Land is expensive in Toronto, creating hurdles for expansion. Sheridan adapts by updating fixtures and making major upgrades in existing stores.

Sheridan Nurseries has grown steadily since it started on 100 acres more than 100 years ago. Until recently, it was expanding at a rate of 10 acres per year.

Now, 900 acres support eight retail garden center locations, producing more than 600 perennial varieties and 600 hardy nursery stock varieties. Sheridan is still growing — even though it hasn’t physically expanded in the past two years.

“Expansion is the biggest issue, as land is extremely expensive in Toronto,” explains CEO & President Karl Stensson. “Good land [within a] great location is usually in the $1.5 to $3 million range per acre. It is almost impossible to find land which a garden center could support. Therefore, we have been making our existing stores better by reinvesting in them, updating fixtures and modernizing wherever we can.”

Left photo: Sheridan offers customers a “No-Hassle Guarantee,” which offers varying warranties depending on the plant to take the risk out of gardening. Right photo: CEO & President Karl Stensson

Updates go beyond fresh paint to include remaking washrooms, tiling concrete floors and adding greenhouse space. Each remodel increases sales by 20 to 25 percent.

Without increasing acreage, Sheridan also increased production by 10 percent this year — a result of refining plant selection to maximize profitability. Four new “minimal heat greenhouses,” built on 16,000 square feet of existing space, grow plants that generate more profit as they are “retail ready” earlier, Stensson says.

“We have taken a serious look at what we grow by looking not only at sales numbers but profit per plant,” Stensson says. “Our detailed costing allows us to drill down to the money losers or low margins. We then decide whether these are necessary to fill orders, or simply peripheral plants we have held onto over the years.”

Less profitable plants get swapped out for new varieties, as Sheridan’s buyers travel extensively to find unique, high-end products.

To ensure plant quality, Sheridan backs purchases with a No-Hassle Guarantee — covering hardy nursery stock and perennials for two years, roses for one year, house plants and hardy water plants for three months, and flowering house plants for one week. Patio furniture is also covered for one year.

The warranty is just one way Sheridan Nurseries tries to reduce the “risk” of gardening for customers, by taking on the risk of experimenting with new plants, policies and product lines to maximize its space — most recently, adding fashion accessories, complete with changing rooms in every store.

“Our surveys tell us that the new generation is afraid of gardening and afraid of failing,” Stensson says. “Our job is to make gardening easy, and in fact, that is our new slogan: ‘gardening made easy.’ We are taking every opportunity to educate the public that we can cut the risk they think there is in buying and growing plants.”