Good plants by good people
Huron Ridge’s secret to 50 years.
May 3, 2023 By Elise Johnson
Surrounded by soybean fields on a county road between Bayfield and Zurich, Ont., sits a family-run greenhouse that has been drawing plant lovers to the region for 50 years. Since its first run of bedding plants in 1973, Huron Ridge Greenhouses has gained a reputation for growing and selling quality plant products, attracting customers from as far as Kitchener, London and Guelph.
Huron Ridge Greenhouses is proof that success in business depends on more than location.
“We have no curbside appeal. We aren’t on the way to anywhere. Yet we’ve become a destination, with repeat customers travelling just to come to our greenhouse,” says Kevin Steckle, general manager and owner of Huron Ridge Greenhouses.
So what’s Huron Ridge’s secret? It’s all in their motto: good plants by good people.
Becoming “good plant people”
Huron Ridge Greenhouses was officially established by David and Carol Steckle in 1973, when the first greenhouse was added to their existing mixed farming operation. Today, they have over 70,000 square feet of ornamental greenhouse space, including a full spring mix (petunias, primulas, geraniums, veggies and pansy pots) poinsettias and mums. Their highly successful garden centre offers a full range of flowering annuals, perennials and houseplants (just no trees or shrubs), and they have longstanding ties in the wholesale market.
From the perspective of Kevin and Sandra Regier, children of David and Carol, who now play vital roles in the greenhouse, flowers are all they’ve ever known.
“We’ve been filling flats since we were kids, and now our kids are in the greenhouse filling flats, too,” says Kevin, whose wife, Lorraine, is also pivotal in the success of the business as retail manager and owner. “It’s a real family affair and a great environment to raise kids in. I remember my Dad walking up and down the rows, one of my kids sleeping in a backpack on his back, watering plants with the wand. You just can’t do that in an office.”
“It’s also a great environment for mental health,” adds Sandra, who handles sales and marketing. “Being surrounded by plants and watching things grow and change, it keeps you fresh and on your toes. Rarely are you doing the same thing two days in a row when you work in a greenhouse.”
Evolving and educating
Adapting to change isn’t just a nice-to-have, explains Sandra, it’s the lifeblood of the horticulture industry. And it’s something Huron Ridge has embraced.
“We’ve been innovating in retail by leveraging social media and focusing on education. We want our customers to know us as people who can help them grow plants better, and more sustainably,” says Sandra, who is responsible for Huron Ridge’s marketing.
They have seen tremendous interest in their tutorial and educational videos on YouTube, Instagram, and especially on their burgeoning TikTok account, which boasts over 7,500 followers. A video of David Steckle’s potato container gardening experiment has had over 350,000 views and counting!
Other innovative programs, like their “BYOP – Bring your own planter” program, encourage customers to reduce plastics use. Customers and municipalities can store their empty planters in the Huron Ridge greenhouse over winter and receive fresh, custom plantings the next spring, without having to buy a new container. The Weekender Basket, a popular water-saving basket sold by A.M.A. Horticulture, is proudly part of this program.
“Sustainability is top of mind for everyone these days,” says Kevin. “Inside the greenhouse, we’ve been focused on increasing our use of bio-controls and eliminating chemicals as much as possible while maintaining high quality plant production.”
Learning and growing in partnership
When Huron Ridge finds partners – especially other local businesses – who share their values, they stick with them. That’s why A.M.A. Horticulture, an Ontario-based wholesaler that supplies Huron Ridge with containers and other horticultural products, has proved to be such a good fit all these years.
“I remember being in the truck with Dad, driving down to Kingsville, Ont. to pick stuff up at A.M.A. They had just started things up at that time,” says Kevin. A.M.A. Horticulture celebrated its own 40th anniversary in 2022. “We’ve been in business with them since the beginning.”
The trusted partnership is a two-way street. Prior to the pandemic in early 2020, Huron Ridge welcomed A.M.A.’s Alex Frew, customer service and sales associate, to spend the day in the greenhouse, gaining first-hand experiences including how to use a turbo seeder to plant the spring crop.
“It was a great learning opportunity and an unforgettable behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of a grower,” says Alex. “Not everyone would open their doors like that. I am thankful to the Huron Ridge team and inspired by their commitment to learning and growth.”
Honesty, quality service, learning, and a positive company culture are just some of the values both businesses share, adds Sandra. “I guess when we think of A.M.A., we see our own motto reflected in how they do business. Only they are all about good pots by good people!”
A bright future for horticulture
Horticulture never ceases to inspire a sense of wonder. It’s what keeps the Huron Ridge team motivated to continue to grow the legacy set out by David and Carol.
“You put a seed in the soil, you nurture it, and you watch it grow into something beautiful. That’s what we do in horticulture, and it’s what we try to do in life,” says Kevin. “There’s no other industry I’d want to be in.”
Sandra agrees, and is inspired by the next generation’s sense of wonder, too. “Their enthusiasm for plants is contagious, especially vegetable gardening. Even if it’s not the prettiest tomato, they are still so proud that they grew it themselves and they can eat it. We want to help them grow and continue to maintain that enthusiasm for generations to come.”
Article by Elise Johnson, freelance writer and manager of communications and marketing at A.M.A. Horticulture Inc.
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