Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Grower Profiles
A FIVE-SEASON OPERATION


January 28, 2008
By Kathy Birt

Topics

There’s winter, spring, summer, fall, and … Christmas, of course! Kool Breeze Farms Garden Centre of P.E.I. has found that a greenhouse is a perfect setting for Christmas season items.

42Operating a garden centre and snow removal service, along with egg and pork sideline operations, would appear to be an exercise in business diversification taken to extra lengths.

But Douglas Simmons, who owns Kool Breeze Farms Garden Centre with his wife Christine, and his brother Ian and Ian’s wife Tammy, takes it all in stride. “The greenhouses are just one part of the entire operation.”

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But this component of the family-owned business has been making a good living for them for 15 years. It was started as a hobby operation with only one greenhouse, but has grown substantially over the years. “We’re enjoying it,” said Douglas.

The pork and egg operations were already long established as the greenhouse business developed. “We just followed the markets and grew accordingly,” said Douglas. “Everything sort of pays its own way.”
Ian, who has an off-farm job, handles a lot of the financing and purchasing duties, while Douglas takes care of the day-to-day management of the businesses.

The greenhouse operation is located along the Trans Canada Highway in Summerside, P.E.I., and features a wide selection of shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals. They’ve long been known for producing and selling top-quality plant material, but last fall they added a new product line focusing on the holiday season. The main greenhouse has been filled with artificial trees, lights and other decorations, and a wide array of gifts ideas.

“We saw an opportunity,” said Douglas, explaining their decision to buy out a nearby business and branch out into this specialty market.

“We had to have all the stock out by the end of September,” explained Christine.

The timing proved challenging. “We were already into our fall season,” said Douglas, “so it was a pretty busy time (of year) for our staff.”

Feedback has been encouraging. One of those happy customers is Frances Kennedy from the nearby town of Kensington, who has come in to do some early Christmas shopping and find unique decorating ideas for her home. “It’s fantastic. It’s mind-boggling,” she notes, continuing to browse about the aisles with one item already in her hand.

On an earlier visit, she bought a small three-foot Christmas tree, already decorated. “It is beautiful. We were really pleased with it. I had never thought about buying one already decorated, but Christine offered me a price that was too good to turn down.”

She has also bought a few gifts and is back a second time to buy a few more decorations for her house. “I think it’s great to be able to Christmas shop in October.”

And of course, the Christmas store would not be complete without a children’s section. Everything has been arranged to permit closer inspection by younger visitors. Of course, Santa will be making a visit or two.

A lot of planning went into the displays. “There is plenty of space to browse and see everything,” said Christine. “It’s not cluttered.”

And a greenhouse is a perfect setting for Christmas season items. Even the tallest of artificial trees and shelving are easily accommodated with the 20-foot tall structure. The natural lighting enhances the displays. This particular greenhouse, which is the main one customers enter when they first come into the retail shop, has a red brick floor of paving stones that reflect the Christmas theme.

Christmas sales are extending the greenhouse season, said Douglas. “It creates employment for our great staff.”

Once the holiday season has ended, preparations for the spring plant season will begin. “We’ll have to store what Christmas stock we don’t sell, and put the shelving back in place for the planting season,” said Douglas.

Maximizing greenhouse utilization is working out well this year, with little down-time anticipated. But given the diversity of their overall business operations, “we don’t take any time off, really,” he said, “because we have the other operations (hens and pigs) to look after.”

Kathy Birt is a freelance writer and photographer in Prince Edward Island.