Connon Nurseries Celebration of a Century

March 12, 2008
Written by Anja Sonnenberg
In today’s fiercely competitive market, retail businesses must strive to find a niche that will give them an edge to ensure their success in the future, and retail garden centres in Hamilton, Ontario, are no exception.
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TOP & MIDDLE: In addition to two retail garden centres, Connon Nurseries also operates three wholesale production operations.

BOTTOM: To ensure their success in the industry, Connon Nurseries is always trying to offer their customers the latest in plants, giftware, and
garden accessories.
In today’s fiercely competitive market, retail businesses must strive to find a niche that will give them an edge to ensure their success in the future, and retail garden centres in Hamilton, Ontario, are no exception. A celebration of a century usually indicates that a company has fabricated itself to withstand a changing world economy, global warfare, political regimes, depressions, recessions, and everything in between. It is a place demanding full recognition and respect as a business woven into the very fabric of the city.  This year Connon Nurseries has marked 100 years servicing gardening enthusiasts from their prominent Highway #5 edifice in Waterdown.

The story of Connon Nurseries begins with Major John Connon, a man with a passion and a green thumb who established the Connon Floral Co. Ltd. in Hamilton on October 24th, 1906.  The Scotland native had seen a need for the sales and distribution of trees and shrubs for local farms since immigrating to Canada in 1895.  In 1912, the company’s name was changed to John Connon Company Ltd.  From 1916 to 1918, John Connon served overseas in WWI with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, where he earned the rank of Major, which he was known by from that point on.  The company moved to several different locations until it was relocated to its Waterdown location in 1931, where it still resides today. Up until his death at the age of 89, Connon continued to be actively involved in the business.   

The second chapter of the Connon Nurseries story focuses on Cornelius Vanderkruk.  Born in South Holland in 1912, he immigrated to Canada with his wife and seven children in 1952 after serving in WWII.  Shortly after arriving in Hamilton, John Connon hired Vanderkruk and four years later they were equal business partners in the company.  When Major Connon passed away in 1961, Vanderkruk become the sole business owner. All four of the Vanderkruk boys – Neil, Bill, Art, and Cor – began working in the nursery as early as the 1950s.  By the late 1960s, clearer divisions of responsibility started to emerge, depending on the area of strength and interests of each.  Cornelius looked after the bookkeeping and overall administration of the company until he retired in 1974.  Neil looked after the sales, purchasing and confirmation of orders, Art was responsible for plant production, and Cor developed the retail end of the business and supplied local landscape contractors.

After Cornelius passed away in 1977, Neil, Art, and Cor continued to build on the rich foundation that their father and Major Connon built.  In 1986, the three brothers decided to divide the company into three separate businesses (A.V.K. Nursery Holdings Inc., C.B. Vanderkruk Holdings Inc., and Neil Vanderkruk Holdings Inc.).

Today, the secret of Connon Nurseries’ successful operation can be directly linked to the company’s ability to adapt to changing trends in the industry. The community and surrounding areas have grown and evolved over the years and the values of homes have increased dramatically during the last 10 years, bringing a more upper-end clientele.  Consumers are turning to nursery retailers to help them take their garden shopping experience to the next level – in their pursuit of the ultimate garden lifestyle.   In response to these changes, Connon’s success is the direct result of its forward-thinking approaches to creative merchandising.  Tapping into consumers interested in the ‘garden experience,’ the company has turned its retail businesses into destinations for shoppers seeking inspiration.  Integrated displays combine outdoor décor and trendy giftware with greenery to show shoppers how their own gardens can come alive.  Statues of toads and gnomes aren’t simply grouped together in a single floor display – they encourage browsing customers into their world, peering out from lush tropical plants around them. Colour also plays a key part in Connon’s merchandising strategies – inspired, in part, by its close tracking of trends through other leading retailers.  Bright pinks, purples, reds, blues, and greens are seen in giftware, home décor items, signage – and of course the flowering plant displays.

Unlike most independent nurseries, Connon spares no expense to turn creative merchandising concepts into inspiring reality.  Their extremely successful promotional events, like interactive Reptile Shows, Tots-in-Pots Photo Day, Pets with Santa, free seminars and workshops, demonstrate how the company has embraced the ‘destination retailing’ philosophy.  The greenhouse itself has also become an attraction by offering customers a venue that is fully licensed and catered for weddings, business meetings, and other functions.

Connon Nurseries has built a strong identity – not only to compete with big box stores, but to maintain their established positions within their local markets.  They’ve found their focus and true identity, and they stayed at the top of their customers’ list of preferred places to shop, now and in the future.  

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