A blooming business
F’Laura n’ Company Greenhouse is growing in central Alberta.
May 4, 2023 By Andrew Snook
The story of F’Laura n’ Company Greenhouse literally started with the planting of seeds.
The successful floriculture greenhouse operation in Vermillion, Alta. stemmed from Laura Waterfield, owner of F’Laura n’ Company Greenhouse, finding ways to save money during a tough economic time 20 years ago.
“I started growing back in 2003. My husband and I farm, and in 2002, there was a major drought in Alberta. And so, money was really short,” Waterfield explains. “I used to help my grandma [gardening], and she used to start everything from seeds. So, I figured I’d save some money if I started some flowers from seeds instead of buying them from a greenhouse.
Almost everything she started grew, and Waterfield ended up with far more than she needed, so she headed to the local farmers’ market to sell the remaining flowers.
“A few months down the road, I ended up with some family and ladies from the community contacting me and asking me if I could start some other things for spring. And so, I did that for a few years,” she says.
For years Waterfield grew all of her plants in a small greenhouse that her husband, Dean Waterfield, had built over top of their well house. This continued until 2013, when her husband surprised her with a gift.
“I said to my husband, ‘I need more space, I don’t have enough room to grow all this stuff.’ And so, I was on a field trip with my son, and my husband called me and said, ‘I bought you a greenhouse,’” she recalls. “There was a local grower that was retiring, and my husband had gone to her auction sale and purchased a 26-foot by 100-foot cold frame. Initially, I thought I would use the back half for storage and grow plants in the front half, but my husband said, ‘Well, if you’re going to heat it, you may as well fill it.’ That’s where we started.”
The doors to Waterfield’s first official greenhouse opened to the public on May 1, 2014. The greenhouse’s inventory and popularity quickly grew. In 2017, Waterfield rented additional space in an existing greenhouse in Vermillion shortly before purchasing that property.
“We tore down the old greenhouse that was there in 2017 and built another greenhouse that was 30 feet by 100 feet. It just kind of snowballed from there,” Waterfield says. “Our business just kept growing and we added another greenhouse space, 30 feet by 100 feet, in 2021. Then we purchased 8.9 acres in 2022 with a plan to relocate the greenhouses that are on our farm and expand further.”
Everything that Waterfield grows in her greenhouses is sold in the retail side of her business.
“I do my own retail sales. We grow everything ourselves – annuals and herbs, that sort of thing. We grow some by seed, and some we bring in as rooted cuttings or plugs. We finish all of our own products and then retail those products. I do bring in a few perennials – there’s only so many perennials you can grow. Then I bring in trees and shrubs and gardening supplies,” she says.
The company’s success comes from a combination of best practices that Waterfield and her staff follow.
“In 2015, we started implementing integrated pest management practices that we weren’t using pesticides. We advertised fairly heavily that our plants are pesticide free. There’s a lot of people that appreciate that,” she says. “Also, I’ve always pushed quality over quantity with my staff. My goal is always to provide the very best products. Nothing that is inferior is allowed to leave the greenhouse. We have high quality standards.”
To market her business, Waterfield uses a combination of advertising options, but adds that sometimes getting new customers is all about timing.
“We have a website, my business’ Facebook page, we advertise on the radio and in the newspaper. And yet, every year, I have customers coming from as close as Lloydminster saying, ‘We didn’t know you were here.’ I think people just have to be looking for a greenhouse at the right time,” she says.
Waterfield says there is no more powerful a marketing tool than word of mouth from a satisfied customer.
“I think that has been our best advertising. You can hear about something on the radio, but it means 10 times more if you have a friend that says, ‘Hey, I got the most beautiful hanging baskets from F’Laura n’ Company,’” she says.
The most popular products the company produces include their variety of annuals and hanging baskets.
“The hanging baskets are what draws quite a few people in. I have a few customers that come as far as Sherwood Park, Cold Lake and the Bonnyville area that got to know about me because of people that they know in the area. And they come every year without fail and grab the hanging baskets they want and a few other things, which I think is pretty cool when you consider what the options are for them locally,” Waterfield says.
When asked what her favourite aspect of working in the industry is, Waterfield couldn’t choose just one.
“There are so many things I love about this industry. I love that I do all my own designs. It gives me a creative outlet. I love engaging with my customers. I’m also kind of a science nerd. My background when I went to like post-secondary was in animal medicine. I guess that’s why integrated pest management always intrigued me right from the beginning,” she says.
Waterfield says one of the biggest challenges right now is controlling costs for her customers.
“With the rising costs that we’re facing, I truly believe there’s got to be a point where people just can’t afford it anymore. When I went through my tree and shrub border, for example, I ended up having to raise my nursery prices pretty much across the board this year because my input costs have gone up so much,” she says. “I feel there’s a point in today’s society where people are just not going to be able to afford those things. I mean, something has to give. You’ve got to put food on the table, pay rent, maybe that means you don’t buy another tree for the backyard. But then you’ve got the people on the flip side of it, where their way of saving money is by going to the garden centres and buying vegetables to transplant out and adding in a couple of fruit trees.”
A bright future
During the 2022 Green Industry Show & Conference in Red Deer, Alta., Waterfield was awarded the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association’s (AGGA) Grower of the Year Award.
“I was not expecting it at all. I joined the AGGA in 2015, and I’ve gotten to know so many fabulous people throughout the industry. AGGA is a fantastic support system. There are always people that are willing to help you out if you’ve got an issue with something,” she says. “There’s so many talented people out there that are passionate about what they do, and doing a very good job of growing as well, so to be chosen was a real honour.”
As far as long-term plans go, Waterfield is setting her latest greenhouse as a year-round business instead of seasonal like her current operations.
When asked if she has any tips for someone who is planning to run a greenhouse and retail business, Waterfield stresses having a solid team in place that have natural customer service skills.
“I found what takes a lot of pressure off of me is having a core group of staff that you can trust and rely on,” she says. “It’s always been my thought process that I can teach staff to do things the way I want them done, but you can’t teach personality. You can’t teach people skills. They have it or they don’t. And they take pride in what we sell as well. They’re not just there to kill the time and walk away with a paycheque. It’s important to them that the product is going out the way we set it up.”
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