Grown out of love
Alberta-based greenhouse plant-growing operation Deb’s Greenhouse, which has successfully expanded to include an online store with a wide variety of products, is a labour of love from its owner Deb Foisy.
March 14, 2023 By Matt Jones
Deb’s Greenhouse is a labour of love. While the Alberta-based greenhouse plant-growing operation has expanded to include an online store with a wide variety of products, which has been successful, it all comes back to the love that owner Deb Foisy has: love for an agricultural lifestyle and love for her children, and how this business model has afforded her the opportunity to be close to them.
“I grew up in agriculture, on a small traditional cattle farm in Alberta,” says Foisy. “And I loved it. I was married and I had four little kids and we were at a point in our career where we would either have to expand the farm to do something bigger, maybe buy a store, we had a lot of options laid out before us. I really wanted to stay in agriculture, but I also really valued being as much of a stay-at-home mom as I could while my children were young.”
A friend suggested that she add a greenhouse to the existing farm. Foisy was so taken with the idea that she bought a greenhouse the very next day. That was in the Fall of 2009 and Deb’s Greenhouse was established as a business the following spring. This would be a running theme in Foisy’s conversation with Greenhouse Canada: she is very decisive and moves quickly once she’s set her mind to something.
“I love it,” says Foisy with a laugh. “I think that when you’re raised farming, you’ve got to be able to react quickly and make decisions.”
From the 2010 launch, greenhouse operations became a larger and larger portion of the farm’s business, with more greenhouses being purchased while the other aspects of the farm were de-emphasized. By the summer of 2016, the business was at a turning point, as they had maxed out the population base in the area.
“There were just no more people to sell plants to. So, then we started wholesaling into the city. We did that for a couple of years to build the business. And then we decided, okay, its either time to move or to build a whole new facility. And we moved – we found a location that was for sale that we really liked.”
Now firmly established at their new 12,000-sq.-ft. greenhouse facility in Morinville, Alta, Foisy says that the business specializes in bedding plants, hanging baskets and outdoor planters. The greenhouse uses a gutter connection system, but there isn’t that much technology incorporated into their operations. The site has also allowed them to hold special events, as well as creating the “Secret Garden,” an area of the property with boardwalks and playhouses for children to enjoy while parents are shopping.
During this entire process, social media was becoming a larger part of the business plan. When the business launched in 2010, Foisy didn’t even have a Facebook page of her own, but her sister helped her set up an account where she could share videos about Deb’s Greenhouse. Today, social media is a huge part of the business, which, in addition to Facebook, can now be found on Instagram, Tik Tok, Pinterest and YouTube.
“I think that if you’re someone who does social media for your business, as it evolves, you evolve with it. I set time aside specifically to do social media, that’s part of my schedule in the day.”
Foisy started an online shop for the business long before it was fashionable to do so.
“Then COVID happened, now everybody has a website,” laments Foisy.
But Deb’s Greenhouse’s online shop continues to be a key facet of the business, with online sales making up around 25 per cent of their annual gross sales. In order to provide a more well-rounded experience, the shop includes other products beyond the plants grown at the greenhouse and Foisy’s own Secret Garden Seeds line (launched in 2019). The shop also includes a variety of sticker books, puzzles and other items that Foisy sources from gift shows and the like.
“What we look at is, who is our customer base? Who are they shopping for? What are they looking for? We have a lot of sales for those types of items leading up to the holidays so we bring in extra of that type of product.”
The business also has a large pre-order program, where customers can purchase their plants and other products in advance for the coming year. To support that program, Foisy’s daughter designed a physical catalogue of their offerings for the coming year, much like the classic Christmas Wishbooks of catalogue stores in days past.
“We wanted a plant Wishbook that our customers could sit down and we imagine them cuddled up on a couch with a glass of wine in front of the fireplace and browsing through plants they could select for next spring.”
Deb’s Greenhouse is truly a family affair, not just for Foisy and her own children. Much of the 25 staff who work at the greenhouse are also families, with mothers and daughters working alongside each other.
“Boys do work here, but typically it’s the girls that enjoy the garden centre more. But we found that the culture among the team is fantastic. We’ve never had HR issues or infighting or anything like that. I think it’s because of the dynamic with the teenage girls and the adults. It’s kind of interesting because I think it’s the first time a young person sees their mom as a human, not just as a parent. And they’re in an environment where their mom’s not the boss.”
Looking to the future of the business, Foisy says that they will likely expand their operations again in the next five years or so. The business is “on a roll” and she wants to ensure that it is in the best position possible for the day in the future when her children take over, particularly her daughter, Paige.
“She’s only 21 but she is kind of committed to this industry. I think that when you have that as a parent, the expansions are a different kind of investment.”
Foisy says, ideally, she would like to double the size of the boutique and to add in offices for managers on site as well as a commercial kitchen.
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