Managing Change and a New Garden Centre
By Wendy Zak
Something’s gotta change! We’ve all shouted it, but we must have shouted louder than most, because change it did!
Let’s go back a step.
This time two years ago my husband,Tarance, and I were living life as usual. Between us we had a landscaping business, a tree farm and a freelance copywriting business. We had three children in various stages of fledging the nest, and we were the proud owners of enough RRSP’s to last us a good 25 minutes into retirement.
Something definitely had to change because our retirement plan involved at least one rich, grateful kid (is one out of three too much to ask?). Our plan B was to turn one of our businesses into a money making machine, but we hadn’t come up with a strategy around that one yet.
Never mind, we thought, when the youngest graduates from high school maybe we’ll sell the house and reinvent ourselves. Then we’ll probably get rich.
Until a friend of my husband’s said “we’d like you to buy Greenview Nurseries”. Oh how we laughed! (Some context: Greenview is a 50 year old nursery, tree farm and garden centre sitting on 105 acres just east of Calgary, and Tarance has been a wholesale customer for years).
Could we even count the reasons why it was a ridiculous idea? Well firstly, we reasoned, we need to make our lives simpler, not more complicated. And we’re in our 50s, so we’re far too old for such a huge venture. And we wouldn’t even know what to do with that much land. And we’re in our 50s. And we don’t know anything about running a garden centre. And we’re in our 50s. The list goes on.
Well that was that. And then … driving home from a weekend out of town, one of us said the magic word, “but”. Followed closely by “what if?”.
Maybe this is the opportunity we’ve been looking for to build something of value, we thought. The youngest is already in Grade 11, so it’s only one year ahead of schedule, we reasoned. We’re ready for a new adventure, we agreed.
Plus – when such an amazing opportunity drops into your lap, is it right to turn it down? Isn’t there something about it only knocking once?
By the time we pulled into Calgary we were the new owners of Greenview Nurseries – at least in our minds.
Change is good, right?
Just seven months later, we had uprooted our children from the only house they’ve ever known, and moved into the middle of nowhere. We were filling three greenhouses with flower seeds for a bunch of commercial growing contracts, with no experience in growing anything except trees. And we were dealing with the mess and chaos of a farm that had been winding down for about seven years.
In answer to my above question … yes, we’ve found that change has been good. It’s terrifying and exhausting, but we’ve never looked back.
One thing we’ve learned so far, is how to go with the flow. We arrived with a definite plan for the place and it’s changed about 15 times so far. The first change was taking on those greenhouse contracts, because why would we take on a business we know nothing about? Turns out the greenhouses are my happy place, and the crop was beautiful.
Then a landscaper, out buying a tree, asked if he might be able to rent a piece of land. Great idea, we thought, and the deal was made!
After that we rented out some pasture to a rancher; a plot to a guy growing herbs in a converted sea can; the garden centre space to a fellow horticulturist; and spots to a compost tea specialist, an online plant company, a landscape maintenance company and most recently a holistic landscaping company.
“That’s quite the community you’re building out there,” said my daughter. “No, it’s a horti-cult,” I replied. Well there was no way I was going to let that one slip away unnoticed! I told everyone it was a horticult until it finally stuck and now it’s here to stay.
What’s happening here is so fabulous that it’s become something of a force unto itself. We have a group of tenants who are pumped about what they do; who want to collaborate and build something special here. We’re talking about building an eco-friendly, passive solar greenhouse, and other exciting projects that we couldn’t possibly have envisioned a year ago. We even have people contacting us specifically because they want to join the horticult.
We’d love to tell you it was all part of a strategic master plan, but it was more a matter of recognizing opportunities and running with them.
Remind me again, how change is good?
Last September, the garden centre owner told us that it wasn’t working out, and she would have to break the lease. We’d all known it was coming, and we let her go without penalty, but it left us with a conundrum.
We had been adamant from the start that we didn’t want to run the garden centre, but many locals had told us how pleased they were to see it open again. We wanted to keep it going, but didn’t want to risk having a series of tenants, and a different name each year. So we decided to take it over ourselves – another change of direction!
On the other hand, what an opportunity. Last year I grew more plants than I knew what to do with, because the garden centre wasn’t giving me a market for my own greenhouses. This year, I have more control over that.
And so Bloomfield Garden Centre was born.
Creating a Garden Centre That’s Worth the Visit
As we don’t seem to do simple anymore, we decided to completely renovate the space to create something different; something worth leaving Calgary for.
Outside we’re building winding paths bordered by huge logs that kids can jump on, with benches and play areas along the way. Inside we’ve created a beautiful gift shop, with a coffee nook where people can stop, have a drink and a snack, and browse our selection of gardening reference books.
We’ve got all kinds of plans like a tasting garden where visitors can pick whatever happens to be ripe, and drop-in kids’ workshops so that parents can browse in peace.
We’ll have all the plants and gardening accessories people will expect from their new favourite garden centre, but we will be particularly specializing in the edible, chemical-free garden. We will help people find plants that repel bugs, plants for companion planting and a lovely selection of vegetable and fruit plants.
And for spring we’re creating a gorgeous selection of unique containers – one-off pots planted with a fabulous arrangement of annuals for people who want something special.
We really hope you’ll come out and pay us a visit this spring.