Sunshine Express story

March 20, 2012
Written by Melhem Sawaya
Growing up in a farming community, the obvious thing for Andy Fluit to do was to pursue a career in agriculture. After high school, he went to the University of Guelph, graduating in 1983 with bachelor of science degree in agriculture mechanization with a minor in business.
During his university days, he worked at Meyer’s Fruit Farms and Greenhouses in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

DSC_8072  
Andy, Sabrina, Tanya and Brenda Fluit enjoy on-the-job family time. PHOTOS BY MELHEM SAWAYA

 
After graduation, Andy worked at Château des Charmes as a vineyard manager. That’s where he met Brenda, and the two will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this June. From day one, Andy and Brenda have worked as a team in every transaction and still do today.

Sunshine Express began with a pair of 200-foot hoop houses in which they did some grafting, growing geraniums and fuchsias on the side to be sold at the Toronto market.

It was after a day at the market, when Andy earned $30 in sales against $35 in expenses, that the roots of their current business were established. He placed the rest of the load on the lawn, and it wasn’t long before people stopped to buy the plants. That response showed Andy and Brenda on how their business should develop.

THE START OF A SUCCESSION OF ADDITIONS AND EXPANSIONS
The first year was successful enough that they decided to add another two hoop houses the next year, all of this still on a rental property. The money earned that year went into building two glass greenhouses for retail.

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Roadside oasis

 
In the fourth year, a production property was bought and a 12,000-square-foot greenhouse was built.

The grafting business was soon curtailed, and they focused on flower production and sales.
Over the next few years, they expanded into a one-acre retail greenhouse and added outdoor production. The production area expanded to almost three acres.

In the 10th year, the wholesale business was eliminated.

Sunshine Express now grows about 95 per cent of its products.

Andy and Brenda have always been intrigued by new plants. However, such plants are only added to their benches after extensive trialling has proved their value to customers.

COMMITTED TO PROCESS OF CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT
Their research into new plants extends away from work. A good part of many holidays includes visits to garden centres throughout North America. The “Look, Ask, Listen and Act” theory was (and still is) followed to improve all aspects of the business. They undertake many trials to see if the new ideas are truly an improvement, building on the successful ones and dropping the ones that don’t look promising.

Sunshine Express has always been a team business. Andy and Brenda, along with “Oma” and “Opa,” all helped with selling plants, while Andy was also on the road and Brenda was busy in the greenhouse.

Phil Fluit, Andy’s nephew, started helping in the summers. Seven years ago, he started working there full time. Phil now manages the retail part of the business.

Sunshine Express would never be what it is today without the relentless dedication and hard work of Brenda. She takes care of the seeding, propagation and growing of any specialty crop, and is involved with every aspect of production.

An essential ingredient in their success is the commitment to keep records of every detail of production, from planting to sales. Adjustments are continually made to reflect sales and consumer trends.

SECOND GENERATION OFFERING NEW IDEAS
Andy and Brenda are blessed with two daughters, Sabrina and Tanya, who are both in the business full time.

Sabrina studied sales and marketing at Niagara College and graduated in 2010. She decided to study at Niagara with the intention of joining the family business. She is responsible for growing.

Sabrina likes working in the family business because her parents “trust us by giving us the responsibility to do these new jobs. But the best part is that they are close at hand when we have questions. They listen to our opinions and act on them.”

Sabrina is always looking for new ideas to help her to do her job better. She learns from her parents, visits similar operations, and attends seminars. She absorbs this information and applies it to see if it is applicable and beneficial. “By trying different things,” she explains, “we try to keep up with new and improved procedures and products.”

Tanya had decided to join the family business even before going to Brock University, where she earned a BA as a business major in human resources. She worked part time in the family business until graduation two years ago when she began her horticulture career.

What she likes most about working in the family business is that they’re together even while they’re working.

Tanya’s responsibilities are labour management, production and shipping. She enjoys working with people – after all, that was the focus of her university studies.

Tanya appreciates that her parents give her lots of responsibility, and encourage her input into new ways of improving the business.

BIOLOGICALS PROGRAM A SUCCESS SINCE DAY ONE
Tanya started the biologicals program and took total responsibility for it. The program has been a success since the very first year.

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Sunshine Express is well known for its imaginative displays.
 
She learns a lot from her parents, and by visiting other operations, and attending seminars. She welcomes the opportunity to make the family business her career. She loves that the whole family works together, though adds that everyone has his or her own responsibilities. This formula, she notes, makes everything run much more smoothly.

For Andy and Brenda, letting go of responsibilities is not always easy, even if those responsibilities are given to family members. On the other hand, it gives them as parents a sense of satisfaction and thankfulness every time they let go of something and it goes well.

The success of the business is not only due to the teamwork of family members, but also because of their dedicated employees who show each day and show much they care about the company.

The number one marketing strategy of Sunshine Express is to keep focusing on the customer by providing excellent service and producing the best quality products possible. Although Sunshine Express strives to gain a bigger market share, which has happened all along, they feel what is more important is the high percentage of repeat customers – a sure sign of customer satisfaction.

THE BEST ADVERTISEMENT A BUSINESS CAN HOPE FOR
Combining colourful displays, good product information, relaxing landscaping features and a friendly environment with excellent customer service and premium product consistency ensures customers return year after year. That’s the best “advertisement” any business can hope for.

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Amazing landscaping to lure visitors to spend a few hours shopping.
 
Andy and Brenda built the business with hard work and enthusiasm, and now, with Tanya, Sabrina and Phil in the business, they can continue to grow well into the future.

The Fluits are thankful for what they have accomplished, and the next generation is appreciative of the responsibilities they’ve earned. That is an excellent recipe that could be used in any family business. “Delegation with Guidance” is the philosophy here, and “Letting Go” is an important part of the process.

Andy and Brenda are confident in the future of Sunshine Express, and proud that it has become such a successful family business. With Phil, Sabrina and Tanya also on board, Sunshine Express remains on the right track for continued good fortune.


Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome; simply e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit www.focusgreenhousemanagement.com or www.sawayagardentrials.ca .

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