Growing sales in rural Ontario

2019 State of the Industry Report - Market update

Steckle's Produce and Flowers sees plant sales on the rise while produce sales are stagnating.

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September 18, 2019

Photo courtesy of Joanna Steckle

Steckle’s Produce and Flowers is in Harriston, Ontario, Canada, a small town about two hours away from Toronto. According to Owner Joanna Steckle, some of the trends seen in her market are different from the ones seen by other growers in the U.S. and Canada. One example: succulents, which she says haven’t caught on in Harriston.

“I won’t say that people won’t become interested,” she says. “We’re rural, it’s small village or farm folk that come here. One thing I would wonder is if succulent sales are driven by low water requirements and if that’s the only reason people plant them, we don’t have that problem to quite that degree that somebody in Texas or California would have.” She said a greenhouse in a nearby city did push succulents, but isn’t sure how successful the program was.

Steckle, who runs the operation with her husband, Melvin and their children, has instead seen plants like Boston Ferns become more and more popular. Based on 2019 sales, she’s already upped her order for the ferns for 2020 from a supplier in Ontario. The ferns are the only crop sold in the garden center not grown by Steckle's. How profits are tabulated, she says, makes it difficult to see how the margins on the ferns compare to plants grown by Steckle.

Photo courtesy of Joanna Steckle

Overall, Steckle believes that the outlook for the ornamental business is stronger than the outlook for produce sales. Each year, she says they find people who may have come in for produce see plants made up by Steckle’s staff of leftover plants — a pot of colorful vegetative petunias, for instance — and then come back in the spring to get their own. Year-to-year, she says flower sales go up while produce sales either stagnate or dip slightly. Additionally, she says the greenhouse crops are less labor-intensive than the produce production, which covers seven acres outdoors.

“This spring, for the first time, I have people coming in for the first time and they know we carry Proven Winners,” Steckle says. “Until this year, as far as I could tell, there was no recognition of the brand at all. Now, this year, something changed, and we have people coming from two hours away.” Recently, Steckle says the business became a Proven Winners certified greenhouse, which she says has helped sales because the brand is popular with a YouTuber named Garden Answer, who new customers cited as a reason for their visit.

Steckle says the next challenge is to fine-tune their plant mix, as there is no room to expand and add more growing space, unless some of the produce space was sacrificed. As she approaches 50 years old, Steckle says she could see the flower portion getting increased focus in the next five years. That decision could be up to her son, who she says may take over the business if he wants to and if a future spouse is also interested in the work.

“The interest is there,” she says. “There are other greenhouses and garden centers around here. Our prices are comparable or a bit higher, but I don’t feel it’s a problem at all.”