August 1, 2020
This is a great businessINTERVIEW BY ROD McDONALD
KELVIN VANDERVEEN, owner of Vanderveen’s Greenhouses in Carman, Man., is known for his humility, integrity and his devout beliefs. Vanderveen’s got its start as a market garden in 1970, selling leftover vegetable seedlings to the local people. From that humble beginning 50 years ago, it has grown to more than 20 acres of greenhouses. It now sells plants by the semi-load in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario.
I have walked through Kelvin’s greenhouses when he put on the brakes to remove a broken branch from a poinsettia three benches over. That was one branch from hundreds of thousands of poinsettias. He pays attention to details. Kelvin and I have had a business relationship for 30 years, and I learned I could always count on him. Here are his answers to my questions.
When did you start working in the family business?There was never a time when I was not a part of this business. I enjoyed it so much that I quit school in grade eleven to work full-time with my father. School was just not the right fit for me. The greenhouse was not a great success at first, and when I was 18, I was paid only 35 cents an hour. I took over from my dad in my mid-20s, and he was okay with me stepping into the leadership role along with my brother Les.
Did you ever imagine one day you would reach the size and success you are at now?Never! I had no dream. I just kept adding a bit more square footage until I reached the point I am at today.
To what do you attribute your success?God’s blessing to work hard with my brother, Les. I bought Les out seven years ago. He still works in the greenhouse during the busy times.
Over the last 40 years, many greenhouses and flower shops have gone under. Why?There was the intense pressure from the box stores, no doubt about that being a factor. Also, many of the older operators refused to adapt. Times change and you have to change with them. I learned that my customers always want something new and something different. If you don’t change with your customer’s needs, your future is not bright.
You have moved away from natural gas as your heating source to flax shives. Why?It costs me roughly half the price to heat with flax shives and they are readily available in the Carman area. Add in the carbon tax and I am doing much better not using natural gas.
What is your philosophy regarding customer service?My customers are my boss. Without my customers I would not have a business. I try to accommodate my customers, to get them what they want, delivered on time.
What is your philosophy regarding employees?I have a good crew. I look first for a strong work ethic. Someone with the proper attitude can be trained. They can be taught skills. I also look for staff who understand the nature of the business, including long hours during shipping season. They need to give their all during the busy times.
Was this best spring ever?A. I have never had a year where demand was so strong. I did sell out. Having said that, when Covid-19 became a pandemic in March, I was not sure if we would even have a season. I did not fill up my greenhouses. I cut back.
Final thoughts?This is a great busines to be in. I can call any greenhouse and we can share our experiences. Also, when I meet with my independent customers, I am always struck with how incredibly nice most greenhouse people really are. It a blessing to be a part of this trade.
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