Green Circle Growers Inc.

Developing a More Resilient House Plant
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

Green Circle Growers Inc. (GCG) is the largest floral greenhouse operation in the Midwest United States. Founded in 1968 by John Van Wingerden, the business has grown exponentially for more than 40 years. Scott Geisbrecht, John’s son-in-law and vice president of sales for GCG, now leads the team alongside John, four of his brother-in-laws and one sister-in-law, managing a team of more than 600 people.

Scott explains that John’s father, Art Van Wingerden, was a pioneer of horticulture. Art set most of his 16 children up in the greenhouse business. John had eight children, four boys and four girls; currently, five are involved with GCG.

“I have been with the company for 15 years,” Scott recounts. “I started here right out of college.” As a family business, the entire management staff of GCG has several combined decades of experience. Many of John’s children grew up in the greenhouse. The family shares a deep knowledge of horticulture and business, a quality that stands out among other similar operations.

Biodiversity at its Best

The team has built a niche as a producer of outdoor and indoor plants driven by low cost production and consumer-driven product development. “We offer solutions that fill a need,” Scott explains. “We base our operations on science and data to take the subjectivity out of it. We are very serious about distribution and building a strong distribution base.”

GCG’s client base includes domestic and international mass merchandisers, home improvement centers, supermarkets, wholesale clubs and independent garden centers. As a plant-based business, the operation is very freight-sensitive. To meet demand while providing a healthy, living product, GCG concentrates on supplying specific segments during optimum periods, splitting attention between supplying ready-to-plant items to retailers and supplying younger plants to other greenhouses replenishing stock.

In order to produce these products, GCG has a unique physical structure. The company grows diverse plants in 120 acres of greenhouse and on 30 acres outdoor growing space. The company’s cutting-edge, eco-conscious biomass-heated facility and its thoughtful growing arrangements use environmental controls to increase efficiency, reduce water shed and negate disease spread.

Diverse Products

GCG works in cooperation with sister company, Express Seed. The businesses share acreage, but function separately. Express Seed is a horticultural brokerage company founded when John was looking for a better way to purchase seeds. He wanted to purchase by count, not weight, which is how these sales function in Europe. When suppliers turned GCG down, the family struck out on their own. John’s eldest son, David manages Express Seed today.

Vertical integration is only part of what sets GCG and Express Seed apart. The business has a long history of innovation, always finding ways to improve product performance. “The consumer is placing a greater importance on value,” Scott explains. “We are constantly trying to develop products that the customer will be successful with and we work through surveys and focus groups to do that.”

Around 2006, the team devised an original system for keeping delicate orchids carefully distributed and perfectly hydrated, resulting in lowered costs and simplified care, thus increasing customer satisfaction. Using heating elements and insulated packaging, GCG’s orchids arrive to 48 states and Canada in high-quality condition.

Marketed under the slogan: Just Add Ice Orchids, and through the JustAddIceOrchids.com website, these orchids are planted in a bark soil and consumers are advised to add three ice cubes once per week to keep the plants perfectly watered. The cubes take time to melt so the plants have time to absorb water. The cube system also offers a steady form of measurement without pulling out a liquid measure.

Taking the Next Step

This groundbreaking line of orchids has been a big hit with customers. Now, the team is working to develop more plants that are equally easy to care for. “Now we are looking to expand to other hybrid houseplants such as Anthuriums and Bromeliads,” Scott notes. “We have really focused on making the customer more successful at nurturing plants so they buy more.”

As a vertically integrated business, GCG performs a lot of work in-house. From planting and tending plants in the nursery to research and development, all the way through distribution, the company has had great success. Scott credits much of this to his team.

“As a family, we are all on the same page in business and in faith,” he explains. “We are doing all that we do for God’s glory, which is a huge component. We also know that the consumer who has our product must have success with it in order to come back for more.” Outside the company walls, GCG has relationships with several long-term strategic partners that help keep the gears turning, too.

While markets have been rough lately, Scott and his team have seen some definite improvements in recent years. While there are some factors out of his control, Scott says his plan for the future is following the same path. “We have a laser focus on developing indoor and outdoor plants that improve the success rate of our customers,” he says. With a strong foundation and the right attitude toward customers, Green Circle Growers Inc. continues to provide innovative living products to discerning gardeners.

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