Greenhouse operators grow with help from social media

The couple uses online video and tutorials to turn newbies into green thumbs

HIGH PRAIRIE, Alta. — Few greenhouse operators open for business in the middle of November, but it’s not the first greenhouse rule Christie and Tanner Pollack have broken in their three years in business.

The Alberta greenhouse had just been built, the heat needed to be on anyway and Christmas was coming.

“We said, ‘let’s just open, why wait till spring,’ ” said Christie of their unusual greenhouse start date.

The couple invited customers to the greenhouse to make Christmas wreaths and centrepieces and shop for Christmas gifts.

The do-it-yourself classes have been so successful they have carried on throughout the year. They even host children’s birthday parties at Christie’s Gardens and Greenhouses, where the kids build miniature gardens.

“The DIY continues to bring people into the greenhouse. It’s something that has taken off,” said Christie.

Weddings have been hosted in the backyard. If the weather turns bad, the event is moved into an empty hoop house. It’s just one more way to get more customers coming to the greenhouse on the edge of High Prairie.

The couple doesn’t simply rely on word of mouth to attract customers. Christie relies heavily on social media to create awareness of what is in the greenhouse and create a buzz about growing.

Christie’s target customer is 25 to 35 year olds who are connected through their phone and keen on gardening, but who may not know much about gardening.

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Every day, Christie posts a new picture on her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. They show off plants, bulbs, seed packages, art, flower bouquets, vases or wedding settings. Those pictures are often the hook needed to entice followers out of town and into the greenhouse.

“It keeps it fresh in their minds that we’re here,” she said.

It was while volunteering at a senior’s lodge that someone suggested Christie should open a greenhouse. It was the push the pair needed.

With a business plan in hand, FCC approved the couple for a young farmer loan and planning began.

Christie grew up in nearby Falher and Tanner grew up on a farm at Enilda, just down the road. The greenhouse is built on land once owned by Tanner’s grandparents. The couple owns a few cattle and farm with family at Enilda.

As an AgriTrend adviser, Tanner has used his knowledge of fertilizer and pest management to help develop the best programs for the greenhouse.

For 16 years, Christie has been involved in horticulture, including the production horticulture program at Olds College.

The greenhouse was a natural extension of their life.

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While the couple’s agriculture roots run deep, few people are comfortable creating gardens in their backyard and balcony. Through online videos and tutorials, Christie makes gardening easy and exciting.

“We want people to feel comfortable when they come in and ask any questions they have,” she said.

Social media has played a large part in attracting customers and at the end of October, a new website will be launched with an online catalogue, online store for shipment across Canada, blogs and events.

“If you post something, people will message with you to save something. With online, all the stuff is tied together. It absolutely drives little spikes in the business,” said Tanner.

Christie uses all the social media tools to attract customers, but believes a good email list is key to connecting with customers.

Expanding their business online was also a way to grow without more capital construction.

“Part of the reason that led us online is that it doesn’t take a lot of money to get online, but it is an opportunity for us to grow,” she said.

Having an active social media presence takes work. Every Monday, Christie uploads photos that will be automatically posted throughout the week, writes online copy, updates the social media strategy and her business plan and takes online courses to continually boost their business.

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Keeping the website fresh is as important as ordering seeds.