Growing In The Mountain States

Slideshow: Olson's Greenhouse

The last 30 years have been a steady climb for Olson’s Greenhouse serving national retailers in the Rocky Mountain States. Based just south of Salt Lake City in Salem, Utah, the business began four generations ago in 1942, when Bart Olson’s grandfather, Roy, was working in the mines and produced tomato plants to sell to his fellow miners. He built wooden A-frame structures and expanded production to include bedding plants, which were sold retail and to other mom-and-pop retailers throughout the state.

Meanwhile, Bart’s father, Jack, started his own operation three blocks away completely focused on producing greenhouse-grown tomatoes in three acres of wooden structures. “We all helped grandpa as well,” Bart recalls. “In the early 1970s my mother also wanted to grow bedding plants, and we bought grandpa’s place. Then in 1979, my two brothers and I decided we would really make something of this business and set up our own production. We bought my parents out in the mid 1980s.”

The customer base was primarily independent retailers and regional chains when Kmart emerged as their first national customer in 1976. Even at this time, Olson’s was shipping plants to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. “If a retailer was in the Rockies or in Utah, we sold to them,” Bart says. “Grand Central was a regional chain bought by Fred Meyer. Eagle Hardware & Garden became Lowe’s. Our big leap was with Kmart and then we started selling to Walmart and Home Depot. As big chains have come and gone, we’ve migrated to the next.”

Managing Growth

Today, Olson’s Greenhouse is managed by Bart as president, eldest son Chad as vice president of operations, son Brandon in accounting and sons-in-law in key management positions, including Brian Lloyd as vice president of sales and marketing,  Nate Barker as production and purchasing manager and Cody Swenson in maintenance.

It’s rare for a growing operation to serve all three large national retailers, but Olson’s serves Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s in the intermountain West. The last five years have been a dramatic growth phase, going from 12 acres of greenhouse at the original production facility in Santaquin, Utah, to 15 more acres of modern facilities in Salem.

While crops are still grown at the older facility, all production and shipping is centralized in Salem. “We have seven transplant lines and this is where we mix our soil,” Chad says. “We may eventually move all our production to one location, but at the old one, we still produce a high-quality, profitable crop and everything is paid for. It’s just not efficient labor wise because half the greenhouses are quonsets and half are gutter connected.”

The most recent expansion was four acres of glass, open-roof greenhouse in February 2008. This winter, Olson’s will be putting three or four more acres up to support business gained for spring 2010. “We talked about contract growing and do have a grower who can commit for as much as we need, but we like the idea of keeping the control in house,” Chad says. “We’ve bought in plants before but have never been involved in contract growing.”

Reflecting on the company’s recent growth, Bart says Olson’s has always been careful to not grow faster than it could manage. “We have had the opportunity to take on more business and there have been times we’ve said, ‘No. It isn’t right for us to take on additional business right now,'” he says. “We don’t overextend ourselves financially or overcommit ourselves.”
Olson’s tries not to expand two years in a row, he adds. “Each year with an expansion is a test year,” Bart explains. “How much can the new stores sell? And we’re still getting production just right. The second year is more profitable than the first.”In the next five or 10 years as the market continues to grow, Olson’s may consider building a satellite facility closer to some of its northern markets. For instance, a shipment to Spokane, Wash., or Kalispell, Mont., is a 14-hour drive. Denver is nine hours away. Olson’s does have two sales representatives in Montana to service that region. Fifteen percent of the deliveries are made on Olson’s trucks and the rest via common carriers with Olson’s trailers. An in-house transportation manager coordinates the shipments. 

Perfecting Production

Olson’s Greenhouse is always looking at ways to produce a high-quality uniform crop, whether it’s investing in new technology or bringing in the best outside expertise. The company has worked with consultant Roger Styer on annuals for the last 15 years and more recently started working with Paul Pilon of Perennial Solutions on perennials.

“Their growth in production and sales is quite remarkable!” Styer says. “They have committed to a program of scheduled products to suit a range of stores servicing a wide range of states. It used to be they would just have one or two plantings and work off that, but now everything is closely scheduled and grown for definite ship windows. Their growing staff has expanded both in numbers and expertise.”

Olson’s also is moving forward with sustainable initiatives and is in the process of getting certified by VeriFlora. Olson’s has gained experience using biological controls, trialing various soil amendments and recycling plastics with East Jordan Plastic. The company recently established a sustainability committee headed by Steve Lloyd in sales. “We haven’t been asked by our customer to do this, but the whole sustainable initiative with Walmart sparked us a little bit,” Chad Olson says. “We were doing a lot on our own because it’s the right thing to do.”

Ushering In The Next Generation

Transitioning from the third generation to the fourth has gone pretty smoothly. When asked what has worked for Olson’s, Bart says, “We believe a family that plays together stays together. We go on vacations together, have Sunday dinners together. We’re constantly communicating.”

Giving each manager an area of responsibility they own has worked, too, for both family and non-family members. Olson’s has started working with a family business planner to formalize the transition to the fourth and fifth generations.

“While the fourth generation consists of a brother and brothers-in-law, next will be cousins, which will be more difficult,” Bart says. “We have regular meetings with the whole family, not just those who are working in the business. We will be selecting a board of directors. It might not be that every cousin who wants a job will be able to come work here, but we’re starting the conversation now with the adults. First and foremost, it’s important that our children get an education to prepare themselves for life.”

Are the prospects as bright for the next generation in our industry? “We feel the industry is booming and are glad to be part of it,” Chad says. “We’re not recession proof, but we fared fine and are doing great. We feel as long as we produce a good quality crop at a fair price, customers will have no reason to look elsewhere, as long as we do what they need to satisfy them. If you produce a good quality crop and provide good customer service, you will continue to grow in the industry.”

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Growing In The Mountain States

  1. I work for a new company called Barebones. I ran across this article doing some research. The biggest goal our company is trying to acheive is "sustainable living". I think it is great that other Utah companies are trying to acheive this as well.

More From ...
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

August 27, 2015

The Perennial Plant Association’s Regional Symposium Will Be This October In Dallas

The Perennial Plant Association plans to hold its Regional Symposium October 5 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the All-America Selections/Home Garden Seed Association's Summer/Fall Summit held October 5 to 8.

Read More
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Latest Stories
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

August 27, 2015

The Perennial Plant Association’s Regional Sympos…

The Perennial Plant Association plans to hold its Regional Symposium October 5 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the All-America Selections/Home Garden Seed Association's Summer/Fall Summit held October 5 to 8.

Read More
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Figure 1. Mustard microgreens grown under sole-source (SS) lighting using light-emitting diode (LED) arrays.

August 21, 2015

Sole-Source LED Lighting In Horticulture: Microgreens P…

In Part 2 of a four-part lighting series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers examine the effects of sole-source LED lighting on microgreen production to achieve the highest quality crop possible in an energy efficient manner.

Read More
Farwest2015

August 20, 2015

Farwest 2015 Offers Tours And Showcases Vegetables, Fru…

Three 2015 Farwest offsite tours, planned for Wednesday, August 26, offer a range of focus for the industry from nursery/greenhouse growing to landscape and garden retail.

Read More

August 20, 2015

Syngenta Plans To Divest Flowers Business

Changes on the breeder front continue as Syngenta announces it intends to divest the Flowers seed business from its Lawn and Garden operating unit. According to an August 19 press release, “divestment would enable the new entity to play a leading role in the consolidation of the home gardening market, which is taking place in response to changes in the distribution and retail channels, driven by shifts in consumer preference.” The high-quality and profitable Flowers business will be sold in its entirety, including Syngenta’s seed and vegetative flower genetics, as well as its facilities in Gilroy, Calif., and offshore, says Paul Minehart, Syngenta’s head of corporate communications for North America. Differences in the corporation’s offerings and little overlap with the agricultural seeds and crop protection side of the business are the primary reasons behind the sale, Minehart says. “Flowers is a premium, consumer-focused business,” he says. “Syngenta is a market leader […]

Read More
AmericanHort logo

August 20, 2015

David Savoia To Serve As AmericanHort’s Interim P…

Following Michael Geary’s announcement that he has resigned as president and CEO of AmericanHort, the association has announced that CFO and Senior Vice President for Operations David Savoia will serve as interim president and CEO while the board conducts a search for a new staff executive. Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for advocacy and research, will support Savoia with the association’s external affairs. Geary announced August 12  that he will be leaving his position after September 30 to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” Geary said in an eMail. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me […]

Read More

August 19, 2015

Greenhouse Growing Recommendations For Lobularia

Modern-day Lobularias are garden classics with good vigor and long bloom times. These growing recommendations will help keep your crop in prime condition.

Read More
Janeen Wright

August 19, 2015

Why A Step Backward Can Propel Your Greenhouse Business…

Taking a step backward to reflect on the past and plan for the future helps you confidently move your growing operation forward from a position of power.

Read More
LuckyLotsAbelia_featured

August 18, 2015

Farwest Show New Varieties Showcase Will Spotlight 2016…

Featuring a spectrum of new market introductions, the 2015 Farwest Show, August 27-29 in Portland, Ore., will display 49 plants in the New Varieties Showcase, a mainstay favorite every year on the show floor. Seventeen companies from all corners of North America, the Netherlands and Canada have submitted material that covers the best and brightest of perennials, shrubs, conifers, shade and flowering trees and edibles being introduced for 2016. This year’s entries will display the prized characteristics that growers and retailers are seeking— new features, improved performance in production environments and landscape, compact sizes, enhanced disease resistance, performance in urban settings and drought tolerance. In particular for garden retail benefit, consumer appeal for this year’s showcase is excellent with choices for spectacular foliage, blooms, seasonal interest and overall wow factor. Check out the slideshow for a sampling of the new varieties. Plants are creatively displayed in retail fashion and well tagged with full descriptions, compliments of showcase […]

Read More
Geary-Michael

August 18, 2015

Michael Geary Is Leaving AmericanHort

AmericanHort president and CEO Michael Geary announced last Wednesday that he will be leaving his position at the end of September to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “I am writing to share with you that on October 8 I will begin a new professional chapter as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries,” Geary said in an email. His last day with AmericanHort will be Sept. 30, 2015. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” he said. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me to be closer to my family and aging parents and to re-engage with another industry […]

Read More

August 18, 2015

University Of Florida Will Offer Online Course For Grow…

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ (UF/IFAS) next online course, “Nutrient Management for Container-Grown Crops: Level 1” will be offered in English and Spanish. For grower staff who are irrigating and fertilizing greenhouse crops, but have not had formal training in horticulture, the course can help teach them the “why” of making better crop management decisions. The class will be offered Aug. 24-Sept. 18, 2015. The UF/IFAS Extension recently started providing online courses designed for people already working in the ornamental plant industry. This year it offered nutrient and greenhouse management courses for the first time, with a good response (85 and 110 students in the two courses so far, with about half from outside the U.S.). The courses run for four weeks, cost $200 per participant and include a personalized certificate of completion. Each week there are two streaming classes and one activity (about a 3-4 hour commitment per week), […]

Read More
Cayman

August 17, 2015

21 New Blooming Potted Plants For Trouble-Free Greenhou…

Blooming potted plants brighten up almost any occasion. With new colors and an abundance of blooms, these 21 new introductions add a unique, finishing touch to even the most diversified crop mix. Here are 21 new varieties available in 2015 that will hit retail in 2016.

Read More

August 15, 2015

Ball Horticultural Co. Buys Conard-Pyle/Star Roses And …

Ball Horticultural Co. plans to add Conard-Pyle/Star Roses and Plants to its family of breeding and distribution companies, according to a press release dated August 14, which announced the company’s recent acquisition of the famous introducer of Knock Out Roses and other perennials and woody plants to the market. Ball plans to capitalize on the expertise of its Ball Ornamentals woody ornamentals division, as well as Conard-Pyle’s market-leading position as a top rose breeder to strengthen its product line. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of September 2015. Conard-Pyle’s in-house breeding division NovaFlora, along with its intellectual properties and the distribution, production and administration facilities of its wholesale division are also part of the acquisition. NovaFlora is the driving force behind the Star Roses and Plants brand. “Conard-Pyle has been the leader in roses in its market and has been actively diversifying its offering with other woody […]

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

August 14, 2015

GrowIt! Announces Student Winners For Friends & Fam…

GrowIt! Garden Socially announced the two grand-prize winners of its 2015 Friends & Family app contest. Horticulture students Brett Weiss and Sarah Swofford will receive all-expenses paid trips to Chicago, Aug. 17-20, to attend the IGC Show at Navy Pier. They’ll have access to educational seminars and the tradeshow and get quality networking time with industry influencers. The spring contest was open to horticulture students who competed to see who could get the most followers on the GrowIt! platform. Five finalists were selected, and from those five, two grand-prize winners were chosen. Weiss is a student at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Va. He picked up his love for plants at an early age and never really let go. This summer he had the opportunity to intern at Disney World in the horticulture department. Swofford will graduate from Texas A&M University this August. She’s had the opportunity to work in several different facets […]

Read More
Lighting 2015 August Feature Image

August 14, 2015

Customizing Crop Foliage Color With LEDs: Ornamental Cr…

Do you find that your purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) crop is often green to light purple? What if we told you there is a quick solution to enhance and darken the foliage of purple fountain grass or other floriculture crops? In this second article of a four-part series highlighting the multiple uses of high-intensity light-emitting diodes (LEDs), we will discuss our research methodology and findings for enhancing the foliage color of ornamental crops with end-of-production (EOP) supplemental lighting (SL) in the greenhouse. Many ornamental crops that greenhouse and nursery growers produce vary in size, shape and color. These variables are often influenced by the growing environment. For example, leaf color (intensity, distribution or both) of ornamental crops such as purple fountain grass is a key component that often influences the consumer’s perception and ultimately an impulse purchase. The red or purple pigmentation of purple fountain grass leaves is […]

Read More
Craig_Top100Breakfast

August 13, 2015

Craig Regelbrugge Receives National Plant Board Partner…

The National Plant Board has awarded Craig Regelbrugge, the AmericanHort senior vice president with its Outstanding Partnership Award for industry advocacy and research. The award was presented at the Plant Board’s annual meeting, held August 3-6, 2015, in Arizona. In presenting the award, Plant Board president Geir Friisoe of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture noted that Regelbrugge has collaborated with the board for more than 25 years. He has represented the horticulture industry in numerous initiatives to improve federal and state plant health programs and to harmonize plant pest quarantine efforts such as for the Japanese beetle. Regelbrugge led the effort to publish the first nationwide summary of each state’s plant quarantine and shipping requirements. The summaries are now available online at nationalplantboard.org. In 1999, Regelbrugge was invited by the National Plant Board to co-chair an in-depth stakeholder review of the USDA’s plant pest prevention and early detection programs. The Safeguarding American […]

Read More
Bob’s Market and Greenhouses’ Ron Morris pours Stockosorb into the hopper for distribution on the conveyor line

August 13, 2015

Soil System Improves Growing And Sales

My father started our company 45 years ago growing bedding plants, mainly early season production and finished plants for our West Virginia market. It was in the early 1980s that we started growing earlier spring production and shipping materials to southern markets, and by the late 1980s, we also produced pansies for fall. We started using hydrogels when they first came on the market in the early 1990s and found that they really helped with our production by keeping plants healthier for these new markets. Over the years, we’ve grown to be a large young plant producer and have a sizable business growing finished plants in cell packs, 4 1/2-inch pots, 6-inch pots, gallon containers, hanging baskets, multiple sizes of large containers and large baskets for municipal use. Creating The Ideal Soil Mix With our old system, it took several workers to mix pre-made soil with slow-release fertilizers in cement […]

Read More