February 1, 2019
Anthony O'Neill
Anthony O'Neill

Making the stars align

Anthony O’Neill’s passion for horticulture came from his father, Joe, who was an avid gardener and small business operator in Spaniard’s Bay, Nfld., in the 1990s. Joe and wife Teresa transitioned their supermarket into a greenhouse and garden centre, and brought sons Anthony and Steven on board. In the 25 plus years since, Anthony has run the garden centre while Steven runs O’Neill’s Gardenland Landscape Professionals. Anthony currently serves as the Treasurer for the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association.

How did you get started in horticulture?

As we say, O’Neill’s Gardenland was our dad’s hobby gotten out of hand. We grew up with our dad knocking on our door on gardening days  at 6 o’clock in the morning, telling us to get out of bed the day is half over. Our reward was boating on the pond after chores were done. It’s a wonder we weren’t turned off from it actually.

Where did your passion come from?

I think the passion was in us, genetically. Mostly what we liked, as young people, was the creation part. We enjoyed having a project and completing that job; we were horrible on maintenance. That’s why dad had to get us up at 6 in the morning, we didn’t want to go out weeding or anything like that. We just wanted to build; we loved creating an environment and interacting with nature. We had a piece of property in the woods of Newfoundland and dad transformed it into a mini park, with us as cheap labour.

What are some tips for operating a family business?

Setting up a very good budgeting program, right from the beginning, is important. For years and years we never did any budgeting, we just had it in our head. I never needed to look at a machine to find out how many boxes of bone meal were on the shelf, or how many snowmound spireas were in the garden centre, you just knew. I would encourage all family business start-ups to learn budgeting techniques from day one. As soon as they can afford a mentor or a controller who can almost be like an arbitrator between the family members during discussions, they should bring them into the operation.

Do you have any advice for prospective business owners?

There isn’t anything one thing, because it has to be everything. You are in customer service, and at the end of the day, the customer isn’t concerned about all of the challenges that you are facing as business owner, an employer, a grower or a landscaper. The customer has to have a phenomenal experience and they need to be satisfied with their choice in spending their money on your products and services. It’s not about one particular thing, all the stars have to align. You have to manage your plants from a growing perspective, and you have to be flexible with your staff and their needs in life. Everything needs to line up, you also need to have a clean environment, a good array of products, knowledgeable staff, good pricing. and your work has to be of great quality.  You could have the best price, but if your quality is bad, you will not be successful. And you can have the best quality, but if the price is off, it won’t work either It’s a complicated mix of things and you need to be very quick on your feet to make decisions as situations arise. Finally, you have to wake up every morning with excitement, ready to giver and go.
If you have a question to suggest, or a mentor to recommend, please write to editor@landscapetrades.com.