Nesbitt’s Greenhouse and Nursery reopens in time for flower season
Just in time for gardening season, Nesbitt’s Greenhouse and Nursery has reopened to the public after being shut down for more than a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officially open with several safety measures on May 1, the greenhouse will be operating Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, until further notice. Despite the forced delay, struggles with suppliers and short-staffing since the start of the outbreak, the business has been coping relatively well, according to co-owner Ron Nesbitt.
Since February - while the greenhouse was waiting to open - the Nesbitts had been growing plants and doing all the necessary work to get the place up and running in time for spring. “The plants don’t grow by themselves,” Nesbitt said. Among other things, the business has rearranged its operations according to COVID-19 safety regulations. Notably, all employees wear masks, the greenhouses are marked with arrows to direct clients in one direction and everyone uses social distancing.
The main cash register has been covered by a large glass panel to limit social contact between staff and customers. Only allowing 25 clients at a time in the greenhouse, Nesbitt said it slows down their operation significantly. “I have parking for 110 vehicles out there,” he said, “Usually, in a normal year, the lot is full, sometimes with two or three people per car, and more cars parked on the street. This year, we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.”
“We’re trying to hurry the people through as quickly as we can without pissing them off,” he added. “It’s a whole new style.”
To make up for the smaller volumes of clients in the store, the greenhouse launched an e-commerce platform allowing people to purchase Nesbitt’s products via its website – offering home delivery and curb-side pick-up.
While the e-commerce platform has helped with sales so far – especially by serving vulnerable citizens - creating the platform, training themselves how to operate it and putting it to work effectively hasn’t been easy, Nesbitt said. “The people who use it are mostly those who do not want to come out into the crowds,” he said. “But it’s a lot of work … taking in orders, answering the questions, delivering. It’s a whole new aspect of the business.”
Nesbitt explained that the greenhouse typically brings in employees early in the season to get a head start on things. But with the coronavirus scare, some employees either haven’t been comfortable coming to work or had already received their COVID-19 stimulus checks from the federal government. “It was hard to find employees,” he said.
Fortunately, the business was able to recruit a number of co-op students from Algonquin College’s horticulture program, Nesbitt said. Normally, boasting around 20 full-time seasonal employees, the number has dropped to around a dozen because of COVID-19, Nesbitt said - adding that they are looking for employees.
Like other enterprises, Nesbitt explained that one of the business’s main concerns from the crisis was finances, noting that the greenhouse lost around three weeks’ worth of earnings because of the shut-down – without mentioning a specific amount. “In this business, all the money goes out before it comes back in,” he said. “If you’ve got all the money out and you’re not allowed to open, there’s a problem there. I can’t eat what I grow because it’s mostly flowers. That was a big worry all the way through.”
While the greenhouse hasn’t been able to obtain certain products it would usually sell, like white geraniums, it didn’t struggle getting the majority of it on hand, considering that almost all of it comes from local suppliers or is grown in the greenhouse. Able to open just in time for Mother’s Day on May 10, the unfortunate part is that most businesses in the province – including greenhouses – won’t be open on Sundays, at least until the end of May. “It is [a big day] if I was able to be open,” Nesbitt said. “A weekend day at this time of the year is worth 10 regular days. I’m