All-Star Case Studies

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Van Belle Nursery


Company Background

Van Belle Nursery is a commercial supplier of trees, plants, and shrubs based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. The company, which was founded in 1973, ships to a variety of retailers in western Canada as well as in the northern U.S.

Business Challenges

One of the biggest challenges that the nursery faces is finding a way to build a cohesive com-pany culture for its 100 associates, most of whom are immigrants from companies like Mexi-co, Iraq, Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, and India, and even a few from Canada.

Another hurdle is the extreme seasonal nature of the business, where some 75% of all ship-ments occur over just four weeks in the spring, which places enormous pressure on the nursery to get the right mix of products ready at the right time.

Great Game Solutions

While Dave Van Belle literally grew up working in the business his parents started, he never intended to run it. “I didn’t want to do what my dad did,” he says. But, when his dad offered him a job after college back in 1995, Van Belle couldn’t say no. He took over as president in 2007 and, in 2012, bought out his parents and sister to become the firm’s sole owner.

Van Belle has long been interested in implementing best practices into the business, includ-ing lean manufacturing principles and Verne Harnish’s Gazelle concepts. He also believes in sharing information with his associates and finding ways to help them overcome hurdles in their jobs. “I believe in heavily investing in people,” he says.

While his managers held quarterly meetings that helped produce a one-page plan with the firm’s quarterly goals, it wasn’t until he embraced the GGOB that Van Belle says he found a way to get all of his associates, including those with little or no English skills, on the same page.

“We have had to go above and beyond in delivering intentional teaching,” says Van Belle. “Many of our associates are shy about asking questions in a big group, so we also try to break out into smaller groups so they get a chance to speak up.”

All associates now attend a daily huddle, which is conducted in both English and Spanish, as well as weekly forecasting meetings. To help everyone keep up to speed, scoreboards have also been put up at the three different farm sites the nursery operates – all of which has helped drive significant cost savings throughout the company.

“The difference that GGOB has made is that it brings everyone into the full picture,” he says. “Everyone knows what we are making, and most have an idea of what can be done to im-prove the financial picture.”

One of the big changes that the GGOB has helped bring about in the nursery is that it has led to a change in how they compensate their sales team. Rather than tying the bonus to the amount of a sale, rewards are now tied to the profitability of each order placed. “We’ve cre-ated an incentive to not over order or increase inventory,” says Van Belle, “which has boost-ed our overall profitability.”

Next up for Van Belle is to get more of his associates working on the front line involved in their High Involvement Planning process. He’s particularly interested in generating ideas about how the nursery can diversify and begin to generate revenue beyond its peak season in the spring. Ideas currently on the table include everything from aquaponic growing to li-censing their sophisticated in-house inventory and ordering software to other nurseries.

“I know I can’t come up with all the ideas on my own,” says Van Belle, who wants every one of his team members to think and act like an owner in the business. “But if my associates came come up with them, they will own those ideas and run with them. I don’t want to be a one-man band. I want to build a company that will outlast me.”


  • Trimming the Fat: By empowering associates with information, they’ve made better buying and operational decisions that have saved some $200,000 in the first year of playing the GGOB.
  • Continued Growth: The nursery has sported an average annual revenue growth rate of 10% for five years running despite an overall 22% reduction in the size of the industry from 2007 to 2012.
  • Plus Productivity: Revenue per hour worked among associ-ates has increased about 30% over the past three years.
  • Safety First: The nursery boasted its lowest injury rate in three years in 2013.
  • Staying Power: Van Belle has-n’t seen an associate quit the business in close to 8 years.