As Lorain County Chamber of Commerce President Tony Gallo reflects on how COVID-19 has compelled companies to adapt to new ways of doing business, he marvels at their ingenuity.
“When the pandemic hit, businesses had to decide what they were going to do and how they were going to be able to do it,” he says. “Heidelberg Distributing Co. and Green Circle Growers are two of the companies that creatively adapted to the challenges they faced. I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
One of the largest greenhouses in North America, Oberlin’s Green Circle Growers raises more than 250 million indoor and outdoor plants a year, ranging from seasonal garden plants, poinsettias, lilies, mums and hydrangeas to anthuriums, bromeliads and orchids. The greenhouse supplies 25,000 supermarkets and big-box stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, including Heinen’s, Giant Eagle, Sam’s Club and Home Depot.
Throughout the ups and downs of the past two years, the family-owned and operated business hasn’t strayed from the mission that dates back to its founding in 1968.
“We strive to make every day better with plants,” says Scott Giesbrecht, who shares CEO duties with brother-in-law C. J. van Wingerden. “We never waver from our five core values: respect, integrity, diligence, customer focus and innovation.”
The latter has come to the forefront as online business continues to blossom.
“We’ve always had a commitment to the innovation side of the business in terms of automating where we can, using 100% rainwater and recycling our plastic growing trays to reduce waste,” he says. “When COVID-19 hit, much of our pivot was directed to the consumer side of our business, and to devise ways to deliver live plants directly to homes. Currently, we fill up to 20,000 orders a week through Federal Express or UPS.”
Giesbrecht adds that the 10 million orchids the company grows annually are particularly challenging to ship. He and his staff explored a variety of wrapping options before choosing the style he calls “white glove packaging,” which guarantees the fragile plants will travel safely coast to coast.
Each is wrapped in an inflatable “air pillow” before being placed in a cardboard box with heat packs and double-thick walls that serve as insulation.
Giesbrecht still casts an eye on the future. Plans call for an expansion that will create more than 250 new jobs in Lorain County and bring the greenhouse workforce to 1,150.
“Our vision is that there will be a Green Circle Growers plant within everyone’s sight in North America,” she says. “But, we’re committed to keeping our headquarters in Oberlin.”
There’s nothing like kicking back with friends at a favorite brewery or restaurant to mark the end of the 9-to-5 grind. But, when COVID-19 put the kibosh on the ritual, Kevin Knight, vice president and general manager of Heidelberg Distributing Co. in Lorain, knew an alternative was needed to fill the void. Founded in 1938 in Dayton, the company has grown to be one of the largest distributors of wine, beer, spirits and nonalcoholic beverages in Ohio.
Favorite brands the firm distributes include Fireball, Sutter Home, Gallo, Black Box, Franzia, White Claw, Great Lakes and Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water. The Lorain warehouse covers 14 counties, serving 1,800 customers between Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus.
“On-premise restaurants and bars, including those at Cedar Point, Put-in-Bay and Kalahari, account for 20% of my overall business,” Knight says. “When they were forced to close due to COVID-19, many key independents and chain stores stepped up and bought large displays of our staple brands.”
Knight credits grocery stores including Bassett’s Market in Port Clinton, Giant Eagle, Meijer and Costco with increasing their orders with Heidelberg to meet customer demand.
Business continues to grow, which has enabled Knight to refrain from laying off any of his 110 employees and hire 15 additional staff members.
“We locked down our warehouse, and many of our employees worked from home,” he says. “We ramped up our communication and kept everyone up to speed with the latest COVID-19 challenges. Occasionally demand has outpaced the supply, and there’s definitely a can and bottle shortage. But, everyone understands, and we move forward together.”