When I graduated in spring 1997, Van Belle Nursery’s propagator—i.e. the person who creates new plants from seeds, bulbs and cuttings—left the business. So, my dad asked me to come back and run the summer propagation greenhouses. I agreed to do so and was there for the full season before moving to Fenwick, Ont., in October to be closer to Chris. I again found work there as a propagator for a nursery.
We got engaged in May 1998 and married in August. I knew I wanted the wedding at our church in Abbotsford, with the reception at my family home. Then Chris and I were back in Fenwick for the first two years of our marriage.
Juanita and I lived in Ontario for a little while until we got an offer to join her family’s business on the west coast. We moved there and worked at the nursery for nearly 13 years. I took care of all of the facilities, including the greenhouses, equipment and tractors.
We were in a partnership with Juanita’s brother Dave. Eventually, though, we realized we wanted a business we could call our own, rather than a partnership with someone else.
We looked into farms and various other types of businesses. When it looked like a local Mr. Rooter franchise was coming up for sale, I went online and found out about the Dwyer Group, its franchisor. I also found out about The Grounds Guys and we felt its value system really aligned with ours. The company had even been started by a Dutch family; both Juanita and I have a Dutch background!
When we got married, I knew I wanted to work and to have kids, but I didn’t want to have to put them in daycare. For that reason, it was a highly appealing option to join the family business in Abbotsford rather than stay on in Ontario, where our lives would be very different.
As for Chris, he didn’t love his work in the construction industry at the time. He was building houses for someone else and wasn’t in charge. He couldn’t see himself doing that forever.
So, when my parents made the offer for us to join the nursery, we did it and it worked out well as the backdrop for starting our family. We now have five children between the ages of seven and 14: Daniel, Joshua, Rachel, Reuben and Caleb.
As my dad got older, his corporate role transitioned from president of Van Belle Nursery to just ‘founder,’ while my brother Dave took over all of the day-to-day management. While there was no animosity involved, we realized both Dave and Chris each wanted to run a business of his own. So, we needed to find a way for Chris to be happy doing something outside the nursery.
Chris, my dad and Dave looked into tonnes of ideas. They were all just interested in learning about different businesses.
Along the way, we thought the local Mr. Rooter franchisee was looking to sell his business. It turned out he was expanding it instead, but that’s how Chris found out about the Dwyer Group and, for that matter, started to look specifically at franchises. And by coincidence, he also found out about The Grounds Guys, which at that point were not yet part of the Dwyer Group (although the franchisor had already licensed the concept for the U.S. market, since 2010).
As Chris mentioned, we found their code of values matched our own family values. They wanted to treat their employees well, for example, and give back to their communities.
The Grounds Guys looked like it could be a good fit. We already had plant knowledge and loved landscaping. We have five kids and could potentially pass a business along to them.
While we had no real experience in running our own business, I knew that by being part of a franchise system, we—and our teams—would be trained well. Having that support behind me could provide confidence.
That said, it was still going to be a big leap of faith from being part of an established family business, where things were comfortable, to paying a significant fee for a territory-based operation that involved, from our perspective, a high degree of risk. In particular, I had never done sales before and felt that would be a weakness for me.
Doing our due diligence helped me see what our sales could be like, but The Grounds Guys had only started franchising a few years earlier—and mostly within Ontario. We would be among the first few pioneers on the west coast.
They were on the cusp of becoming much bigger than before. They were in the middle of a transition from a family business of their own to more of a corporation. And their work in Ontario was more seasonal in nature, including a large amount of snow clearing, which is almost never a possibility in Abbotsford, where landscaping is done 12 months a year!