When a space opened up next to Michael Ruibal’s plant booth at the Dallas Farmers Market in 1984, he took it. And his business grew.
And when another, and then another, went empty as vendors left the market for the winter, he grabbed those, too. And his business grew again.
A few years later, Ruibal saw an opportunity in an available building across the street. He took it, and launched his own business.
Today, Ruibal’s Plants of Texas operates a 25-acre growing operation, four retail locations covering more than 300,000 square feet and most recently, a grocery store that sells food grown on the same property. It’s the latest example of an opportunity that presented itself to the Ruibal family.
Rosemeade, a Dallas fruit stand and natural foods store that had been open for only a few months, was in danger of closing in 2011.
“[The previous owner] did a great job building it, but it turned out being more than he could handle,” says Mark Ruibal, who now runs his father’s business with his brother Matt. The 2,500-square-foot grocery had space for growing, too, and could diversify the company’s assets.
“When the new concept, nursery/grocery store was presented, at first we kind of balked at it a little bit … we had just done a little expansion into our third store,” Ruibal says.
Ruibal ran nurseries, not groceries. However, as the price dropped, so did Ruibal’s concerns.
“It came to be a good enough deal with the property and the size of the nursery that we bought it. You just look for those opportunities,” Ruibal says. “We don’t know anything about the grocery business, but we didn't know anything about the nursery business [when we first started].”
“I would like to say it was a grand scheme from the very beginning. Very honestly, it was my dad, Mike, looking to see what opportunities were out there.” — Mark Ruibal, vice president of sales and marketing, Ruibal’s Plants of Texas
And there was a learning curve. “We scrambled at first to find the right manager to run the grocery side,” he says. But soon they found an experienced grocery manager to run that side of the business.
Today the Rosemeade Market has 200,000 square feet of nursery and greenhouse space attached to it. The store boasts eggs and dairy, a small meat department, basic staples and, of course, fresh produce, some of it grown 40 feet away. “It’s as local as it can get,” Ruibal says.
Customers can also buy pottery, succulents and fountains at the gift shop; tropicals and hanging plants at the greenhouse; and shrubs, perennials and bedding plants at the nursery.
The nursery also acts as a trialing ground of sorts, with a business partner and researcher growing a few versions of the same crop to see which produces the best plants in Dallas’ climate. This summer, Ruibal’s is perfecting lettuce. Next will come cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes.
“We are experimenting with hydroponic, greenhouse-grown produce. This new venture is just starting, but we’re looking for big things as we extend the natural local produce season,” Ruibal says. “That's what we're really excited about, is that we're going back to the grower’s level of food — but a high tech way to grow food as locally as we can.”
Ruibal’s sells a limited amount of its own produce now, but eventually, Ruibal would like to exclusively fill Rosemeade’s shelves with its own fruits and vegetables and provide local produce to nearby restaurants. Already, Dallas restaurateurs are taking notice, requesting specific crops to use in their dishes.
“We’ll be able to, at first, augment what we’re buying from fruit and vegetable vendors. And then we’ll become a big supplier of produce,” Ruibal says.
Part of Ruibal’s success has been in letting go of ideas that don’t work, a philosophy that started in 1984, when Michael Ruibal opened his first booth at the Dallas Farmer’s Market.
“Dad wanted to sell shrubs, but noticed a stall next to him was turning over bedding plants twice a weekend when he had stock for two weeks,” Ruibal says. So Michael Ruibal invested in bedding plants.
The Rosemeade Market was ambitious in its opening, with 45 employees and a huge variety of products in its stock.
For example, the store carried Burt’s Bees skin care products, but instead of one variety of lip balm, Rosemeade offered all nine. “We cut it to the top two or three,” Ruibal says. “We got rid of duplicate things and [offered the] ones that were selling best.”
The Ruibal brothers also reorganized the store with only about 25 employees.
In fact, at first, Ruibal’s stocked the building with its nursery product, letting word spread about its new location before jumping into the produce side. Now the store sells locally grown produce and natural foods.
“One of the things we do really well and we’re known for are farm-source eggs,” Ruibal says. But the store is even conservative with those — rotating farmers each week instead of buying products from everyone with each restock.
“I would like to say it was a grand scheme from the very beginning,” he says. “Very honestly, it was my dad, Mike, looking to see what opportunities were out there. Fresh produce is always in demand and local is really becoming a staple in all of the grocery stores. We have the opportunity and want to provide the best produce possible for the Dallas area.”