opportunities come up.
“As a small family-run business, we’re able to rapidly change direction and not miss the market.”
Most recently, that agility has seen Elaine divert a lot of resources into indoor plants and herbs.
“When everyone started working from home, vegetable seedlings became the new toilet paper!” she says. ‘It was about six weeks of insanity before that trend slowed and then the indoor plant market took off.”
This has been great news for Flourish Plants, which invested in two large scale greenhouses to grow indoor plants and circumvent some of the weather risk in the business.
Elaine has also jumped on an opportunity to service the blueberry market, previously serviced largely from south-east Asia, after securing a grant for a large greenhouse for that purpose.
As the business continues to grow, Elaine says she can’t underestimate the role her parents have played.
“I always want to recognise the start they gave us. We wouldn’t be where we are without the hard work they put in.”