February 1, 2021
50 years (and counting) in horticulture
INTERVIEW BY ROD McDONALD
Jan Pedersen is an icon of the horticultural industry and he has earned that reputation, with 50 years of service in our trade. He began his training as a 14-year-old carry-out boy for his father’s nursery in Winnipeg, Man. That nursery became Shelmerdine’s Garden Centre, one of Winnipeg’s premiere operations, and Jan was eventually one of the owners for many years.
After he sold his shares to his partners in 2009, Jan wanted to stay within the green industry. He became a sales rep for Byland’s Nursery out of Kelowna, B.C. Jan was perfect for that job, as he understood what is required to ensure customer satisfaction in the retail trade.
He is now on his third job in horticulture, working for one of his former business partners in a commercial landscaping company. The man knows his stuff.
Almost 40 years ago, I was in Winnipeg in early March. I had heard of Jan and of Shelmerdine’s, and I decided to pay him a visit. It was a quiet day and we chatted for an hour or so. We have continued our chats for many years, and I still find him to be a fascinating part of our trade. Here’s a recent Q&A I did with Jan.
What was it like working for your dad?My dad always ran the nursery as a meritocracy. If you worked hard and contributed to the success of the company, you were rewarded with pay and responsibility. There was no favouritism. I always had a strong interest in working in the production part of the nursery as a grower. For a number of reasons, I was seconded to working retail, which eventually I embraced. I never volunteered to become the public face of Shelmerdine’s. It was just the way it happened.
What was your approach to managing the garden centre?I learned the importance of maintaining your margins so that you have the funds for growth and development. One spring we decided, for whatever reason, to have the best prices on bagged goods such as soil, peat and bark. We cut our margins razor thin. What we found was that we sold no more product than we had the year prior. Shelmerdine’s was always known as being a price leader, not a discount operation. Customers were coming to us for quality and service, not cheap bagged goods. I also learned, over the years, to develop staff. They were trained and promoted and eventually the best staff ran their own departments. I followed my dad’s policy of merit being the determination.
After leaving the retail part of the trade, you went over to the wholesale side as a sales rep. Why?I wanted to stay in horticulture, it being my entire life, and I wanted to work for a company with an impeccable reputation. I found that in Byland’s and I enjoyed my time with them.
You had a reputation as being able to handle difficult customers. What was your approach at the garden centre?I always began a conversation by explaining that my purpose was to find a solution to their problem. By letting people know that you are willing to work with them, they usually settle down and quit yelling and demanding. Did it always work? Just about. I only lost my temper perhaps five times over the years, when the other person was being impossible.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 to 20 years?The challenge of the box stores and their low pricing is not going to go away. However, there is optimism for independents who find a target market. I have to caution operators that you cannot be all things to all people. You cannot provide great service and rock-bottom prices. An independent has to have good service along with the newest products. Customers are expecting those things from you. LT
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