August 15, 2009
By Allan Dennis

While speaking with Alice Klamer, it doesn’t take one long to recognize the huge love and passion she has for her family, employees and her business, Blue Sky Nursery.

In 1979, Alice and her husband Don decided to begin a pick-your-own blueberry operation. They purchased 3,000 blueberry cuttings, but the blueberry farm never became a reality. Don observed that no one in Ontario was growing rhododendrons and azaleas. He began a small scale operation on rented land in Winona. He found his customers by literally taking plants and knocking on doors. Meanwhile, Alice worked as a high school teacher, which helped with finances until the business got on its feet.

Success came fairly quickly. In 1985, the couple moved the business to its present site in Beamsville, along Highway 81. Today, Blue Sky Nursery continues as a family-owned business serving independent garden centres, nurseries and landscape contractors. The company has built a strong reputation for producing high quality plant material in various container sizes and quick delivery when the customer needs it. Blue Sky’s product line includes a wide selection of perennials, broad leaf evergreens and flowering shrubs. And oh yes, the blueberry plants are still growing and part of the nursery’s product line on the 28.5 acre property.

Building the business wasn’t an easy road for Alice Klamer. Just as the couple began operating at the Beamsville location, Klamer learned she was going to have twins. It turned out they were boys. Already having two sons, life was somewhat hectic. It became even tougher in 2000, when Alice lost her husband to cancer.

With four boys and on her own, Alice needed every ounce of her skill, determination, education and intelligence to make it all work. “I had to overcome my lack of knowledge on many aspects of the business,” says Alice. “Don had a great deal of the business information in his head, but nothing on paper. I was determined not to allow that ever to happen again. I developed a complete manual of job descriptions and policies. Today, anyone can look at the pages of the manual and know exactly what each job entails.”
Presently, Blue Sky employs six full-time, one part-time bookkeeper, two sales reps., three summer students and a crew of seven Mexican workers. Among her full-time employees is her son Clinton, who handles the duties of inventory control and product quality manager.

Alice says that one of her strongest business philosophies is that your employees are your most valuable asset. “I believe in treating your employees well.  By treating them well, the business will receive more in return.”  She adds that no one can run a large business by themselves. “Once a business grows to a certain size, you can’t do it alone, you need good employees to make it a success.”

She also strongly feels that a key to business success is customer service. “When you hear a complaint from a customer, deal with it right away. You must ensure the customer is satisfied.”

Alice says she strives to make Blue Sky Nursery as professional an operation as possible. “We must strive for excellence and stay on the cutting edge, ready to accept new opportunities.” She doesn’t believe in accepting the status quo.

That is proved with the fact that Blue Sky Nursery is the first nursery in Ontario to receive initial stage approval for the Domestic Phytosanitary Certification Program (DPCP), developed in response to the increased threat to the industry posed by invasive pests. The program is accredited by the Canadian Nursery Certification Institute. The DPCP system allows nurseries to promote and sell plants certified free from regulated pests and significantly free from non-regulated pests. Once an onsite inspection takes place and the site meets the required standard, final approval is given.  

Another area Klamer points to with pride is the installation of the new just-in-time delivery system. “We strive to ensure the customer has delivery of product within a 24 to 48 hour span,” she says.

Involved with LO

Having increased her involvement with Landscape Ontario a number of years ago, Klamer now sits on two sector groups, Garden Centre and Landscape Design. “Being involved with the committees has been a very positive experience,” says Klamer. “I have met so many wonderful people, and it has allowed me to understand the grassroots concerns of my customers.” She says other great aspects of LO include the educational seminars and the workplace safety courses.

Blue Sky Nursery’s vision statement reads, “We will continue to flourish as a dynamic company, to improve our policies and procedures, to utilize the best nursery methods, to provide superior service, and to continually produce excellent products, which will fulfill the needs of our valued customers in the 21st century.”

No doubt that vision will be maintained through the love and passion that Alice Klamer displays in her day to day life and work.

Caption: Clinton Klamer, left, and nursery manager Pete Zwaagstra ensure Blue Sky Nursery maintains its high standard of quality.