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Tom van Wingerden, Van Wingerden Greenhouses:

US (WA): “The addition of tropical foliage is a major shift in our young plant division”

“The new varieties are gaining momentum, and this is a trend we anticipate will continue,” says Tom van Wingerden, Sales Director of Van Wingerden Greenhouses. “Adding the tropical foliage to our lineup also allows our smaller customers to capitalize on the current tropical craze.” While expanding their assortment, Van Wingerden also expands production in almost every division and adds more LED lights to their growing programs. In this article, Van Wingerden shares the many projects they are working on, the challenges they face, and some inspirational words for other family businesses in the industry.

The Van Wingerden family, the father with his four sons. From left to right: Matt, Joe, Mike, Tom, and Len Van Wingerden.

“Major shift in young plant division”
As Van Wingerden’s young plant division predominantly sells to Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest, these past years have been going well for them. “Sales through these regions have been exceptionally strong these past two years, and the future feels positive. One major shift in our young plant division is the addition of many tropical foliage items. Adding these to our lineup allows our smaller customers to capitalize on the tropical craze, whether they are open year-round or just for the Spring season. The new varieties are gaining momentum, and this is a trend we anticipate will continue.  As a result, we are expanding our tropical program, both for the finished product and young plant sales, to other greenhouses. Traditional Spring annuals are still our ‘bread and butter’, but sprinkling in foliage to our young plant and finished crops has definitely spiced up our offerings.”

Martha Gonzalez, Young Plants Division Manager, and Roberto Chavarria, Young Plants Inventory Manager.

Helping small growers with software
Van Wingerden mentions that their growth has also led to some additional challenges. “Finding proper tools to lessen the impact on our office staff has been challenging. We are a small to mid-sized grower, so we don’t necessarily need every tool of the large software programs. Therefore, we started developing a lot of our own software tools, including map routing, online stores, order management, fundraiser management, and others. The dream is to someday license this out to other small growers experiencing the same issues.” In addition, finding appropriate labor continues to present a challenge. “Getting the right employees that are willing to work on a seasonal basis continues to be a challenge. The increase in minimum wage and its knock-on effect is tipping the scale towards automation. Also, the inconsistency with heating costs, input costs, and impending inflation make pricing our products appropriately vital. We are constantly looking towards the future, both in terms of trends and maximizing our bottom line in an industry with very thin margins.”

New varieties
According to Van Wingerden, they are leaning towards an ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ approach concerning their assortment. “But we are also always looking for opportunities and keeping ahead of trends. Therefore, we will be trialing some new varieties for the 2023 season. Two items that come to mind are Syngenta’s Marigold Endurance and Philodendron Grey. Marigold Endurance is a triploid variety that capitalizes on the strengths of both the French and African Marigold species. Philodendron Grey is a unique shade of Philodendron that really sets itself apart from many other plants.”

Adding more LED lights
“As part of our commitment to quality, we are adding more LED lights to our growing program,” says Van Wingerden. “We are based in the Pacific Northwest and our days are short and dark in the winter as well as shoulder seasons, so adding the extra light has greatly benefited our young plants program. We have relatively inexpensive electricity, but the more efficient lights make a sizable dent in our utility bill as well. The light spectrum of the LED’s opposed to the HPS lights is the main benefit that we wanted out of them. We installed a broad spectrum light that can be utilized by many different products, but the usable light from LED’s is much higher than before and becomes apparent in almost every crop.”

Expanding almost every division
Among the many future projects they are working on, Van Wingerden Greenhouses is expanding. “We are breaking ground at our newer facility and expanding. This starts with our outdoor space and will lead to more greenhouses as we grow in almost every division. We are upgrading our transplanting equipment with TTA and Agrinomix as well as increasing shade systems to expand our tropical foliage square footage. We continue to widen our customer base in the Pacific Northwest, aiming to make ourselves a household name associated with top-quality plants. We also see an opportunity in developing software for other growers. For example, we are especially excited about a new fundraiser management program, which will allow our fundraiser customers to use online tools to sell and manage funds while simultaneously consolidating orders into our ordering software.”

“If you want to go far, go together”
“We are a family business with most of the eleven kids involved in the business in some capacity. It is heartwarming to see the next generation coming up the ranks and stepping up to the plate, taking the business to new heights. The stability in upper management that this provides, together with the faithfulness of the rest of our year-round staff, make Van Wingerden’s an up-and-coming player in both the young plants and finished wholesale markets. ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I believe that is an old African proverb but applies to many family businesses in our industry,” Van Wingerden adds.

For more information:
Van Wingerden Greenhouses
Tom van Wingerden
[email protected]