What’s it like growing up in your family’s greenhouse business? It’s “a lot of work,” says Griffin “Griff” Sprout, the second-generation owner of Sprouts Greenhouse in Lander, Wyoming. His parents, Charlie and Lynn, opened the business in 1978, and their children made up the primary workforce until they could afford to hire employees.
This early exposure to plants cultivated an agricultural interest in Griff, who grew FFA and 4-H projects in his own section of the greenhouse, in addition to working there after school. He wanted to pursue international agricultural economics, with the dream of working at a foreign embassy in Africa.
“I enjoyed the business growing up, but it wasn’t necessarily my plan after school,” he says. “I went to college with no intention of coming back to the business. But working during the summers and busy weekends in the spring, the business started growing on me.”
After college, in 1998, Griff committed five years to the family business. Working alongside his parents wasn’t always easy. But as the retail greenhouse continued to grow, he became more invested in its success. At the end of those five years, he decided to partner with his parents, gaining an equal share of ownership.
Then, following his mother’s death in 2006, Griff bought the rest of his father’s shares in 2010. Now as owner, Griff oversees the day-to-day activities of Sprouts Greenhouse to carry on the family tradition.
Charlie Sprout relied on memory to maintain production schedules. But as Sprouts’ inventory grew, Griff needed new tools to consistently manage all the plants, sales and orders. Over the years, he custom-built his own database to organize and access these details more efficiently.
“Having tremendous diversity really helps our overall sales and differentiates us from the box stores,” Griff says. “It would be a lot easier to only do five colors of pansies, but it’s more fun to do 60 colors. That’s why database management is so important for us: I can track things better.”
Griff’s custom database syncs with the company’s accounting software and point-of-sale system — which he also introduced. This gives him full visibility into critical business data, helping him predict trends and make more informed decisions as new varieties are introduced.
By Griff’s estimate, Sprouts Greenhouse grows 1,500 varieties of annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs in 35,000 square feet of covered production space. “That’s more than you can keep track of in your mind,” he says. “It becomes very complicated very quickly, but with the right management tools, you can simplify it a lot.”
As much as technology has helped manage the family business into the second generation, Griff says that Sprouts’ success still stems from good, old-fashioned relationships with customers and surrounding communities.
He stays involved by donating to the local food bank, churches and civic groups, hosting and speaking at events, and partnering with youth ag education programs like FFA and 4-H — the same ones that helped get him into growing.
“Every time someone comes in for a donation, I believe it’s a much more effective use of money than advertising,” Griff says. “That direct effort to help other organizations is a great opportunity to create a community presence. [That] doesn’t always come [back] directly as sales, but it benefits us in other ways.”
Community engagement, for example, has become an effective recruiting strategy for Sprouts. Through his network of local connections, Griff often encounters high school students who’d make a good fit at the greenhouse, and offers them jobs. They’ve turned out to be some of his best employees.
“A lot of people are complaining about the labor shortage, but that’s not something we struggle with,” Griff says. “If anything, we’ve done really well with employee retention. We get the same [seasonal employees] back every year.”
During peak production, Sprouts employs about 25 people, and up to 30 during heavy retail season. Griff may hire an employee initially to focus on growing, then train them to work in the store when it gets busy. Outside of key positions like head grower, “There’s always a lot of crossover,” he says. “The growing team becomes the retail team, eventually.”
Growing up green
Today, Griff’s children don’t have to work in the business like he did at their age, because he has plenty of employees. Still, he wants to offer his kids the experience he had growing up in the greenhouse, so he brings them in for “Wednesday Workday” every week. His son and daughter are quickly becoming familiar faces at Sprouts, carrying on the company’s kid-friendly tradition.
“Our business is family-oriented, and we want families to come out and bring their kids shopping,” says Griff, who invested in big, kid-friendly carts to improve the family shopping experience. “We want to create an environment that’s friendly for that.”
Most weekdays during the spring, Sprouts Greenhouse hosts educational school tours for local students, from kindergarten through high school. At the end of the tour, each student gets a small plant (usually a coleus or pansy) to take home.
“I’m very passionate about getting the next generation into growing,” Griff says. “I love to see people get excited about growing things. There’s a huge part of our business that’s a fantasy, a dream [of how a plant will turn out], and I really enjoy fostering that in people.”