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.

Latest Stories
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

May 29, 2016

Michigan State University Offering Summer Online Course…

The seven-unit course is aimed at greenhouse and ornamental plant growers who want to learn more about the fundamental concepts of how plants respond to light quality, quantity, and duration.

Read More
Sakata Birthday Cake Feature

May 28, 2016

10 Creative Marketing Ideas From 2016 California Spring…

Grower-retailers often look to breeders for ideas on how to increase plant sales with smart marketing plans. The California Spring Trials were filled with great concepts to reach customers.

Read More
Pollinator-friendly perennials are a big hit with eco-concious consumers

May 27, 2016

Which Pollinator Terms Appeal Most To Consumers?

A team from the University of Florida tested several promotional phrases, from the specific ("butterflies" and "bees") to more general.

Read More
Harvest Automation HV 100 Feature

May 27, 2016

Harvest Automation Robot Helps You Move Plants Without …

The Harvest Automation HV-100 robot units use lasers and sensors to handle some of the most labor-intensive tasks in the greenhouse.

Read More
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover…

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
IGC App For 2016 Shows

May 26, 2016

IGC Shows Release Free Apps To Help You Plan For Both T…

Free event planning apps for each show are now available for download in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

Read More
SBI Rack Scanning feature

May 26, 2016

Take Your Data Management To The Next Level

New developments in software technology allow growers to customize inventory, tracking, and labor performance into systems unique to their greenhouse operations.

Read More
Eason 2017 Perennials Guide

May 25, 2016

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials G…

The two guides are available in digital and print versions and offer information from several breeders.

Read More
Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’

May 25, 2016

15 New Perennials For Bees, Butterflies, And Other Poll…

These 15 new perennials, available for retail in 2016 and 2017, will produce colorful flowers and foliage year after year, providing habitat and food for bees, butterflies, birds, moths, and other pollinators.

Read More
P.Allen Smith Cut Flowers

May 25, 2016

Sakata Seed America And P. Allen Smith Extend Partnersh…

Sakata is taking its partnership with plantsman P. Allen Smith a step further to create the P. Allen Smith Home Grown Cut Flowers Collection, a selection of premium cut flower seed hand-picked by Smith and bred exclusively by Sakata.

Read More
Triathlon BA container shot

May 24, 2016

OHP’s Triathlon Biofungicide Now Listed By The Organic …

Triathlon BA is a broad-spectrum preventative biofungicide that provides control of many foliar and soilborne diseases in ornamentals and herbs.

Read More
Costa Farms won International Grower of the Year. Representing the operation, (left to right) were Chuck Zala, Michael Vera, Menachem Ganon, Jose Costa, and Mike Rimland

May 24, 2016

AIPH Seeking Entries For Its International Grower of th…

The International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) is inviting ornamental growers from all around the world to enter the AIPH International Grower of the Year Awards (IGOTY) for 2017. Last year’s big winner was Florida-based Costa Farms.

Read More
Coleus Fancy Feathers Pink (Terra Nova Nurseries)

May 23, 2016

Take A Sneak Peek at Terra Nova Nurseries’ New Coleus F…

A brand-new collection of Terra Nova Nurseries coleus varieties called the Fancy Feathers Series is now available to growers for online orders. The series produces narrow, feather-like leaves and offers a mounded habit.

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [O…

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More

May 23, 2016

Ian Baldwin Sees Several Garden Trends Developing This …

The garden industry consultant reads the mid-spring tea leaves and sees several trends emerging.

Read More

May 23, 2016

Manhattan’s Urban Garden Center Suffers Second Di…

Two years after a nearby gas explosion destroyed the store in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem, Urban Garden Center had a four-alarm fire that disrupted a popular train route, and the garden retailer is now dealing with an angry community.

Read More
Aerial_view_of_the_Bayer_cross_high_res

May 23, 2016

Bayer Sells Consumer Garden Products Division To French…

The sale to SBM Développement comes just as Bayer AG makes a bid for Monsanto.

Read More
GG Tech Editorial Advisors Feature Image

May 23, 2016

Meet The New Editorial Advisors For Greenhouse Growe…

Greenhouse Grower TECHNOLOGY presents the inaugural members of its Editorial Advisory Board, six pillars of knowledge about greenhouse automation and technology. Get to know each of these gentlemen and what they’ll help bring to each issue.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]