Talent For The Trade

Amplex In The News: see full article at Ornamental Outlook

Amplex puts stock in the importance of understanding supply and demand.

By Sherry Boas


Tami McKnight and George Kostilnik
Photo by Sherry Boas

The converted trailer that houses the home office of Amplex in Clearwater is a busy place. With a steady stream of customers placing orders and an office staff of 14 men and women coordinating the buying, selling, and shipping of everything from large palms and trees to groundcovers and annuals, the Amplex headquarters has the feeling of a commodity brokerage house. Even the company name, Amplex — an abbreviation of American Plant Exchange® — suggests a Wall Street association. According to company founder and co-owner, George Kostilnik, that was the intention all along.

“The nursery industry is a true commodity,” says Kostilnik. “It’s fast. It’s volatile. It’s the largest individual commodity in the world that doesn’t go through major brokerage houses.”

Sales Sense

Amplex

Owners:  George Kostilnik and Tami McKnight
Locations:  Clearwater and Plant City, FL
Year Founded:  1985
Services:  Broker, grower, and out-of-state distributor
Size: 6 acres in Clearwater and 100 acres in Plant City
Number of Employees: 100
Customers: Large and small landscapers
Company Philosophy:Constantly work to make it right.

Despite his strong association with commodity trading, Kostilnik didn’t come to the nursery industry from a Wall Street background. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Kostilnik moved to Florida in the 1970s and began his career with a completely different commodity — selling tropical fish to pet stores. But a big freeze put an end to that endeavor and sent Kostilnik searching for a new focus. He found it working with plants at Amerson Nurseries in Terra Ceia, FL. “When I began working for Amerson I was told, ‘If you can sell fish, you can sell plants.’

After a year-and-a-half at Amerson, Kostilnik started his own nursery business. Launched in 1985, Amplex grew quickly from a one-person venture focused on the removal and resale of palm trees into a multimillion-dollar operation providing a wide range of plant material to wholesalers from New York to Texas.

“We only sell to the trade,” explains Amplex vice president and co-owner Tami McKnight. “But our customers range from small landscapers to large accounts like Anheuser-Busch.”

Fast-Paced Growth

McKnight knows first-hand how much has changed at the company she joined shortly after its inception. “I used to do everything from loading the truck to writing up invoices,” she recalls.

Eventually, business demand became more than McKnight and Kostilnik could handle by themselves. “Customer needs is what made us change,” explains McKnight. “Our customers required a broader palette of products and we responded to the challenge.”

Bit by bit, more people were added to the company roster and additional equipment was acquired. A business that began with one man and a single pickup today supports 100 employees and a fleet of 19 trucks. In addition to its 6-acre headquarters that includes an expansive staging area, in 2001 the company purchased a 100-acre property in Plant City in order to produce its own premium plant material.

“We now broker to about 13 states,” says Kostilnik. “And we only do live purchasing for our material. We have four field purchasing agents who are out there every day examining product and searching for the best looking, best priced, healthiest plants.”

Raising Your Profile

Around the same time Amplex expanded its physical presence with the acquisition of the Plant City acreage, the company also expanded its participation in industry trade organizations. Amplex is now an active member of the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association, Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers, and the Southern Nursery Association.

Landscaper Price Check

As a company that bids on about $1 million worth of jobs every week, Amplex is well aware of market ups and downs.
“A 3-inch-caliper tree that was selling for $199, might now be selling for $95,” says Amplex founder George Kostilnik. “What a landscaper needs to remember when placing a bid is the mean market price.”

Since there is often considerable time between when a bid is placed until the job actually begins, prices often fluctuate. If a landscaper bids too high, he might not get the job. But if he bids too low, material costs could well have increased by the time the job is set to start.

According to Kostilnik, a landscaper can overcome this difficulty in one of two ways. He can determine the mean price — $150 instead of $199 or $95 — and price accordingly, or he can put a 30-day limit on his bid.

“The important thing is to learn how to adjust for volatility,” says Kostilnik.

“I realized that I loved doing the trade shows,” says McKnight. “Every year I try to think what people would like to see — something that goes along with the theme of the trade show — and then provide a display that reflects that.”

McKnight’s time and effort have paid off in a big way. In addition to attracting new customers, trade-show involvement has allowed Amplex to develop a reputation for award-winning presentations. In 2008, the company took home top honors at the Tampa Spring Expo and The Landscape Show.

A lot of thought goes into every aspect of business at Amplex. “More important than anything else is staying on top of markets,” says Kostilnik. “Selling plants is no different that way than selling any other product. You have to know pricing — what to buy, when to buy, where the gluts are, and when to tap the surpluses. You have to educate your customers and, in the process, you educate yourself.”

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