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Capital Buzz: Petunia King expands his poinsettia realm

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.The next time you see a poinsettia in your Home Depot, think of Gary Mangum, whose Burtonsville-based Bell Nursery USA probably grew the holiday plant.

Mangum — best known as the Petunia King for the gazillions of flowers his company grows on Maryland’s Eastern Shore farms — this year produced 565,000 poinsettias just for Home Depot’s Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia markets, up from 500,000 last year.

Home Depot has sold about 400,000 of the holiday plants so far.

Poinsettias are a loss leader for Bell, in part because they have a long growing season and require a lot of care. And they don’t sell for much: around $5.97 for the smallest size all the way up to $19.97 for big plants. That makes for tight profit margins.

But the flowers keep Bell’s workforce in the garden departments at Home Depot stores busy — and employed — so chief executive Mangum doesn’t have to hire new people when spring rolls around.

“It helps us maintain training and consistency in the stores versus having to go out and rehire,” said Bell executive vice president Adam Stewart. “Having the same employees makes our life a lot easier.”

And this year’s big seller?

Red.

No surprise there.

The Buzz hears:

Uber, the San Francisco-based service that lets people use their smartphones to order and pay for car transportation, is staking a spot on Washington’s turf. The company is set to launch its cashless service any day.

For a view of the Capitol, head to the rooftop deck at 20 F St. N.W. The building, owned by the American College of Surgeons, is less than two blocks from Capitol Hill and across from Union Station, and it just had a redo. Regus, the London-based office designer, built out 83 private offices and 106 work stations in the building. Keystone Public Affairs and 21st Century Democrats have signed up so far.

Two attorneys quietly seem to be in the middle of some of the region’s biggest deals lately. Dan Lennon, partner at Latham & Watkins , has been a transactions machine for The Carlyle Group. George Stamas, partner at Kirkland & Ellis, helped set up the Steve Case/Ted Leonsis Revolution Growth fund and he is working on the merger of Constellation Energy with Exelon. He also helped negotiate the $2 billion-plus sale of SRA International to Providence Equity Partners, the most significant government consulting company transaction in recent memory.

Catching up with Ed

The Buzz called Ed Quinn , principal owner and chairman of T.W. Perry, the Gaithersburg-based company that sells building materials to the residential construction industry.

T.W. Perry has 305 employees and grosses $100 million a year, Quinn said. It has five outlets in the region in addition to its headquarters: Chevy Chase, Owings Mills, and Savage in Maryland; Springfield and Leesburg in Virginia.

What is the home building/remodeling business like in Washington?

It’s gaining strength. Once home prices stopped dropping, we saw a pickup. We bottomed out in the second quarter of last year. We bounced off the bottom and were up 10 percent for the year. This year we will be up another 6 percent.

We see people finally having enough confidence to loosen their purse strings. But the fact that there’s no home equity loans is difficult for people who want to do home remodelling. When you add the home equity loan on top of the first trust loan, you get beyond 75 percent of debt to equity, and that has cut into business substantially.

How do you compete with the Lowe’s of the world?

We have developed our business model around the needs and wants of [remodelers and customer home builders] including next-day delivery by trucks and equipment that get the shipments to the spot on the jobsite that saves contractor labor, etc.; credit accounts for contractors; top quality products that contractors demand; competitive prices; custom millwork features, designed and fabricated in our own shop; and a savvy, experienced sales staff.

What are you personally investing in these days?

Natural gas. That’s where it’s all going. That’s going to fuel fleets. I have been invested in natural gas for six or seven years, both pipelines and drilling. We have 50 years-plus of supplies of natural gas in the United States.

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