Metrolina Greenhouses, a family-owned and operated wholesale greenhouse producer of ornamental plants including annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, marks its 50th year in business last month.
Founded in 1972 on one acre in Huntersville, North Carolina by Tom and Vickie VanWingerden, who came to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 1971 with $5000 and a dream, Metrolina Greenhouses has grown exponentially over the past 50 years to become one of the largest and most innovative greenhouse operations in the world.
The operation spans more than 200 acres of indoor greenhouse production and nearly 300 acres of outdoor production, on a total of 1,000 acres in Huntersville, North Carolina and York, South Carolina.
Today, Metrolina Greenhouses is owned and led by Tom and Vickie’s six children – Co-CEOs Abe and Art, co-COOs Michael and Thomas, and Board of Directors members Helen and Rose.
Metrolina Greenhouses employs 800 year-round, full-time team members with the addition of 400 seasonal workers during peak production. The company grows and supplies 75 million garden plants annually, selling plants at 1,400 retail outlets in 19 states across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions for Lowe’s Home Improvement, The Home Depot and Walmart. In the past year, Metrolina Greenhouses began fulfilling online orders for these retailers, shipping plants directly to consumers’ homes in 50 states.
Co-CEO Abe VanWingerden said his family and business team are thankful to everyone who helped get Metrolina Greenhouses to where it is today, from the previous generation including Metrolina’s founders and the extended VanWingerden family, to Metrolina Greenhouses’ employee team, retail partners and vendors. VanWingerden added the company lauds its history while looking at its 50th anniversary as a springboard for the future. “What I love is, at 50 years we still feel like a young company,” he said. “I see how much more we can accomplish the next 10 years than even what we have done in the last 50 years, because innovation and technology allow us to accomplish our goals so much faster.
“We’re constantly in full understanding of three big areas: We know where our customers and the gardening consumers are trending and we stay ahead of that, we are the industry leader when it comes to innovation, and we provide a world-class employee experience.”
With 20 million new gardeners entering the market, all signs point to continued growth and sales. Although the weather caused a slower start to the spring season in 2022, the conditions are lining up for Metrolina’s 50th year to be another excellent, record-breaking year, setting the pace for the future.
“All of our data shows that consumers are still very into gardening,” Van Wingerden said. “In the last two cycles of inflation and economic slowdown, in 2008 and 2015, the live goods space remained strong. People went out less, drove less and invested in fewer big projects. Gardening is a high-time, low-dollar investment hobby, so more people got into it. Our consumer data shows that they are hooked and will continue to invest in plants and gardening.”
As sales volume continues to grow 3% to 5% annually for Metrolina’s retail partners, the greenhouse operation will grow along with it, said Metrolina Greenhouses co-CEO Art VanWingerden. “If Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot grow sales 3% to 5% a year, we have to produce 3% to 5% more product, so really, we need 12 more acres of heated greenhouses and 12 more acres of outdoor space every year,” he said. “If you’re static and you’re not innovating and expanding, you cannot keep up with demand.”
Metrolina has consistently expanded at a rate of approximately 12-14 acres per year, along with the growth of its retail partners, Art VanWingerden said. “Nobody would have ever dreamed Metrolina would be the size it is today,” he said. “We’re adding more acres per year than what Dad originally thought we were going to be. He thought if we could get to 12 acres, we’d be set – we’d never have to add on again.” The legacy of the past 50 years is important, according to Art VanWingerden, but the main driver for the business today is sustainable, strategic growth. “We want to be sure we’re building a successful business for the employees we have and the customers we’re serving.
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