Today's Grower Blog

Today's Grower - Greenhouse Blog

Duane Van Alstine: How I Came to the Horticultural Field

Duane and family at Balfour project

Many years ago I was in the retail business managing a staff of 30 plus people.  The grocery chain that I worked for had just been bought by a larger company and things were drastically changing.  I had been considering a career change anyway and since I was still fairly young, I decided that it was time.  Not knowing what direction I wanted my career to go I answered a newspaper ad for “Greenhouse Labourers”.  I thought it would be a nice change while I sorted out my next career move.  While the hourly wage was not near what I was used to, it would pay the bills and afford me time to ponder my future (so I thought).  I answered the ad and on my interview with the Head Grower I brought in a resume and was told to start on the following Monday.  That Monday was Thanksgiving however and there were just 3 of us in that day.  Because of the lack of labourers on that holiday the grower was able to give me a complete guided tour of the operation.  My first impressions were the opposite of what I envisioned; my image of a typical greenhouse operation was wooden benches, soil everywhere and back breaking work.  This operation was equipped with rolling metal benches, equipment that greatly improved efficiency and was a spotless working environment.

Later that week I was approached by the owner, he had a puzzled look on his face and stated that he had been looking over my resume.  He had one question; “what are you doing here”?  I told him my story and when I was through he indicated that he might have an entry level management positon for me.  Within a very short time I was given a junior management position, it was during this period that I was given the opportunity to be an integral part of the growing process of numerous crops.  Every day I met with the head grower and every day I learned another piece of the science of crop management. 

Niagrow/GGS project

As luck would have it, the business was growing and a business consulting company was brought in to aid in putting together a management team.  The position of “Operations Manager” was posted and those wishing to apply must write an easy on what changes to the daily operation this new position would initiate.  I quickly identified areas of improvement and I was promoted.  In the Operations Manager position my main focus was managing every facet of the crops’ life from cutting to flowering.  This was to be where I realized that this was now my passion, horticulture was my new career!

Two short years into my horticultural career the Head Grower left. The owner stepped into that position and seeing my passion for growing he facilitated my move into more of a grower/operations manager position.  We attended nutrient classes together; I received my pesticide licence and often met with horticulture consultants.  Before long I was making key growing decisions in pesticide and growth regulator applications and nutrient management for all crops within the 380,000 sq. ft. operation.  Without consciously realizing it I was now a grower for a large successful greenhouse facility!

As time went on I became in tune of what the crop needed and with the benefit of a great team of assistants the quality steadily improved.  I won’t pretend that the journey wasn’t tough, outbreaks of pests and disease challenged my sanity at times but I was always able to get advice from other growers in the industry whom I still have contact with in my present position.  Long hours and seven days a week were common place but the passion for horticulture drove me to do whatever it took to grow a quality crop.

I truly believe that things happen for a reason; had I not answered that newspaper ad I would never have felt the satisfaction of knowing that I had a hand in growing beautiful plants enjoyed by thousands of consumers.  I also wouldn’t have met my wife.

Duane next to irrigation tank at latest project

After 17 years working in a greenhouse it was time for another career change, and I joined the GGS group, initially as a project manager for various greenhouse construction projects. Understanding the complexities and the benefits of all the systems that go into commercial environmental controlled greenhouses from the grower side was definitely an advantage in making sure new greenhouse construction projects went together smoothly. As GGS continued to expand, adding new companies and divisions ( JGS Limited, Niagrow Systems, Marijuana Cultivation Facilities ) I took on additional responsibilities becoming the Manager of Niagrow, as well as being part of the Marijuana Cultivation Project Management Team.

It has been exciting utilizing my growing and system knowledge to aid growers.  With large scale growing being second nature for me, it has allowed my transition from grower to project management to be one of confidence.  It is very satisfying when you can successfully ensure your customer is equipped with the best systems and environment for their plants.

Here I am more than 20 years later in the same industry and enjoying every minute of it!

Canadian Government Investing in More Plant Science Research

Vineland Research Center

Three weeks ago the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology), announced a $333-million investment for new research infrastructure through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)  Fund. 

Now Vineland Research and Innovation Centre has been awarded $614,280 in research funding from the CFI to provide growers with resources to produce high quality and competitive crops.

Vineland Research Centre Construction

JGS Limited ( part of the GGS group of companies ) is currently in the process of constructing a 3700 m2 ( approximately 40,000 sqft ) state of the art pre-commercial scale research greenhouse for the Vineland Research Center. There are only a few pre-commercial scale research greenhouses in North America, and this will be the largest focused on horticulture research. Vineland’s new complex is designed to provide large compartmentalized spaces with enhanced environmental controls and a versatile layout, to allow researchers to work in spaces ideally suited to their research needs. There are two distinct growing areas one designed for vegetable crops with an under gutter height of 7m, and the other for floral production research has 4m high gutters.

Vineland Research CentreThis new funding will be used by Vineland working with the University of Toronto in a collaborative partnership to investigate techniques to promote plant health through the suppression of pathogens or by enhancing plant immune response to support field and greenhouse crops.

GGS Structures Inc. and JGS Limited have been providing research greenhouse solutions since GGS was founded in 1979.  In addition to horticultural and agricultural research, the GGS marijuana division has been asked to provide solutions for cannabis plant research for several international institutions.

You can learn more about JGS research greenhouse facilities on their website.

10 Digital Marketing Ideas for Garden Centers

Digital Marketing

There’s still plenty you can do right now to boost you digital marketing and profit in the run up to summer and fall. Lets take a look at some options.

1. Online promotion of Your Garden Center

Online promotions are a great way to attract new customers and to encourage existing customers to make further purchases. There are a few ways you could approach this, it could be a simple banner promoting an offer for online purchases or it could be a link to an online voucher that customers can print out and use in store. Have you ever had a member of family who was notorious at bargain hunting? I certainly do! Chances are many of your customers will appreciate a special promotion too and it’s a good way to take digital engagement to in person.

Discount Voucher2. Run a Gardening Competition

Hold a competition with a nice prize to show you value your customers. But think carefully about your target audience and how you present this. You want to boost your business, not attract people looking for a quick freebie.

A competition can also provide you valuable information on where you should be focusing your business on and a great way to get people to sign up to newsletters and engage on social media.

3. Promote Your Garden Center on Social Media

This is the most common and should be the most obvious one, but many businesses start promoting themselves and then slowly let it die out. Don’t! It can be a slow progress but the best way to see results is to keep at it. If something doesn’t work, try a different approach. If a customer checks you Facebook page and you haven’t posted very much if at all or even a year ago, they’re not going to waste their time supporting the page and maybe even wonder why you have one in the first place.

Digital Marketing Image 4. Gardening Content

This brings us to the next point. Make sure your content is relevant and engaging. Don’t become invisible.  As mentioned before, inactivity looses potential business. Keep it light and refreshing. You do not need heavy text content to engage with an audience.

5. Create a Garden Center E-newsletter

Simply boost business by promoting new products and offers to your subscribers amongst relevant content sent out. You can even reward your subscribers with online promotions only available to them.

6. Promote Your Garden Center on Social Media

Is there something you want to shout about? Something you want your potential customers to know? Then include it on your homepage.

7. Make it easy for customers to share your products

It maybe time to start looking at a website design overhaul if customers can’t share and like your plants and products over social media. And who wouldn’t want customers sharing products that they love, it’s free exposure for your Garden Center!

8. Use SEO to Your Advantage

Use key SEO words for products and services. Google ad words and SEO companies are there to help. Have you ever googled your company and seen in come at the bottom of the list? That’s down to your SEO and it needs to be fixed!

Garden Center Directory 9. Submit Your Garden Center Website

Submit your site to major search engines to generate traffic. Don’t overlook directory sites. Specialized directories can gain you more targeted traffic. Look around and see what’s available.

10. Engage with Your Customers

A complaint on your site or on social media? Always stay on top of it. Be polite, their business is important. Equally it is important to share appreciation with customers who express happiness or enthusiasm with your services.  It’s called social media for a reason… you need to be ‘social’ and talking to your customers not ignoring them.

Amy Carter was born in Dover, England, and studied graphic design & advertising at Canterbury College and University of Greenwich before moving to Canada. Amy works in the marketing department at GGS Structures Inc. Having previously worked for a large pharmaceutical company Amy understands both B2B and B2C marketing.  At GGS Structures Inc. our goal is to help our greenhouse and garden center customers grow their businesses.

GGS at the Annual Forces & Families CAF Appreciation Day

Images courtesy of FORCES & FAMILIES.

On May 25th GGS supported our Canadian Armed Forces attending the General Rick Hillier Golf Classic for the annual FORCES & FAMILIES CAF Appreciation Day.

GGS at General Rick Hillier Golf Classic EventAn opportunity to golf with 40 serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces and General Rick Hillier himself. The event was an opportunity to get out and golf at a top end course, a real morale builder for the troops. The event included a silent auction with all proceeds going to the Military Families Fund. The Military Families Fund provides emergency financial assistance to military families faced with unforeseen and often immediate needs that have resulted due to conditions of service. In total the event raised $50,000.

GGS is proud to support our Canadian Forces as shown recently by offering the use of their facilities to the army reserve as a show of support for all the military’s ongoing efforts and commitment to Canada.  Also supporting military veteran organizations through special discounts, charity drives, and other donations throughout the year.


ETWW Means Success In Today’s Customer Driven Economy


Before you start your next building project with a greenhouse manufacturer, make sure they are ETWW (Easy to Work With). They should be flexible enough to accommodate customizations, reduce the amount of work/hassle for the grower, and stand behind their work after the job is done.

Is your greenhouse manufacturer flexible when you request customizations?
Every greenhouse manufacturer is different, and some are more willing than others to accommodate requests for modifications. At GGS we manufacture greenhouses customized to each grower’s particular needs. We have standard product lines, but we also remain flexible to our customer’s requests. This doesn’t mean that we can answer every customization request. It does mean we will do our best. Customization does not have to mean more expensive. Often by listening to what our customers want we can provide standard solutions to their specific needs with only minor variations to our product lines. For example, custom post spacing to account for door placement can be accomplished easily within our modular greenhouse design options.

Does your greenhouse manufacturer spend the necessary time with you, even if you’re not sure what you want?
For customers who are not clear on their greenhouse design requirements from the start, GGS will work with you to develop rough greenhouse layouts, and multiple options to consider. Our business is helping you grow.

Will your greenhouse manufacturer stand behind their work after the job is done?
We deliver hundreds of greenhouse orders error-free every year, but when we do make a mistake it is essential that we fix the error as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Is your greenhouse manufacturer willing to listen?
At GGS, we welcome input from our customers to tell us how we’re doing and what you need from us. It is our goal to remain the number one commercial greenhouse manufacturer in the world. We can achieve this only with your help. Tell us how we’re doing, and where we can improve. Together we will make it easier for everyone to build quality greenhouses with GGS.

Here are our thoughts on how a greenhouse manufacturer should be easy to work with:

1. Improve customers interactions.
Products and services are important, and willingness to continue developing new solutions for better growing environments. Equally important is the experience customers walk away with every time they interact with our company. Whether for a quote, an order, follow up on a construction project, or researching what greenhouse design options are available, you to have a positive impression.

2. Reduce the work for customers.
Is your greenhouse manufacturer looking at how they can assist you with more than just the greenhouse purchase. What do you need to do after you have chosen your greenhouse supplier? Do they provide optional turnkey solutions including construction project management for customers who do not want to be tied up managing a greenhouse build and coordinating with all the sub trades.

3. Provide after sales support to ensure customers are fully satisfied.
Every effort should be made to ensure you get the ideal growing environment for your crops. After the project is done your greenhouse manufacturer should be able to fully stand behind their work, and if you have questions or concerns, their sales professionals should continue to work with you until your issues are resolved.

4. Listening to customers and getting feedback to provide an atmosphere of continuous learning
Of course everyone loves hearing positive feedback about how their structures are improving the quality of our customers’ crops. But they should also always want to know how they can further improve – and this industry is all about the exchange of ideas.

Regardless of how well-made greenhouse structures are,  how efficiently ventilation systems work, or how easy it is to build, it is the people inside the company that make or break it. For a greenhouse manufacturer or any other company to be easy to work with, the staff needs to be exceptional, and have the skills and the mindset to improve every day.

If you’re planning a greenhouse expansion and want to deal with an ETWW manufacturer, contact us now and we will do our best to prove to you that GGS is the easiest greenhouse manufacturer to work with.


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