Greenhouses brace for coronavirus impact
Baker's Acres in Alexandria, Ohio, is closing its retail shop amid COVID-19 concerns.
Photo courtesy of Baker's Acres

Greenhouses brace for coronavirus impact

Production continues with a push for online sales and delivery, with an air of caution for what’s to come.

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The green industry is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with events like the California Spring Trials canceled, other events pushed back and the day-to-day of life changed. Businesses are feeling it too and are adjusting to compensate for a new reality. Below, two businesses share their stories.

“We’ll be there for our people as much as we possibly can for as long as we can.”

In Dallas, the weather has been rainy, so business would have been slow anyway, said Mark Ruibal, owner of Ruibal’s Plants of Texas. But landscapers are still coming in to pick up their plants and heading out to jobs. “And since we’re doing all of our own growing and we’ve got a big supply of plants and we’re going to plug along as much as we can,” he said.

The plan going forward is to promote that Ruibal’s is still open for business. Since there’s plenty of space in the nursery, people can keep their distance while they browse.

“We’re going to kind of push the fact that also that you need to have something to do at your house anyway. You might as well go out and plant a garden or plant your flowers and be as normal as possible,” Ruibal said.

The greenhouse and garden center has always offered deliveries, but the company is pushing that service even more now. Customers can shop the website for annuals, perennials, floral plants, shrubs and trees, and download the color wheel PDF to see what’s available. Orders can be made either by email or over the phone.

“If we don’t have a ton of people here in the nursery, then we’ll start using our personal vehicles and trucks to do some of the smaller deliveries — push out as many of those as we can so it will just be a few people close to one another,” Ruibal said. “So instead of having 20 or 30 people in here kind of close, you have the one delivery driver who goes to take it, put it out on the front porch and leave it and anybody’s who’s worried about that won’t have to get it or have to contacted.”

Cash supplies at Ruibal’s are OK for now, but the top-level managers are cutting down on the money they take home to make sure their people will be taken care of, according to Ruibal.

“If it comes down to the point where it would be three, four, five weeks off where nobody’s got anything coming in, we’ll try to supplement everybody as much as we can,” he said. “Of course, we’ll cut back on our hours a little bit from what they would normally be in the spring just to kind of give ourselves a little bit more of a cushion to make it through. So we’ll be there for our people as much as we possibly can for as long as we can.”

Ruibal plans to see how it goes from here. He has a couple of greenhouses that are heavy on produce with lettuce and tomatoes that were slated for retail sales. Some are being transferred over to beds. “So we’ll have a little victory garden kind of thing to supplement,” Ruibal said.

He’s hoping to keep tropicals going for a bit longer but since annuals have such a short shelf life, he’s looking at donating them to loyal customers or delaying charging for them if it comes down to it.

“Because if we don't get the plants out, of course they start going bad and then they're no good for anybody,” he said. “So imagine we'll get into people's yards and they can get back to us later on cause otherwise we'll be throwing them away anyway.” – Kate Spirgen

“It was not a decision we took lightly.”  

Baker's Acres, a grower-retailer business based in Alexandria, Ohio, announced last week that it was going to be temporarily closing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The business had just opened its retail shop the weekend prior for the spring 2020 season a few weeks earlier than normal. 

"It was not a decision we took lightly," said secretary and treasurer Pam Baker. "The traffic was there. It just became a real feeling of discomfort between me and my husband. After a family discussion, we decided that good March income isn't what we specifically rely on. We are waiting for Mother's Day. We need it all — don't get my wrong — but when income is so small right now, the risks outweigh the benefits." 

Pam runs the business with her husband, president Nick Baker, and his parents, owners Chris and Nancy Baker. 

Production of plants such as annuals and succulents will continue, she said, and in smaller, non-connected greenhouses. Additionally, Baker's Acres hopes its normal customers will buy gift cards online or over the phone for when the store does re-open. Additionally, the business is working on doing plant delivery while its retail shop is closed. 

"We're trying to do online orders and pickup," Baker said. "We'll probably only offer local delivery and maybe some pickup. But we're also probably going to limit the pickup option." She said that is currently being worked on by the point of sale and website teams. 

Currently, Baker said Baker's Acres is still employing around 10 people and taking extra steps to keep their workforce safe. Steps including doing temperature checks when employees come into the office — as mandated by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine — doing extra cleaning and limiting the amount of people in a given area at one time. They also will not be hiring traditional staff throughout the spring in the lead-up to Mother's Day as they traditionally would. Production also remains steady as the business figures out how this will all play out. 

"We need to keep our staff healthy and whole and us personally healthy and whole for our families and friends," Baker said. "If we don't come out on the other side with our staff and our people and us in place, there won't be another side for us." – Chris Manning