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.

Olson’s Greenhouse

Location: Salem, Utah

Size: 1.2 million square feet of greenhouse production and 650,000 square feet of outdoor production

Crops: Annuals, perennials, blooming potted plants

Markets: Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot stores in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming

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 ...
Hendriks-Half-Open-Roof_GGS

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Horticulture Priorities

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadlines Approaching

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More
Latest Stories
Hendriks-Half-Open-Roof_GGS

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environme…

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Hor…

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 25, 2015

13 New Shrubs You’ll Find At The 2015 California …

Woody ornamentals serve as the foundation of many great landscapes, but beyond their traditional uses, shrubs also add color, structure, texture and interest to small gardens and even containers. Check out this slideshow to see some of the newest introductions you’ll get to see at this year’s California Spring Trials.

Read More

March 25, 2015

NASS Reports U.S. Honey Production Was Up By 19 Percent…

Honey production in 2014 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 178 million pounds, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a March 20 report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Read More
Bloomtown_Screen Shot 2015-03-10

March 24, 2015

Bloomtown Exposes Consumers To The World Of Horticultur…

A new web series called Bloomtown is all about the mud, sweat and tears of horticulture. Filmed in St. Louis, Mo., it chronicles the world of horticulture using local flower growers, greenhouses, wholesalers, florists, consumers, retail shops and arborists, with the goal of opening consumers’ eyes to the world of horticulture around them.

Read More
OxiPhos_BioSafe2

March 23, 2015

BioSafe Makes Label Changes To OxiPhos And ZeroTol 2.0

There have been some recent label changes made to the BioSafe Systems product OxiPhos, a systemic bactericide/fungicide that reduces downy mildew spores when tank mixed with ZeroTol 2.0.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More
Nufarm_logo

March 23, 2015

Nufarm Fungicides Now Registered For Use On Edible Crop…

Nufarm Americas announced label expansions for two of its fungicides that will provide more pest management options for the ornamental industry. The Cleary 3336 F and EG fungicides are now registered for use across a wider range of edible crops, including select greenhouse vegetables and transplants, herbs and backyard fruit.

Read More

March 23, 2015

Update To Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals …

A new update to the Greatest Perennials & Annuals app narrows the gap between consumers and grower-retailers, while providing more of Armitage’s top picks and growing advice for success with plants.

Read More
Plantbid website screenshot

March 20, 2015

Plantbid Brings Open Sourcing To Greenhouse Growers

Plantbid bridges the gap between buyers and sellers for sales and marketing networking on their own terms. The web-based, plant-sourcing platform aims to save growers time and make the business of buying and selling plants more efficient.

Read More
National Floriculture Forum 2015 029

March 18, 2015

2015 National Floriculture Forum Focuses On Marketing I…

The 2015 National Floriculture Forum, held March 6 to 7 in Minneapolis, Minn., zeroed in on the topic of marketing in horticulture and included visits to Gertens Greenhouses and Garden Center, Bailey Nurseries, Bachman’s Floral, Home and Garden and Tangletown Gardens. The annual meeting allows greenhouse and floriculture faculty, graduate students and industry partners to meet and share updates on current research, issues and initiatives.

Read More

March 18, 2015

H-2B Situation Goes From Bad To Even Worse

On March 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it will no longer accept or process H-2B labor certifications or requests for H-2B prevailing wage determinations in light of a March 4 decision. Shortly after the DOL announcement, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Citizenship and Immigration Services followed suit, announcing it will at least temporarily cease approving visa petitions. These announcements essentially shut down the H-2B program for any company that has not completed the DHS H-2B visa petitioning process.

Read More
SAF CAD

March 18, 2015

Growers Ask For Immigration And Healthcare Reform Durin…

Nearly 90 growers, retailers, suppliers and wholesales attended the Society of American Florists' (SAF) 2015 Congressional Action Days March 9-10. The delegation, representing 18 states, arrived on Capitol Hill at a time when two major industry issues - immigration and healthcare reform - are especially prominent in national headlines.

Read More
2014 Poinsettia Season Report

March 18, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Seas…

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish. Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Survey received 143 responses from growers around the country. Here, you can download the complete results of the survey, by filling out the form.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
Hydrangea 'Endless Summer BloomStruck' from Bailey Nurseries

March 17, 2015

Michael Dirr Slated To Address Attendees At Hydrangeas …

Dr. Michael Dirr to deliver the keynote address at Hydrangeas 2015 conference, hosted by the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society in partnership with Endless Summer Hydrangeas. The conference will take place at the historic Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass.

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More