January 5, 2021
Over 80 people attended the Landscape Ontario Growers Group Fall Dinner Meeting on Nov. 24, 2020. Titled, Surviving COVID-19 — Town Hall for Growers and Garden Centres, the annual end-of-season education and networking event was in a virtual, online format.

Growers Group member Jennifer Llewellyn, Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, moderated an all-star panel of growers and retailers who discussed their business experiences over the course of 2020, including the challenges, successes and changes that took place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The panel included: Perry Grobe, owner, Grobe Nursery; Jeff Olsen, president and CEO BTN; John Langendoen, president Willowbrook Nurseries; Rob Vanderkruk, president, Connon Nurseries; Art Vanden Enden, President, retail operations, Sheridan Nurseries.

The pandemic forced business owners to deal with a number of challenges, including less access to foreign labour, store or facility closures, increased safety protocols, and travel restrictions. Willowrook's John Langedoen said the weekly meetings held by the Growers Group were one of the things that helped him to get through the most uncertain times.

Langendoen said Willowbrook ended up hiring a lot of students to fill the labour gap and having them around turned out to be a lot of fun. Sheridan's Art Vanden Enden says staffing requirements were also tough to meet in May and June due to the unprecedented demand for products.

Safety was a big issue for everyone in 2020. Grobe said he spent a lot of time greeting eager shoppers to explain procedures and also had to really plan out and manage traffic flow within the store. Vanderkruk said  there was no way he could have predicted the important role safety would play for his customers and staff from beginning to end of season.

The panellists shared a wealth of information, solutions and ideas, as well as some great insight on what to expect in 2021. BTN's Jeff Olsen said the past year has taught him to focus on his existing customers, rather than seeking out new clients, and that he no longer has to take over 100 business trips a year to visit clients and trade shows.

The evening included a moment of silence to acknowledge the recent passing of Neil Vanderkuk of Connon Nurseries.

Special thanks to Llewellyn for hosting the event and to the panel members for their time and insights.

The replay can be watched online via the Landscape Ontario YouTube page.