Greenstar Plant Products Inc.
Greenstar Plant Products Inc. (Greenstar) has been in business since 1998, when the original founders established a lawn and garden supply distribution center in British Columbia. In 2008, the company changed hands and restructured. Today, Greenstar represents a wide range of brands in the lawn and garden market, as well as a growing pet supply segment.
Simon Hart works as the company’s strategic brand manager. He has worked for the business for 11 years, under both the original and current management. Working with a team of 80 employees, he helps to ensure vertical integration while building a strong rapport with buyers and customers. A growing number of the products in Greenstar’s inventory are branded and manufactured in-house, while the business rounds out its offering by working with outside manufactures.
Around 95 percent of distribution is for retail operations throughout a large geographic footprint. Most business is inside Canada, with a major emphasis on regional business. The rest is spread between the United States, Europe, South America and Australia. Within Canada, Greenstar distributes lawn, garden and pet supplies from coast to coast. Competition is largely regional suppliers.
Greenstar manufactures fertilizer products in Canada and Spain. That end of the business is vertically integrated, with in-house capabilities on both sides of the Atlantic in order to meet the varying production legalities in North America and Europe. To produce high-quality fertilizers with a lower environmental impact, the company has built relationship with high-quality international suppliers. A large portion of raw material comes from within Canada, although Greenstar has strategic partners as far away as Israel.
Pet food distribution is a growing opportunity for the business, as well. Currently, all of the pet food Greenstar sells is produced in North America. The company recently acquired regional pet product distributor Manchester Pet. With a growing trend of private label consumer preference, there is a lot of potential for small and complimentary products to enhance the quality brands of food and accessories already being distributed into the pet channel. Private labels also give the lawn and garden market new opportunities, as well.
“We are on the leading edge of fertilizer technology and mean to aim at new segments of horticulture, trending areas such as urban gardening to adjust for a recent shift in demographics and lifestyle choices,” Hart notes of the direction of the business. “We are pretty unique in being a national supplier of independent business right now. We are a growing player in Canada and the 16 countries we reach.”
A changing market has presented unique challenges for the business. With the growing presence of big box stores, many crossing the border from the United States, independent retailers are struggling and continue to look for less expensive supply options. According to Hart, being a smaller independent-focused business has its benefits.
“Our business is more personal,” Hart explains. “Being smaller, we can be more nimble about customer service, something independent small businesses value. We have flexibility that larger companies don’t.”
The company’s expansion into more production will also help to keep the business steady. As Greenstar adds in-house products, the team can reach customers looking for a more direct supply chain. The company also continues to innovate in the fertilizer end of the business. “We are looking at new science using cutting edge technology that we want to bring to retail. We are using synthesized plant molecules in our fertilizer. They are naturally occurring plant molecules but made in the lab. The product is not cheap, so being on the premium end there is a battle to get it widely used in the market. We are seeing improvements with increased recognition based on using these new ideas and seeing the increase in plant growth.”
Despite the challenges, Hart is optimistic about the future of the business. “The gardening business and pet business are almost recession-proof,” he elaborates. “People stick around the house more when they have less expendable income. Pets always need to eat. On the lawn and garden end, weather has become less predictable. In general, predictable weather brings in customers who want to be outside working on gardens or lawns. Two years ago, all of North America had a cold spring which was devastating to the entire industry as gardening was the last thing on people’s minds. Out east there was a polar vortex this year, which again hurt sales for many businesses. Our diversity helps us even out, though.”
The key to success in the years ahead will be to keep up with changing technology. Hart says there is no big crisis, but as the market changes, his team’s products have to keep up. Greenstar continues to reinvest in the programs and initiatives that will allow the business to stay ahead of competitors. Aside from that, Hart says the focus remains on service. With a strong team, lasting relationships and the flexibility of a small business, Greenstar Plant Products is set to continue organic growth in diverse sectors of the home and garden business.