Henry Huntington knew something was horribly wrong when Russ Elkins, his facilities manager, stormed into his house screaming at 3 in the morning January 21.
Please, oh please, let this early-morning wakeup be the result of a failed boiler, Huntington must have thought. Unfortunately, as Huntington jumped out of bed and peered out his bedroom window overlooking his greenhouses, he saw flames engulfing them.
“You have that panic feeling, and my first real reaction was what are we going to do?” says Huntington, owner of Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, N.H. “How does this affect us? How’s it going to affect our customers?”
The fire’s timing was far particularly bad for Pleasant View, a liner producer that’s essentially in peak production during Week 3. At the time, production space was filling quickly and at a premium, so losing 30,000 square feet–the space Pleasant View ultimately lost among its 12 acres of greenhouses- had the potential to cause major product availability issues. Plus, Pleasant View’s other greenhouses were going to be affected because the section lost was a key one for the entire facility.
“The building contained our pesticide room–our mixing and storage facility for all our chemicals,” Huntington says. “We had just bought our inventory of chemicals–probably $100,000 worth–and we lost them.”
Road To Recovery
Another concern during the fire was the fact Pleasant View’s central pump station for fuel oil was housed in the section that caught fire. Huntington worried all crops would be lost because fuel oil would be unable to flow from the damaged section to the untouched greenhouses. But Pleasant View lucked out with its pump station.
“The good news was where the pumps are is where the major part of the fire ended,” Huntington says. “There was no damage to the pumps and they were still usable. It was just a matter of us making sure we weren’t pumping oil to burners that were gone–and resupplying power. We had lost the power on [the burners], so we had to run cables to get temporary power to them.
“But within an hour or two of Russ and me getting in there, we had the oil pump running again. Nothing really blinked in the facility.”
Still, the fire left Pleasant View without a portion of its production space. Even more pressing, at least immediately, than the need for a new structure was the need for product to ship. How could Pleasant View replace the product it lost?
“Our Proven Winners partners at Four Star (Greenhouse) and EuroAmerican (Propagators) asked: ‘What can we do? We’ll help replace the material that was lost. We’ll get it to you right away,’” Huntington says. “They supplied a lot of plant material. For the most part, we didn’t miss a beat. We shorted very few people in terms of orders because of the rest of the help we got from our partners.”
Coincidentally, the fire at Pleasant View Gardens happened at a time when the operation was already planning expansion at its other facility in Pembrook, N.H. Loudon houses Pleasant View’s original facility, but it isn’t the site on which Huntington is planning future expansions. Pembrook is designed for expansion, so Huntington connected with Nexus Greenhouse Systems about a last-minute, late-winter addition there.
“We had started to plan an expansion in Pembrook,” Huntington says. “The site work was minimal and we pretty much just wanted to add on to the greenhouses that were there.”
The catch, however, was Huntington needed the additional space by April 1. If the April 1 deadline was doable for Nexus, then Pleasant View could grow additional crops beginning then and still meet its already scheduled shipping deadlines. If April 1 wasn’t doable, Pleasant View would take a loss and Huntington would figure out how to make up for the budgeted crops after the season.
“We pulled the calendar out, got TrueLeaf Technologies and Argus Controls together and determined they could help us in time,” Huntington says. “Two weeks later, we were putting posts in the ground. After 26 days, the structure was up.”
If the fire occurred two or three weeks later than it actually had, completing the project would have been impossible.
“In Henry’s situation, there’s only a few days a year that the place is empty,” says Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus. “Going into January, you’re right at the beginning of your crop and shipping time. If there were a worse time for a fire, it would probably be two or three weeks later.”
A rapid build during the late winter months isn’t an easy task, though. Warschauer, at the time, had most of the construction crews he relies on committed elsewhere. Fortunately for Pleasant View, two crews– Stephens Construction and Happy Construction–had workers available, and they worked six or seven days a week throughout February and March to complete the expansion.
Another obstacle to the expedited expansion was the amount of structural material available. Nexus didn’t have enough material at one single manufacturing facility because this past winter was busier than usual, Warschauer says. But, he was able to piece together the materials needed from Nexus’ three warehouses across the country.
“We get material shipped to our warehouses every week or two weeks,” he says. “I didn’t have the luxury of waiting a week. It would have been a different sequence of building.”
Normally, four or five construction workers would be assigned to an expansion like Pleasant View’s. This expansion required about 15 workers to pitch in, and both Huntington and Warschauer say the crews worked well together.
“You can throw a ton of people on a job and if you don’t have the coordination or the leadership, you’re not going to get any results,” Huntington says. “These guys busted their butts. If there was light out, they were doing the job.”
The weather was cooperative, as well, especially for February and March in New England.
“Somebody was on our side,” Huntington says. “If you look at the weather out here in the East, we didn’t get anything. As we sat down to plan it, we figured we had to plan for some bad weather days. We said the most we can have is 10 bad weather days. And if that were the case, we could still get it done for April 1.
Pleasant View, which ultimately added 60,000 square feet of greenhouse space in Pembrook, certainly lucked out with the weather. It also lucked out the fire didn’t spread beyond the 30,000 square feet destroyed. The greenhouse that caught fire was the first gutter-connected house Pleasant View built, and it was about 25 years old. It was, however, connected to the newest greenhouse at the Loudon site.
“The fire stopped at the connector before getting to the newer house,” Huntington says. “Nothing was separating it. There was an acrylic roof on the greenhouse that burned. The connector had polycarbonate–it really doesn’t burn, it melts. It was just amazing it stopped. I think maybe there was a tiny bit of breeze blowing away from there.”
The Pleasant View fire was a major inconvenience, yes, but Huntington says the recovery process has been a smooth one. One exception in the process was the chemical cleanup following Pleasant View’s estimated $100,000 loss.
“We had to get an environmental cleanup company to come in and get that stuff dealt with and picked up,” Huntington says. “That part of the building had to be cleaned up by professionals. If there was any hassle that took a while to deal with and didn’t go as smoothly as the rest, it was that cleanup.”
Although cleanup was a time-consuming process, Huntington says having an insurance company like Hortica at its side was a plus for Pleasant View.
“Kudos to Hortica,” he says. “No one likes buying insurance, but they know the industry. Some people may believe they can get a better policy someplace else. But I’ll tell you: It’s times like these you’re so thankful you’re working with a company that specializes in our industry.”