For a lot of people, Florida’s Atlantic Coast is synonymous with fun in the sun, and Jim Schmitz wouldn’t argue with that assessment. A member of the ICL Specialty Fertilizers sales team since 2017, Jim serves as our Territory Manager for Southeast Florida and Eastern Georgia. His enviable territory stretches along the Atlantic Coast from his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida—just above West Palm Beach—north to Savannah, Georgia.
With nine years in Florida, Jim’s firmly planted in the Sunshine State, but make no mistake—his nearly 30-year career in the horticulture industry stands on strong Minnesota roots.
Growing up in Minnesota’s Brainerd Lakes Region, about two and a half hours north of Minneapolis, you’d be hard-pressed not to relish sports and the outdoors. Jim fits into lake-country typecasting perfectly. “Anything outdoors, I enjoy,” he says. Though he traded snowmobiles and hockey sticks for golf clubs and tennis racquets, his love for the outdoors drew him to the green industry.
A move after high school to Rochester, in southern Minnesota, led to a golf course grounds crew job. “That’s what got me interested in the turf and ornamental business,” Jim recalls. He took a liking to the work and enrolled in a two-year golf course management turf program, while he continued working. When the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendent's Association awarded him a scholarship for his second year, he was hooked on horticulture.
A diverse career since that time has given Jim a unique perspective that serves him and his customers well. “I have a lot of experience in a lot of different areas,” he says. “I can sometimes look at operations a little differently than somebody who's maybe just grown one crop most of their life, and help them with solutions.”
After Rochester, he spent eight years as grounds supervisor for Cargill’s Minneapolis world headquarters. The impressive 230-acre campus included 70 acres of turf and irrigation, a 100-acre tree farm, and extensive landscape infrastructure. From there, his career spanned sales in the golf course and sports turf industry, plant health management for a Florida ornamentals grower, and sales for large distributors serving the region’s nursery and greenhouse industry.
There’s no “typical day” for Jim, but most days find him out seeing customers. That usually means riding along with distributor reps and visiting their customers with them. His base includes many landscape nurseries and tropical plant growers. “One of the biggest areas in my territory is Apopka, Florida—the indoor foliage capital of the world,” he says. “That's a lot of controlled-release and water-soluble fertilizer users.” He’s helping expand ICL’s reach into the industry’s turf side as well.
Doing product awareness and technical support for distributor reps and their customers is a large part of Jim’s work. “I'm directly involved with the end users who are buying our product. I'll go out and support the product and see if they have any questions or issues at all.” Of course, he’s always looking for opportunities to win new customers, too.
The most common question Jim hears relates to fertilizer rates and performance. “There’s a lot of Spathiphyllum growers in my area that wonder what the best analysis for fertilizer is for their crops, so we’ll often set up trials,” he explains. “Usually, we try to trial against a competitor to show how our product performs versus what they’re currently using.”
Growers seeking answers come from all corners. One of Jim’s favorite examples is an ICL trial with a Southeast Georgia forestry grower. “Forestry is a market that we haven't done a lot in,” he shares. Jim’s recommendations for changes in soil mix components and fertilizer rates yielded great improvements in rooting and plant development. “They’re able to get their product into the field from seed a lot quicker than what they were doing, so that's been pretty successful for us and for them,” he says.
Helping people find solutions is part of the job Jim enjoys most. “I'm able to consult with growers and business owners in the industry to come up with solutions and give them new ideas on how they can do their business,” he says. “I always approach people from that perspective—how can I improve their business.”
That doesn’t always mean product changes. “Many times, if someone’s having issues with weed control, for example, it's not so much product related,” he says. “I can give them solutions as far as how they're applying it, to help their herbicide be more effective.”
Jim says his goal is to always be the first person his customers think to call when they’re searching for solutions of any kind. “You build a rapport and a trust and a friendship that way, and that always seems to be a successful formula for sales in the end, whether you're immediately recommending your product or not,” he says.
When he’s not working, you may find Jim on the golf course, at his local tennis club, or on his way to or from Minnesota. He has three sons, aged 26 to 14, who live in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and love sports and the outdoors as much as their dad.
“I go up there at least one weekend a month and visit my kids, and they're down here in the summertime,” he shares. “My boys play football and hockey. One plays golf in the spring. The younger one runs track. They're pretty involved in sports, so I get up there and watch a lot of their activities.”
Jim places great value on the relationships he’s built over his years in the industry. He counts many former customers and coworkers among his active friends, inside and outside of work. “One thing that I really am grateful for and really cherish about my job is that I've been able to meet a lot of people. I've built some really great friendships,” he says. “ICL has been a great company to work for. I really enjoy my role, and I enjoy working for the company. I've met a lot of good people here.”
If you’re in Florida, you can catch up with Jim at the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE) in Fort Lauderdale this January.
And, in case you were wondering, the answer is yes—he’s still a Vikings fan.