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Sage advice from a successful orchid grower

Sally Leuenberger is one of the most successful orchid growers in the country today. One uncontestable proof is that in the last Kadayawan orchid show in Davao City, she bagged practically all the major prizes in the different orchid competition categories.

Her hybrid vanda was adjudged the Best Orchid in Show; her waling-waling won the first and second prizes; her strap leaf vanda won all the three top prizes; in the mixed genera category, her orchids also won the top three prizes. It is only in Dendrobium that she won the second and third prizes. On top of that, her exhibit booth was adjudged first prize winner.

Sally Leuenberger of Sul Orchids posing with her prize-winning Waling-waling in her prize-winning exhibit booth at the Kadayawan garden show.

Sally Leuenberger of Sul Orchids posing with her prize-winning Waling-waling in her prize-winning exhibit booth at the Kadayawan garden show.

Who is Sally Leuenberger of Davao City? She is a top rate CPA who used to audit the books of professionals, businessmen, hospitals, schools, and other business enterprises. Her accountancy practice was lucrative but somehow she was fascinated with orchids.

It all started when she bought her first vanda orchid in 1981. A client who sold it to her challenged her. If the plant survived up to the next garden show, then she would be ready to start a hobby. And that was the beginning of her love affair with orchids.

Five years later in 1985, she was charting her life’s direction. Should she abandon her accountancy practice which she developed for 20 years? After thinking the matter over, she decided to grow orchids and beautify the world.

She developed her orchid business in four stages. For five years, it was just a hobby without any selling. After five years as a hobbyist, she started selling some of her plants, and that was the livelihood stage, not abandoning her accountancy practice altogether.

The next stage was as an entrepreneur. That was when she gave up her accountancy practice and focused on orchid growing. As her farm expanded, she entered what she calls the commercial stage. That means full scale production and marketing.

Before she became a commercial grower, she attended a lot of seminars on the orchid business, read books and journals, attended trade shows in the Philippines and abroad. She also participated in shows in Davao, Manila, and even abroad with some financial support from the government as a representative from the Philippines.

Today she is the owner of a seven-hectare orchid farm that has at any one time more than 300,000 orchid plants of various ages. Winning in garden shows is proof that her orchids are of good quality. The expense in garden shows may be much more than the cash prize received but the pay-off is in the image of high quality she earns for her plants.

Her advice to people aspiring to put up a profitable orchid business is to start small and expand as one gets the experience and skills in growing and marketing one’s plants. One should have complete records of expenses and sales so one will know if one is making money or not.

The traits she would recommend to aspiring orchid commercial growers in Pilipino is “Sipag, Tiyaga, Tipid, Invest” or STII. One should be hard working, patient, and knows how to save and to invest.

In order to grow the business, one should invest in the business 80 percent of the profit and only 20 percent for personal matters. Of course, there are other management strategies that Sally adopts to make her orchid business enjoyable and profitable.