Greenhouse owner in spotlight

HIGH PRAIRIE, Alta. — Christie Pollack’s enthusiasm for her business and her community is infectious.

It has “infected” three other businesses in this northwestern Alberta town to the point where they plan to launch the Discover Our Spaces website Nov. 1. It will feature products from Christie’s Gardens and Greenhouses, Magpie Bait (fashion accessories), Kitchen Chaos (kitchen ware) and A Few of Your Favourite Things (giftware and furniture.)

Launching the site will be the latest accomplishment this year for Pollack.

She was recently named Ornamental Grower of the Year by Alberta Greenhouse Growers and was listed among the Top 10 Under 40 greenhouse operators identified by Greenhouse Canada magazine.

“It’s been a crazy, amazing year,” said Pollack.

Her three-year-old business, which she operates with her husband, Tanner, includes 12,500 sq. feet of greenhouse and a 4,000 sq. foot display area on 20 acres of land a few kilometres east of High Prairie, 370 kilometres northwest of Edmonton in the Peace River region.

From the start, Pollack has emphasized social media as a way to promote on-site and online sales.

“It’s working out pretty good,” she said. “We’re working on building a new social media strategy with my designer, because it’s time now to bring it to the next step.”

Pollack said the initial strategy involved driving people to the business website where they could view product offerings and then visit in person or buy online.

“What I realized and learned recently is that that won’t necessarily work. Nowadays, people are comfortable on a certain platform.”

It means engaging with customers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and wherever else they feel most comfortable.

Analytics on the social media strategy reveal women aged 25 to 35 as the business’s most frequent social media and website visitors, followed by men in that same age group.

“We’re learning,” she said.

“The website stuff is definitely a work in progress. What I realize is it’s sort of a living thing. The website, you always have to be continuing to work on it, changing it, making it better.”

Social media mitigates challenges associated with the business location, although climate serves the business well. Longer hours of daylight in summer favour plant growth.

Offering courses and hosting fashion shows, baby showers and birthday parties in the off-season pays for keeping the facility’s display area heated and operational all year round.

Pollack said making people comfortable with buying plants and other items depends largely on using plain language and providing practical explanations for customers both on site and online.

“The greatest thing that I love about this is that we’re the producer but we’re also the retailer, so we get to hear what our customers are asking. And that, to me is the gold,” she said.

“That is gold to us because we can take that information and then we can write about it. And then again we’re creating a comfort with our customers.”

Shipping is done using Canada Post, which Pollack said has worked out well for the business. Nor has it been difficult to find staff.

She does have concerns about the potential impact of Alberta’s carbon levy, which will take effect next year.

The plants in the greenhouse take in more carbon than is produced to heat it.

“We’re carbon neutral. In fact, a lot of greenhouses pump in extra carbon to their spaces to grow their plants better. I find it sort of odd that we’d have to pay it, considering we’re carbon capturers,” she said.

“We will find a way to become more efficient and we will do better. We won’t let it stop us.”

However, Pollack said the tax won’t encourage other greenhouse growers to find uses for their buildings in the off-season when plants aren’t growing because the tax is expected to increase heating costs.

Alberta’s increases in minimum wage also factor into future plans.

“With the incremental increase in wages, it just means that we have less people working for us. Going into spring, we’re going to use the staff we have more, and be more efficient and cut positions.”

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