“On behalf of the Hollingsworth family, I would like to thank our management team, staff, vendors, and especially our customers for their loyalty over the last 60 years. Sun Bulb Company will continue supplying innovative Better- Gro® gardening products for our ever- evolving industry.” – Rod Hollingsworth, CEO
Here’s a little walk through our history – how we started, where we’ve been, and what’s going on today.
1956 – Sun Bulb Company, Inc. was founded as a flower bulb business by A.P. and Mildred Hollingsworth in the garage of their family home. With an initial investment of only $200, their first greenhouse was plastic wrapped around orange trees with lightbulbs and fishing lamps for heat. The couple would drive from Arcadia, Florida to Lake Placid, Florida – “The Caladium Capital of the World” – where they would fill the trunk of their station wagon with Caladium bulbs and then drive across southwest Florida selling the bulbs to local garden centers.
1957 – A.P. developed what was in fact the first pre-packaged “instant pot plant.” The concept was simple: Caladium bulbs were packed with peat moss in plastic containers, and then a wick was inserted into the bottom of the pot. The wick fed just the right amount of moisture to the bulbs to ensure development. All the consumer had to do was add a little water to the saucer every few days. Before they knew it, a plant was growing. These houseplants were a huge success at the then famous Webb’s City in St. Petersburg, as well as other Southwest Florida garden centers.
1958 – An entrepreneur at heart, A.P. looked for opportunities to expand his business endeavors. So he joined his brother-in-law, Henry Lanier, who, in 1957, purchased the patent for The Smokehouse restaurant’s barbeque sauce. The two began bottling the sauce at a plant in downtown Arcadia.
1960 – A.P. bought his brother-in-law’s part of the barbeque sauce business and relocated the plant to what is now the current location of the Sun Bulb Company, Inc. corporate headquarters. He continued his “saucy” business until 1972 when the bottling plant burned down, leaving the bulb warehouse still standing.
1961 – To promote his barbeque sauce, A.P. created a simple giveaway. He placed a tab on top of the sauce’s bottle offering a free orchid to anyone who sent in the tab along with 25 cents to cover shipping and handling. The response was incredible, and A.P. realized that the orchid created more attention than the sauce. So, he added orchids to his growing list of entrepreneurial endeavors and began traveling to and importing products from Central America – launching the beginning of orchid mania in the United States.
1972 – Perhaps it was destiny that the sauce plant burned down, giving A.P. the idea to sell The Smokehouse restaurant’s barbeque sauce patent and follow his heart by concentrating on selling orchids and flower bulbs. A.P. had always had a fond interest in orchids, deriving from his childhood. He writes in his book “Growing Orchids is Fun:”
“When I was a boy, one day my father came home from the Florida Everglades, and on the back seat and floor of his Model T Ford was an eight-point buck deer, a wild bearded turkey gobbler, and, from a fallen cypress tree, a strange plant with long sharp horns and hundreds of magnificent tiger spotted yellow-green flowers – a Cyrtopodium orchid. The sharp needle pointed horns stuck my finger, and it must have infected my life with an incurable disease known as ‘Orchid Fever’.”
1974 – Sun Bulb Company, Inc., quickly turned into a second generation company, when A.P.’s elder son, Rodney, joined the family business. The success of Sun Bulb Company, Inc., continued to bloom, and soon the company was a regional supplier of tropical plants and a variety of gardening products.
1977– A.P.’s younger son, Tom, joined the family business.
1988 – A.P. wrote a book on growing orchids, titled “Growing Orchids is Fun.” The book is produced in both English and in Spanish and has been through several editions, most recently in January 2010 – its 29th edition. To date, the book has sold over 300,000 copies worldwide.
2000 – Better-Gro® was originally the name of a product sold by Sun Bulb Company. It was soil additive designed to keep insects out of plants. Although the company decided to stop producing the additive in 2000, they thought the name was representative of their brand, so they chose to market their other products – both live goods (plants) and hard goods (media, fertilizer, deco containers, and other gardening products) – using Better-Gro® as a brand name.
2004 – Hurricane Charley tore through Southwest Florida, and Sun Bulb Company was directly in his path. The hurricane either destroyed or damaged all 40+ greenhouses at Sun Bulb Company. It was estimated that the company lost as much as 90 percent of its multi-million crop.
2006 – Sun Bulb Company, Inc. grew into a third generation company, when Rodney’s son, Rod, joined the company.
2007 – The American Orchid Society endorsed Better-Gro® products – Special Orchid™ Mix, Phalaenopsis Mix, Dendrobium Mix, Orchid Bark, Premium Grade Orchid Moss, Orchid Plus®, and Orchid Better-Bloom®. The endorsement is still in place to this day, and Better-Gro® is the only orchid supply company in the nation that carries this seal of approval. The specially formulated orchid mixes, developed by our orchid growers, that we sell are the exact same ones that are used in our greenhouses.
2011 – Better-Gro®, Head Grower, Robert Palmer was chosen as the American Orchid Society’s “Best Orchid Grower I Know” in Orchids magazine. This was quite an honor for Robert, as it is only bestowed on a person every decade or so.
2015 – Sun Bulb Company launched the website www.EasyOrchidGrowing.com which hosts a variety of easy orchid care tips and videos.
2016 – Sun Bulb Company, Inc. turns 60!
- Sun Bulb Company is a national gardening products corporation operating three growing locations in Florida, a distribution facility in California, and partnering with facilities in China, India, and Chile.
- We still sell flower bulbs, however it is only a small part of our business now. The Better-Gro® product line includes tropical plants such as: blooming orchids, blooming size bagged orchids, bromeliads, Plumeria, ferns, and Anthurium; as well as gardening products such as: orchid mixes, orchid food, houseplant food, orchid moss and sphagnum moss, deco pots, and gardening accessories all marketed under the Better-Gro® brand.
- Better-Gro® offers one of the most diverse orchid assortments on the market – Vanda, Cattleya, Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Paphiopedilum.
- The Better-Gro® brand of products can be found in North, Central, and South American in addition to the Caribbean and Canada. Our retail customers include Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Wal*Mart, Independent Garden Centers, OrchidStyle.com, homedepot.com, and lowes.com.
- For over a half-century, Sun Bulb has tested and developed some of the most effective potting mediums and fertilizers for orchids. We have three orchid growers on staff and do all product testing in our very own greenhouses.
- What started as a two-person operation has now grown into a business of over 100 employees. Sun Bulb Company is proud to have several long-time managers and key staff: Logistics Coordinator Loretta Oder came aboard in 1976; Sales Manager Emeritus Mike Provau have been a part of the Sun Bulb family since 1979; and Director of Greenhouse Operations Robert Palmer became a part of the family in 1979.
Sixty years later, A.P. Hollingsworth would be proud of the “blooming” success Sun Bulb Company, Inc., has become.