October 1, 2018
The power of questions
Gerry Aubin of Aubin Nurseries in Carman, Man., is a fourth-generation nurseryman. His nursery’s niche is supplying wholesale trees, shrubs, fruit plants and perennials to retailers and landscapers in cold climates — right up to the Northwest Territories.
What changes have you seen during your career?
Changes have been dramatic; 30 years ago everything was bare root, and retailers ordered one big shipment for the year. Today, with online inventory, we ship every day, and customers demand next-day service.
Branding has also changed the industry. New plants are now controlled by a few large corporations.
Propagation skills are much higher today, and we are propagating ourselves, rather than ordering from Holland. Because our propagation skills have improved so much, nursery growers face an oversupply problem.
And of course, there is the advance of the mass merchants, resulting in ever fewer independents.
What makes a great green industry entrepreneur?
Because of the ease of propagation, it is essential to target a market or product category. We all started out with a full product line; we did not know anything else. Today’s entrepreneurs must go after more segmentation. They must choose a market or a product category, and do it well.
Do you encourage young talent to start out in horticulture?
I believe there are good futures to be had in the green industry. Even with a decline in production and retail, new homeowners need total, complete packages including design and installation. There is also opportunity for growers — if they choose a niche.
What do you look for in employees?
We don’t hire based on horticultural skills. We look for integrity and good attitude. If you are a good person, you can move forward in any industry.
What makes a great nursery grower?
When I was young, my father Lawrence Aubin told me to go out every September and visit 25 nurseries. I have known lots of great growers. A great grower is someone who enjoys watching crops grow and change, and all the factors that make the changes happen.
Are new plant introductions effective marketing tools?
There are some great new plants, and some bad new plants. You have got to sift through them, to select what works locally. Often plants are featured in U.S. consumer magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, and get picked up in Canada, but they are not appropriate. Mistakes cost a lot.
Have you been a mentor?
I recall one young fellow who was into alternative landscaping. He came here and never stopped asking questions. Today he is a successful high-end contractor. I believe it was because he asked the questions.
When young students tour our nursery, I can always tell which students will be the successful ones — they ask questions.
Do you have a question to suggest, or a mentor to recommend? If so, please write to email@example.com.