Greenhouse Canada

Tree Boys and an Acorn

February 21, 2008  By Don Fraser

Feb. 21, 2008, Beamsville, Ont., (The Canadian Press) — Fingers tap effortlessly over a keyboard. With a click  …  click  …  a spreadsheet fills a computer screen. Nick Continisio looks intently as sales projections for his company, Tree Boys and an Acorn, scroll down.

St. Catharines Standard

Feb. 21, 2008, Beamsville, Ont., (The Canadian Press) — Fingers tap effortlessly over a keyboard. With a click  …  click  …  a spreadsheet fills a computer screen. Nick Continisio looks intently as sales projections for his company, Tree Boys and an Acorn, scroll down.
“This is our target for this year,” he says in a steady voice. “We’re looking at reaching 110 per cent of our 2007 sales.”
Continisio could be a project manager in almost any firm, with one exception. This keen executive is just 14 years old. And he’s the senior sibling on staff. Tree Boys and an Acorn is a successful garden centre created for, and run by, the four Continisio brothers, who on this day are devouring pizza slices inside their Beamsville home.
As the teenager explains the company’s future plans, he speaks with the demeanour of someone years older. The Grade 9 student aims to be a dentist. “But I know I can always fall back on this,” he says. “There’s a good chance either me or my brothers will actually take over the company.”


The concept for the Niagara-area firm came six years ago from their father, Phil, who with his wife, Alison, has supported it earnestly. At first, the firm’s aim was simple – help the four children earn their own Registered Education Savings Plan contributions and fund their post-graduate educations. The new business is set up on a four-hectare property beside the Continisio home that is surrounded by a creek, vineyard and a berm. At first, Tree Boys only sold trees, shrubs and small plants sourced from several area suppliers. Perennials were offered during the peak May selling time, but only for two hours on Saturday.
“The idea was to let the boys go out there and pretty much take care of everything,” says Phil, who is a supervisor at General Motors in nearby St. Catharines and acts as the company adviser. “I had built them a little red wagon to play with. We took that apart and used it as a buggy to move plants around.”
The business quickly grew by word of mouth. By the third year, the lads had made their combined maximum $8,000 in plan contributions per year – the total amount that’s socked away annually is now $10,000.

Tree Boys soon expanded to a full-time business that operates nine months of the year, from April to December. About 14 trailer loads of cedars, junipers, fruit trees and other perennials are sold each year. Designer specialty plants have been added to the product line and pool-pond liners will be offered this year.
The company is environmentally friendly, with water used from natural ground sources and run-off water collected and reused. All building materials are from recycled sources, including signs like the one for a rickety “Head Office’” shack that states: “Don’t laugh, it’s almost paid for.”
Tree Boys added some part-time workers who are big enough to handle larger trees and place them into hoists. One of those workers is a family friend, Eddie (Scissorhands) Blank, 76. Blank is a cheerful retired plant supervisor, who was hired part time after proving himself as a volunteer during the company’s early years. “The boys obey their parents a little more than they do me,” Blank says with a laugh. “I also admit that sometimes I have to ask them what’s going on.”

And these confident boys say they pretty much know everything that’s going on with Tree Boys. Nick says when he first started with the company at age nine, he mostly did weeding, repotting and watering, but not too much selling. The teen is now involved with all aspects, including operations and sales. He has also shown a flair for arranging plant displays.
“I liked it right away and I enjoyed being out there,” says Nick. “Also, before I had no choice about what I could buy and this gave me the opportunity to pay for things myself.”
If there’s one thing that irks him, it’s customers who can’t believe someone his age is in charge. “Yeah, I get that a lot – ‘Can I talk to your parents?’’’
With that, Nick politely tells them he’s the one they need to speak to. Then he wows them with his plant knowledge and professional polish.
The other brothers are also now in the thick of it. Carmen, 12, is the jack of all trades and the other seller. He shares his older brother’s mild annoyance at sometimes not being taken seriously. “One customer said, ‘Oh, so you have midgets working here?’’’ Carmen says, rolling his eyes.
Daniel, 11, a pet rodent collector, does various jobs and is partial to plant arrangements.
Matthew, 8 – the “acorn” in the company name – is a sociable, cheeky fellow. “I don’t like the acorn,” he says without hesitation. “We should change our name.” He acts as the greeter, product arranger and insists on hoisting plants to vehicles, no matter the size.

Given that brothers are often notorious for fighting, how does this bunch handle each other? “It’s been pretty good,” a couple of them say. “Well, sometimes we don’t get along,” Nick concedes.
The use of profits from Tree Boys has also expanded beyond education contributions. Family vacations and savings for a future car and home for each boy are now covered. The boys’ allowances are based on an hourly wage that varies from $7.50 to $13.50 according to job responsibility. The rates are set by their parents.
Do the Continisio parents ever worry they’re putting too much pressure on their children? They’re careful not to let that happen, said Alison, who runs the business when the kids are at school. “You watch what they’re doing and how they’re reacting; you learn to pull back,” she says. “They also alternate their shifts.’’
The couple says feedback from customers has been positive and supportive. “They’re seeing kids playing video games on the couch all day and not being active,’’ says dad Phil. “They see our kids working at a young age and they say, ‘That’s a great idea.’’’
“Because the boys have the business, they’re not bored. And when they have down time, they really enjoy it.’’
The company project is also “teaching our kids how to handle and save money and how to deal with different people,” Alison says. “Most importantly, this is teaching them to work together as a family.”


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