September 15, 2009
By Allan Dennis

The 50th year in business for LO member Belgian Nursery in Breslau is more than a convenient marketing opportunity. It truly is a family celebrating its 50 years of successful business.

In 2009, the celebration involves looking back with pride on how three generations have been part of the growth at Belgian Nursery. Growth that has created 19 greenhouses and a major retail area, situated on 16 acres of property, while welcoming the fourth generation into the process.

Back in 1959, Maurice and Mary Lombaert, with their eight-year-old son Luc, purchased three acres of farmland. Within a year, 54 year-old Maurice was applying his expertise, learned from his family in his country of birth, Belgium. They began with field-grown tuberous begonias and gladiola. They then built a greenhouse, which has been re-built about four times over the years.

In 1973, Luc married 19-year-old Rosie, who immediately took to the business. It didn’t hurt that she grew up on a farm, learning what it takes to successfully grow plants. Also bringing a natural talent with marketing, she helped the family through a tremendous time of growth. Belgian Nursery has gone from a ratio of 75 per cent wholesale and 25 per cent retail, to today, where it is a 100-per-cent retail operation.

“We have developed into a garden centre that offers some very unique items,” says Rosie. The cactus greenhouse alone has one of the most impressive displays and selections in the industry, all within a 5,400-square-foot greenhouse. As it is with most of the display areas at Belgian Nursery, the cacti are presented in a creative manner, with many giant specimens (not for sale) nearly touching the top of the greenhouse. The winding interlock sidewalk and beautiful planters provide a pleasant image to customers.

The business has developed a philosophy that you can’t be everything to everyone, so it specializes in certain areas. “We are not a typical garden centre,” says Rosie. “We don’t sell trees or rose bushes.” But Belgian Nursery does produce 7,000 hanging baskets, a variety of standard and unusual annuals, all grown with the company’s 19 greenhouses, and a solid selection of perennials.

Clientele comes from the Region of Waterloo and Guelph, as well as London and Owen Sound. “We even have a number of faithful customers drive over from Toronto,” says Rosie.

The word faithful describes a large segment of the nursery’s customer base. Rosie says with pride how original customer’s children and grandchildren are now regular visitors to Belgian Nursery.

Back in April, a 50th anniversary event was held, complete with 2,600 cupcakes that were handed out to visitors during the two-day celebration. Rosie says that there were only a few cupcakes left for the staff when it was all over. The day also featured a spinning wheel that guaranteed a prize for every customer. “It was a huge success,” says Rosie. “We were overwhelmed by the support our customers showed.”

The third generation has been involved in the business for some time. Rosie and Luc’s two daughters, Rosemary and Julie, have taken on important roles. Rosemary is the manager of retail, while Julie takes care of organizing the production of the annuals and perennials. Rosemary’s husband Shawn works with Luc, as the growers. Both daughters have young children, who if they follow the family tradition, will some day be a part of the legacy left by Maurice and Mary.

The business has a staff of 12 full-time and 12 seasonal people during the busy spring schedule. The retail store is open seven days a week. “At the most we may be closed for about 12 days over a year,” says Rosie.

No immediate plans are on the board for change, as Belgian Nursery moves into the next stage of its half-century existence. The past has shown this business evolves with the times. Rosie remembers shutting down a very successful flower arranging part of the business. “It was becoming too demanding on me, and taking away from the main part of the business. My daughters were not interested in moving into that part of business, so I shut it down.” She remembers it was a difficult move back then, but now looks back and knows it was the right move.

Rosie describes the retail business in the past couple of years as a rollercoaster. Between the economy and the weather, it’s been a challenge. She notes that last year, people were holding onto their pennies, while this year they are spending, although the poor weather in the spring delayed things. She sees many customers now staying at home and travelling less, resulting in them wanting to make their home a comfortable and interesting place to stay. “People who come in this year are much more positive about their purchases.”

Although Maurice “Pa” and Mary passed away a number of years ago, their legacy continues at Belgian Nursery with the family working hard to improve and build upon the foundation that began in 1959.

Caption: Display gardens and ponds provide visitors to Belgian Nursery a positive experience.