Plants, pots and other pretty things at Old Farm Garden Centre

Plants, pots and other pretty things at Old Farm Garden Centre

Buying business included a steep learning curve for owner Robin Knox

  • Jun. 24, 2019 10:20 a.m.

– Story by Tess Van Straaten Photography by Lia Crowe

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

A lack of retail experience and an absence of any extensive plant knowledge didn’t stop Robin Knox from buying a popular Duncan garden centre more than a decade ago.

“I was a stay-at-home mom and my son was getting ready to graduate and go off to school, and I thought, ‘what the heck am I going to do?’” Robin explains.

“I was always very involved in school fundraising projects and everything I did seemed to make money and did well, so when a friend said, ‘why don’t you buy this business?’ I thought it was a great idea. And here I am 13 years later!” laughs Robin.

She took over the Old Farm Garden Centre in 2006 and she’s been growing the business ever since.

“We’re known for our pots — people come from all around to look at our pots — but once they get inside, they see we have all this other beautiful stuff for the garden,” the 70-year-old says. “I’ve been told by the different reps that we have the largest selection on Vancouver Island, so we even get people from Vancouver coming back year after year.”

But the Calgary transplant admits the learning curve has been a big one — both for running a store and becoming a gardening expert.

“When I bought the business I thought about pots and all the beautiful accessories for the garden, but I never thought about the plants,” she explains. “All of a sudden the plants started coming in and I thought, ‘oh geez, I don’t know about this one,’ so I started taking things home to plant so I would learn about them. Over the years, it’s been a huge learning curve.”

Robin does all the buying for the store and likes to hand-pick a lot of the items. She tries to buy as much as she can from Vancouver Island and local artisans.

“One really popular item we carry that carries us through the winter months is Anvil Island,” Robin says. “The First Nations pieces are designed by Noel Brown, a Coast Salish carver whose work is on display at the Smithsonian. Anvil Island makes them so we’re very fortunate to carry that line.”

Diversifying the product line and attracting customers in on-peak months has helped the Old Farm Garden Centre mitigate its biggest challenge — the seasonal nature of the business.

“The seasonal factor is definitely the biggest challenge and weather also plays a big part in sales,” Robin explains. “This year, with the snow, we didn’t even open until February 18.”

The other big challenge is big-box competition and an overabundance of pop-up garden centres with cheap prices.

“People are constantly looking for deals and it’s pretty hard to compete with the Costcos of the world, so we have to be very service-oriented because you don’t get that at big-box stores,” she says. “You can’t ask information about plants and what works in shade and what’s deer-proof and all those kinds of things. We tell people to bring in pictures of their garden and we can teach them what they need to know and help them choose plants and pottery.”

Since lots of people have moved to the island from other provinces — as she did 22 years ago — Robin says, they’re not used to such a long growing season or how quickly things grow here.

“My yard is pretty throughout the year, whereas in Calgary, everything dies back and goes brown,” she says. “The first year we moved here, we gingerly trimmed back the rose bushes and then, whoosh, everything just goes crazy. So I’ve learned to be more aggressive.”

She’s also learned to be more aggressive when it comes to getting rid of old stock. Robin says her biggest mistake was buying too much when she first started, and her biggest business lesson has been to clear out what’s not selling.

“If it doesn’t move, put it on sale and get it out of there because it’s taking up space,” she says. “We’re a little boutique garden centre and I can’t afford to have stuff sitting there if it’s not selling, so I’ve learned to try and get your money back, sell it off, and put some new merchandise there.”

That business lesson also translates into the garden. Robin’s best gardening advice?

“Don’t be afraid to move things,” she advises. “If they’re not working in one place, dig them up and move them somewhere else.”

Now that she’s 70, Robin is looking to sell the blossoming business so she has more time to travel and visit friends.

“I’d like to retire this year and I’m hoping somebody who would like to buy it will come along. But I’d still like to be involved,” she says.

She’s also quick to point out that while some plant knowledge would be advantageous, a potential buyer wouldn’t need to have it going in, given how knowledgeable her veteran staff, Lindy and Mel, are.

“In the early years I was afraid to work alone,” she quips. “They taught me so much and are a huge part of our success. It’s such a wonderful environment to be in because you’re surrounded by beautiful things. It’s not like people are here to buy socks and underwear. They’re here to buy pretty things to make their homes nicer.”

Check out the Old Farm Garden Centre online.

gardeningHome & GardenLifestyle

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

A vehicle rolled over off of the Highway 3 off ramp into the Home Hardware parking lot Jan. 21, 2021. Photo: Betsy Kline
Driver sent to hospital after vehicle roll over in Castlegar

Accident happened Thursday around 4:30 p.m.

Interior Health has set up a COVID-19 testing site in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
No new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Castlegar for Jan. 10-16

The latest localized BCDCD COVID-19 numbers

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Long-term care staff and physicians from the priority group received their first dose of Moderna vaccine on Friday, Jan. 15, including Dr. Corrine Knox. Photo: Submitted
Moderna vaccine arrives in Castlegar

Vaccine rollout began in West Kootenay with long term care residents and staff the first recipients

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Volunteer firefighters from Grand Forks Fire/Rescue head towards the scene of fatal car crash near Gibbs Creek Road, below Highway 3, Thursday evening, Jan. 21. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Motorist dies in Highway 3 crash west of Grand Forks

City first responders were called to the scene Thursday evening, Jan. 21

Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram could be playing for Colorado when the NHL resumes play. (Rik Fedyck/file)
Cranbrook product Bowen Byram makes NHL debut with Avalanche

Highly touted prospect marks first pro game following World Junior tournament in Alberta

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Most Read