“As a self-made entrepreneur, Jerry brings that kind of self-determination, that self-made mindset that can be used as a shining example for our current students.”
If you’ve ever purchased a plant from a Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart or Rite Aid, there’s a good chance you’ve helped continue Jerry Halamuda
’s green goods empire. Halamuda (’72, ’73) is co-founder, CEO and president of Color Spot Nurseries, one of the nation’s leading wholesale suppliers of bedding plants, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, bulbs, premium blooming plants, ground cover, ornamentals, and succulents.
Supplying brands like Proven Winners, Gardener’s Confidence, Knock Out Roses and Endless Summer among others, Color Spot is a major player in the green goods (live plants) industry, earning roughly 20 percent of the $35 to 37 billion annual total of the nation’s retail garden industry. The Fallbrook, Calif.-based company supplies more than 2,000 retail and commercial customers in 43 states from its 16 production facilities in California, Oregon, Arizona and Texas.
The business boasts more than 20 million square feet of greenhouse space, and annually produces 300 million seed plugs and 80 million vegetative liners. At its peak, the company employs as many as 4,400 people, vast by any measure.
Color Spot is the largest consumer of seed in much of the world. The company is the second-largest consumer of vegetative production, grows more poinsettias than anybody in North America, and supplies more mums than any other competitor.
“That's how much our business has grown,” Halamuda said.
But it wasn’t always so. Halamuda first encountered horticulture as a teenager working in the fields of South San Diego County.
He grew up in Chula Vista as one of five children. His father was in the military and his mother was a waitress.
“We were poor,” Halamuda said. “That’s the reason why I worked. It’s not like we had to walk 50 miles in the snow or anything, but if you wanted to have a nice pair of shoes or a nice shirt, you worked. I was scared of being poor and that made me a very, very hard worker.”
Halamuda recalls working for a farmer who treated him like a son, heading for the fields each morning before sun-up and coming home in the dark seven days a week. He says he loved every minute of it.
“I knew immediately that I wanted to be a farmer and I wanted to be a nurseryman. It wasn’t like it was work. There was no time clock. We were working with our friends.”
Mentors and inspirations
With the money he made, Halaumda paid his tuition first at Southwestern College, then at San Diego State University. He earned an accounting degree and immediately went after a master’s in finance, writing a thesis on the comparative value of low price-earnings stocks versus high ones.
He remembers professors like Allan Bailey
and Melinda Sprague
who inspired and mentored him.
“They had a profound impact because I saw that they cared about me,” he said. “One of the things I remember most was her saying that you must treat your employees right, that if you care about them and watch out for them they will work harder for you and make you successful.”
It was advice he has always tried to follow.
Tougher, meaner and more tenacious
When offered the opportunity to buy half of his friend’s business, Halamuda jumped at the chance. The young entrepreneur soon collaborated with his best friend Michael Vukelich
and Vukelich's father to form their own company.
They had their ups and downs through the years, but eventually came to form Color Spot.
“We had a strategy for growth and we wanted to be the biggest,” Halamuda said. "My partner and I were just tougher, meaner, more tenacious and we wouldn't give up. I started a business and grew the business working in the dirt and planting plants – that’s what I am.”
Humble by nature, Halamuda is also true to his roots. Despite his many commitments and with a packed schedule that has him traveling all over the country, the CEO still finds time to return to SDSU each year for guest speaking engagements and to help judge the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center
‘s business model competition.
“Jerry has a real good heart,” said Lavin Entrepreneurship Center Director Alex DeNoble
. “He has this strong connection to the university and we really cherish and value such accomplished entrepreneurs who wish to engage with us.
“As a self-made entrepreneur, Jerry brings that kind of self-determination, that self-made mindset that can be used as a shining example for our current students. For an alumnus like him to engage with us is really meaningful because it shows the extent of our network and the fact that we really can engage a community of Aztec alumni to work with us to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
When he visits campus, Halamuda said, he likes what he sees. He is impressed, particularly, by the students.
They are all smarter than I was and the educational programs are more diverse and better,” Halamuda said. “They are applicable to more different individuals who want to follow different paths - especially entrepreneurs.”
Digging in the dirt and getting answers
Now 66 years old, Halamuda has been in the nursery business for 49 years. Considered one of the smartest, most adept players in his industry, he has come a long way from where he started in terms of both experience and business savvy.
Still, he prefers to stay humble.
His friend and business partner, Vukelich, died half a dozen years ago. Halamuda still presses on with their mission of growing the company.
“For the first 40 years it was more fun,” he said. ”Part of that is because in the last 10 years our business has doubled in size.”
Transported in time
Things are more complicated now, but in many respects, Halamuda is not so far removed from the teenager coming of age in the fields of southern San Diego County. To this day, there is almost nowhere he would rather be than traversing the colorful ranks of plants at one of his company’s properties like the 300-acre Hines growing facility near Fallbrook.
“I can’t describe the pleasure I have driving through here,” he said.
Here, he feels transported 49 years back in time.
"When I was 17 years old and didn't know anything, I would walk out into the fields and start to pick tomatoes or whatever,” he said. “I would take my shirt off and I would have a pair of shorts on and I would work with my hands, getting dirty and seeing fresh vegetables and cut flowers and plants, I could smell the outside air and it just made me feel very happy.
“I get that same feeling today. I get to do this. And if you are able to do this for your entire career, you are truly blessed.”