Customers just want to have fun!BY SARAH WILLIS
"It used to be that the garden centre was the only place in town to buy plants," says Jim Hole. "Then the world shifted and box stores and grocery stores got in on the act. My brother Bill and I knew our garden centre needed to change in order to be competitive and realized that, in this market, small incremental changes wouldn't cut it. The change had to be dramatic." Bill and Valerie Hole had admired the Dutch style of garden retailing on several trips to Holland, and so the seed for The Enjoy Centre was planted.
Hole and his brother took a chance on creating a destination that brings together a group of locally-run, like-minded businesses in a new model for community involvement. Not counting the space that houses St. Albert's The Enjoy Centre, there are approximately 2,500 sq. metres within the building that are leased to other local independent businesses that complement both the products and the ideals that the Holes strive for. Unlike any garden centre in Canada, The Enjoy Centre is a gathering place where customers can come to shop for plants, garden decorations, birding supplies and soil amendments. While there, they can take in a tai chi demonstration, pick up some fresh baked goods, vitamins, groceries, locally-sourced meats, furniture, high-end kitchen tools, wine, and then sit down for a meal or go for a spa treatment.
The nine-meter ceilings create a unique atmosphere for shoppers at the Enjoy Centre, and help prevent temperature extremes in the building.
Ambition, with sustainability
Ground was broken to create The Enjoy Centre two years ago on a 4.5-ha location just outside the Edmonton suburb, adjacent to the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, a freshwater wetland ecosystem. The Holes made a conscious decision to site their facility on a hillside, so they could utilize the terrain to design advantage. The Enjoy Centre is three stories high, with the outdoor sales yards in five organically-shaped terraces hugging one side of the building. Offices take up the top floor, Hole's garden shop, green houses, banquet space, the Prairie Bistro and Hillaby's occupy the second floor, while the rest of the shops, spa and production facilities are located on the first floor, which is cut into the hillside.
Construction wasn't quite complete when I visited in July, and Jim Hole noted they were about six months behind planned timetables saying, "This has been like a home renovation times 1,000!" The principles of local sourcing, sustainability and energy conservation were utilized in the design and construction of The Enjoy Centre wherever possible. Water from the extensive greenhouse roofs is collected in a 500,000 litre tank, UV-treated and used as non-potable water in the greenhouses and washrooms. The production greenhouses were constructed with flood floors and flood tables are used in the retail sales area. A co-generation unit provides electricity on site and utilizes the waste heat produced as well, in an efficient cycle that saves approximately $200 per day in heating costs. Additionally, situating the warehouses on the ground floor allows the waste heat to rise, to be used in the greenhouses above.
There are five terraced outdoor sales yards. Gabion basket retaining walls add character to the area.
The ceilings of the double-pane glass greenhouses rise nine metres above the shop floors. Hole explains that 80 per cent of heat loss in a greenhouse is through the roof, so they could use dramatically high side walls to enhance the atmosphere in the building, with no additional heat loss. The soaring ceilings have actually created a more stable atmosphere, as the space is slower to warm and cool, avoiding the dramatic temperature swings of traditional production greenhouses. Heat retention curtains are used to save energy.
Benches to banquets
The Holes created their new facility to be sustainable environmentally, socially and economically. In most Canadian garden centres, a large portion of the seasonal sales area sits empty for most of the year. The Holes reimagined the use of their greenhouse, turning their indoor seasonal sales area into a 600-person banquet facility after clearing out the product in June — the banquet facility is available to rent for nine months of the year. The greenhouse was constructed with this in mind, and has a polished concrete floor that can be heated or cooled with water as needed. Large architectural 'moonflowers' on the supports can be dramatically lit for night-time events. Hole says acoustics in the greenhouse are great, and that in the short time the event space has been open, they have hosted weddings, an operatic society function, and a University of Alberta banquet, as well as fundraising dinners. While there are no cooking facilities on site, a prep kitchen is available for off-site caterers.
After June, the display greenhouse is emptied and does double duty as a banquet facility. Here, staff have begun to decorate for a Chinese wedding ceremony and reception.
One floor down, at the other end of the building, the Park Room is a smaller meeting space accommodating 140 guests, with windows on three sides offering lots of natural light and a great atmosphere.
In a real example of the synergy of the many businesses within The Enjoy Centre, couples can book the Moonflower Room for their wedding, photos and reception, and have the wedding party's hair and nails done at the Water Garden Spa. In between service and reception, guests can relax while wandering the shops at The Enjoy Centre or get a snack at the bakery or bistro.
"The way the world is going now, most people's first connection with plants is at a chain store," says Hole. "By creating The Enjoy Centre, we're trying to flip it around and draw young people out to a place where they can reconnect with plants and their local community. Most people are happy to support local businesses. We're trying to give people an uplifting experience." Most Saturdays Jim Hole can be found giving a short gardening talk at The Square, an open airy space that can be viewed from two floors of The Enjoy Centre. The Square is home to dynamic demonstrations, tasting, lectures and performances.
Getting the word out about The Enjoy Centre has been easy. The state-of-the-art facility has enjoyed lots of attention from media, with Global TV doing live segments, and articles in newspapers and business journals. Jim Hole is a popular garden communicator and hosts an openline gardening program weekly, and he sends out a brief weekly e-letter with gardening tips, personal observations and a look at what's coming up at The Enjoy Centre. "There is nothing standard about this place at all,' says Jim Hole. "It's unlike any place else in the world. Still, fundamentally it is a greenhouse. It's a greenhouse PLUS a whole lot more."
A local legacy
The Enjoy Centre is the third incarnation of the Hole family business. Almost by accident, Lois and Ted Hole became vegetable farmers in 1952, selling farm-fresh produce from a roadside stand and their iconic red barn. In the late 1970s the company relocated and changed its focus to home and garden retailing, growing the annuals and perennials they sold in their greenhouse range.
Lois Hole, noted for her kind and generous personality, was known as "the Queen of Hugs." Gradually becoming the face of the family business, Hole authored over 15 gardening books, some of them with her son Jim, who took over as family scribe after his mother's death in 2005.
Lois Hole left a legacy of community service and selfless generosity. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1999 and was the 15th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. She has been recognized and honoured in many ways, through the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park and the Lois Hole Library in Edmonton.
The Memory Project at The Enjoy Centre is a unique testament to the Holes. The brainchild of Bill Hole, it is a pictorial history of the Hole's business, from vegetable plot to greenhouses and garden centre. The photos run along a wall of the building, and are accompanied by memories of former employees and customers, submitted for this purpose. The Memory Project took 500 hours to put together. A guest book bears thoughtful and thankful inscriptions from visitors as far away as South Africa. "People love it," says Jim Hole.
Community partners"We've partnered with like-minded local business that are committed to operating sustainably," says Hole. There is a potential to share labour and marketing, and as The Enjoy Centre is such a novel concept, he expects other opportunities to evolve over time. In addition to Hole's garden centre, Enjoy Centre visitors can shop at:
Amaranth Whole Foods Market
Beautiful Home and Gift
Hillaby's Tools for Cooks
The Prairie Bistro
The Prairie Baker
The Water Garden Spa and Wellness Retreat