When you think of a family-run business, BC Greenhouse Builders fits the mould. Now operating with third-generation family members as part of the team, Rick Heinen thinks back to the early days working on a punch machine at 6 years old. The Heinen family values were to pitch in whenever you were needed.
“Whenever Dad needed us, we would give him a hand. He was basically a one-man show back then. We would hold the ridge beams while he punched them out.”
Rick, Jay, Wayne and Marie literally grew up in the greenhouse business. When it is attached to your house, it becomes part of your blood. The kids would stay close by and set up the net in front of the shop doors to play road hockey.
“Sometimes the ball would go through the glass,” he chuckles. “We worked part time in the summers and at 12 years old, I worked full summers. We took lots of family trips and camping adventures. It was a great family life.”
Henry and Greta were an impressive team. Henry would take care of the manufacturing and Greta ran the office and took care of the kids.
“My Mom was excellent and such a great support for Dad and made sure he was on the right path. And being Mom, she made sure that Dad didn’t work us too hard,” he laughs.
Also coming from a family business, I understand the level of expectations on family members and wondered about whether it was assumed that the kids would carry the business forward.
“They encouraged us to try different things. I did other jobs too. My buddy Mike and I would strip forms on Saturdays for extra cash. But we were never forced and in time my brothers went on to do different things. Jay joined the Army and Wayne worked for Prins Greenhouses for a while but I enjoyed the work and it was a good fit for me. I enjoyed manufacturing, installations, and the variety of it. I started full-time in 1986 officially. Looking back, our Dad trusted us and gave us responsibility, job satisfaction and a strong work ethic. We really owe that to Dad and Mom. Dad would drop Jay and me off at jobs at 14 years old and we’d start unloading the truck while Dad talked to the customer. He’d tell them that we were going to install the greenhouse and ask them to call when it was done and he swing by and pick us up. It got us used to dealing with customers and trying to be as professional as possible in your teenage years”
One of the more famous Heinen stories is when Rick and Jay travelled to Oregon around 16 years old to install a complicated custom project for Mr. Gold. The roof and sidewalls were designed to open up and it had several custom benches and many accessories. To make sure they understood how to build it, they pre-built the greenhouse in the yard and then Henry sent them on their way to install it. Rick had just got his driver’s license and they loaded up the flat deck and headed for the United States border. When they arrived at the customer’s house, Mr. Gold was surprised by the young crew and called Henry at the shop to enquire whether these kids could really do the job.
“My Dad said to him ‘Mr. Gold, they can do this job for you. Call me at the end of the day’. Mr. Gold called him back to say ‘These kids are unbelievable. They are doing an excellent job’. It’s one of my most memorable experiences back then. The hotel even made us call home just to make sure we weren’t runaways,” he laughs.
We talk about having a young family and a growing career and the challenges that can bring.
“Veronica and I got married when I was 21 years old. I worked lots of overtime for the first 15 years. I built and installed a lot of solariums with Rod. It was a good learning experience for me to work start to finish with customers. Being young, you have to know your stuff but I am not a salesman. I just give information.”
Rick and Veronica followed suit with a family of four kids with Cody, Jessica, Danton and Olivia. The early days were challenging as it is for so many families starting out.
“Thank goodness for Veronica. She was unbelievable. She took care of the kids and never complained about the hours. She was dynamite with the kids. She worked when Cody was born and then when Jessica was born, we made the decision that the cost of daycare didn’t make sense. We lived paycheque to paycheque and had the Visa racked up,” Rick says.
Then in 1995, Henry decided he wanted to slow down and get out of the day to day operations. “That’s when Dad and I became partners. He started moving out of the office and he learned bookkeeping. He worked a couple of days a week. I moved to running the day to day mainly with our line ‘Easy Living Conservatories’ (solarium division) and started to think to the future and how to get the company to progress. I always had my Dad as an advisor and I always had lots of questions.”
As any business owner knows, the job is never done and the business is always top of mind but how do you sustain the drive and the energy over such a long period of time? “I’m one of those people who just puts their head down and works. I think to myself, if I work hard we will be successful but I did make lots of mistakes. The older you get, the smarter you work. At the end of the day we are so blessed that the business continued to grow incrementally. It was small growth year after year. I learned that we needed more people to push the business further and we needed to pay better so through that, it was a huge driver for me. I learned about the financial part of the business and it was interesting to me. There are certain ratios that my Dad developed and I still use them today. Our goal was to offer a product that was a fair price to consumers based on overall quality. In today’s standards, we are a premier greenhouse in the market but it’s also not the 8x12 greenhouse we built back then. The design of the greenhouse and the projects have become more complex.”
I always like to ask if there was a transformative moment for the company and Rick remembers the first internet sale as a game changer. “I remember drawing every single detail of that greenhouse as it was for an engineer in New York. It was a big project at that time; a 12x20 greenhouse. He was a very precise customer. It was a very time consuming sale but going through that experience actually told us that we had a lot of work to do to sell online. It didn’t deter us but it caused us to put some processes in place. We developed better engineered drawings and we then designed them to be a kit that people can put up themselves. And that was it. We really took off then. My Mom was good at marketing. We had half a dozen jobs a year that were online sales and we thought that was amazing at the time. The number one reason for our growth is the internet. The world opened up for us. We had a good product and reputation and we kept the fundamentals of great customer service in place.”
In November of this year, BCG had another transformative moment when we moved to a brand new manufacturing facility. I ask how it feels to be in the new building.
“Exciting,” he says. “The previous space worked well for stand up space and we were able to pick up bays and buildings as we needed it but it started to affect our flow. It’s a big step for our small company. It’s exciting for morale because the overall feel is better having everyone under the same roof. It wasn’t an easy step for Veronica and me to commit to, but the mantra has always been ‘What is in the best interest of BC Greenhouse Builders?’ We got very, very lucky in the market to even secure this property and so I still shake my head in how we were so lucky. But I know you are only as good as the people in the company because it comes back to customer service and you need great people to provide great service. I always say we have the best people in the world and many of them are long term employees that are happy here. We strive to have a good culture for them and we do different things to keep the culture going. We have different people that have been with the company for so long in different subcontractor roles but have a livelihood because of BC Greenhouse Builders. That is one of the best things.”
When we look to the future, it’s all about opportunity. Opportunities to get better, improve processes and communication and that is always top of mind. I ask Rick how it feels to have his children now working for BCG. Cody is our Production Manager and Jessica is our Lead Dealer Sales representative. Olivia, currently studying psychology at Trinity Western University, is our pinch hitter in the summers and was a godsend last year when quotes were at an all-time high. Danton has a great sense of humour about working life at BC Greenhouse when he used to sweep floors at 12 years old but these days he sweeps pucks into the net for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we have third generation working here. Having said that, I always encourage them to try other things like my Mom and Dad did. One of my sources of pride is that my kids are hard workers.”
We talk a little bit about the overall market changes and what we see happening in the future.
“Over 47% of our business comes from word of mouth. I think it says a lot about our business. Referrals are the best compliment you can get. We know we are going to make mistakes and there are going to be elements that are not perfect but we do a great job of learning from them and becoming better. It’s how the company handles the problems that is the key. There is so much opportunity for BC Greenhouse. If we stick to our fundamentals and what helped us grow from the beginning, we’ll be around for a long time,” Rick says.
As someone who has been with BC Greenhouse for almost 12 years, I can attest to the generosity of spirit here and that spirit starts at the top with Rick. There is always laughter on the hardest day and someone to pitch in when you need help. On behalf of the whole team, near and far, we send our thanks for your leadership and making this company feel like family to us too. Here’s to an even brighter future ahead!