Progressive Plants: A Lesson in Patience

November 11, 2004 - 10:20

After changing sites for their new location (post purchase), waiting a year for electricity and finally making it through the build, these long-time nurserymen know first hand the good and the bad of building a new location.

Moving. The very word strikes terror into many people. In fact, those who measure such things rank moving as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, second only to getting married. And this fear is often justified. We have all heard horror stories about fighting with local governments over permits or projects finishing six months behind schedule or taxes doubling (or tripling) after construction.

These challenges have unfortunately become almost commonplace for construction in our industry, but what about when the stakes get a little higher? What about not being able to get electricity for almost one year? What about having to pay for gas lines to be run several miles? What about having to relocate a whole range of plants because the water service didn’t start on schedule?

These are just some of the challenges Sandy, Utah-based Progressive Plants encountered when it was decided to move the facility. Despite all the troubles, the facility is expected to open only a few months behind schedule, and believe it or not, owners Janet and Ed Semonich think the state-of-the-art facility will be well worth the effort.

Who They Are

Progressive Plants, started in 1987, has gone through several incarnations in its short life. First it was a landscaping company, then retail was added, and finally it has become a wholesale grower/re-wholesaler of groundcovers, perennials, woodies and natives. Servicing the landscape trade has led Progressive to specialize in large-format plants; 1-gal. perennials and 1- and 5-gal. natives are among its most popular items.

With such large plant material, Progressive quickly outgrew its initial location, 23 acres of leased land on the Salt Lake Valley’s eastern shelf. And when the owner sold the property two years ago, the Semonichs had to face the inevitable: It was time to move.

“We have been looking for a site to move to for the last five years,” said Janet. “We originally purchased some land down south and have about 80 acres in the next valley. Our intent was to grow on that, have the nursery down there and then come back into the Salt Lake Valley with just a 10- or 15-acre site to re-wholesale out of. Then we heard of the Daybreak Project, which is a large development that Kennecott Cooper is putting together, kind of going back to a community type of living environment, and we felt that we really needed to have a bigger presence in the valley instead of just a yard. That’s why we started looking for a place where we could get at least 50 acres plus and stay in this valley.”

What they found was 100 acres on the opposite side of the valley from their original location — the western shelf of the Salt Lake Valley that just happens to be at the base of the world’s largest functioning copper mine and adjacent to the desired Daybreak community. The land, owned by Kennecott Copper, was exactly what the Semonichs wanted. Even though it was not for sale, the opportunity was too good to pass up. The Seminochs signed a 30-year lease and started to build. What? Who purchases a piece of property and then decides not to use it? It does sound crazy, but the long-range goal is to purchase the leased land and use the owned property as additional growing space to support the main location, which will be in the fastest growing area of the valley.

Old to New

A mere 25-30 miles apart, the old location and the new location are very different, starting with climate. “Even though we’re at a little higher elevation at the new place, the mountains don’t hold the cloud formations like they do at the old location,” explained Janet. “So it’s warmer. We froze two weeks later than we do at the old location. The light is much better; the air is much better; the plants are just happier out there.”

The biggest difference, though, will be the look and capability of the new place. Progressive’s original location was purchased from NPI, Native Plants Inc., and most of the buildings, which had been there for a while, were not worth moving. Only one 7- to 8-year-old Nexus greenhouse and two IBG hoop houses have been moved to the new location.

With a clean piece of land, Progressive was able to design the new facility just the way they wanted it. “It’s nice to be able to build a nursery from the ground up without anything on site that you have to work around,” said Janet. “Every problem we’ve ever had has been corrected out there. We’ve all been in the business a long time, so we know what we want. If you build from the ground up you can do everything exactly right.”

Nexus Greenhouse Systems was chosen as the greenhouse manufacturer, and one of the most important things the Semonichs wanted from the facility design was functionality in the total design between greenhouse space, delivery and office. Their old location had only one main building aside from the greenhouses where they had to house offices, delivery and will call. Janet said it was a nightmare for semi-drivers to have to share a dock/parking area with the pick-up trucks at will call, plus office computers do not like to be near the dirt and plant debris of a headhouse.

While only using about 30-40 acres, the new facility solves all of these problems. It separates delivery from will call and has an actual office building farther up the terraced hillside from the headhouse. The new office building also solves another problem the Semonichs had with their old location: The metal building was industrial and not very welcoming. The goal of the new location is to look more like an estate than a nursery, including a long, winding drive lined with trees and flower beds, demonstration gardens throughout the property and a crow’s nest off the office building that is attached to the headhouse by a rustic bridge.

Two bays of new Nexus greenhouses will be used for bulking perennials and groundcovers from an over-sized liner (Progressive calls it a rose pot) to 1- and 5-gal. Once transplanted into the larger containers, the plants can be moved into one of the outdoor beds or under the new lath houses. Right now, all of these structures, including the ones moved from the other property, are up and basically functioning (more Á about this below). The office is almost finished, and most of the outdoor production beds are ready. An area has also been set aside to extend the greenhouses through additional construction phases over several years.

Trouble in Paradise

If it sounds almost too good to be true, it is. The actual design and construction will be everything the Semonichs ever wanted for their nursery: a comfortable showplace for workers and customers, a technologically advanced growing facility and a platform to attract new customers.The problems came in because of their location so far from town.

“We are completely outside of the areas for all public utilities,” said Janet. “There were no phone lines; there was not gas; there was no electricity; there was no water. It has been very challenging for us. We actually grew a crop this spring without power. If you can believe it, we are just now getting power. We had to bring in city water from a neighboring town. We were hoping to have the water in a little earlier. But that’s OK. You just kind of have to roll with the punches. The water has been in since April. Gas has been in since the end of July.”

When they signed the lease on their new location, the Semonichs did not know they would have all this trouble getting the basic utilities necessary for business. They did know about the acid plum, caused years ago by unsafe copper mining practices, that contaminates all the well water in the valley and prevents anyone from using their own water. Bringing in city water is something every resident of the valley has to deal with, and Progressive knew they would have to negotiate to have water pipes run. Luckily, this was done by their landlord and cost them nothing, even though it did come a few months late.

They also knew that the property did not have lines run for gas, phones or electricity and that they would have to pay to have those lines run to their facility, a cost they will partially recover as new neighbors move into the area and tap into the lines. But knowing all of this had to be done, and actually negotiating with local government and multiple providers to make it happen are two different things.

Janet said the process took longer than they ever imagined and not only delayed the project but also meant they had to operate two facilities for almost one year. Since water and power were expected early this spring, Progressive had arrange for a re-wholesale shipment of trees and shrubs to be delivered to the new facility; all of this product, along with anything else that could not survive the harsh conditions, had to be moved to their original location.

Perhaps it is because almost all of the utilities are connected or because the project is nearing completion or because the growers are raving about their new facilities, but the Semonichs still feel they made the right decision in moving and in choosing this location. “It’s in the perfect place as this valley grows,” said Janet, “and this is going to be a state-of-the-art facility. We’ve found out you can get anything if you’re willing to pay for it and have a lot of patience.”

And the Semonichs have yet to go through their biggest challenge with the new location: convincing customers. Their landscape customers are used to picking up from one side of the valley, where most of the upscale neighborhoods are located. The Semonichs will have to convince them that picking up on the other side of the valley, where their shops are located, is no different.

“We have customers who work very close to our old location,” explained Janet; “however, that area is very built up. They may think they’re all going to be working there forever and ever, but they won’t. We hear them say, ‘Oh, we don’t want to drive all the way out there to your new location.’ And yet, we have some customers that are thrilled we are going to be out there because their shops are out there. They can leave their shop and come to us before they go to the job instead of after they cross the valley, so shopping with us still works even if their job is on the other side of the valley. There’s not a lot of difference. It’s just a matter of re-educating them.”

Light at the End of the Tunnel

With an expected move-in date of January 2005, the Semonichs are almost at the end of their build process. They are hoping to come back from the holidays to their new location and start the year off right.

Theirs is not a typical new construction project; most go perfectly, but it does give a lesson to everyone thinking of relocating: Choose your location carefully, work with good vendors who can help you through the rough spots and be prepared for anything.

About The Author

Bridget White is editorial director for GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1004 or E-mail at bwhite@sgcmail.com.

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