Metrolina Greenhouses 40th Anniversary
In 1972 Metrolina Greenhouses was founded by Tom and Vickie VanWingerden who immigrated to the US from The Netherlands. They moved to Charlotte, NC in the spring and rented a 20,000 square foot greenhouse on Old Statesville Road. This location was quickly outgrown and they moved the company to its current headquarters in Huntersville, NC where they bought an 80 acre tract of land. The first greenhouse was a one acre plastic covered structure. The first customers for these plants were Woolworth and the local retail trade. The business continued to expand and grow as the customers’ needs dictated. During the first 10 years of existence, food chains were the biggest customers. The business at that time was mainly spring, April 1st through Mother’s Day, and Poinsettias for the Christmas season. This pattern continued into the early 1980’s and the business grew with it.
The 1980’s was the era of automation for us. We asked “How do we do tasks faster, at a lower cost, and minimize physical labor?” Tom VanWingerden was a naturally gifted engineer and was crucial in developing much of the automation that has enabled Metrolina to succeed. He was also very instrumental in the introduction of automated transplanters. He came up with the design of the Metroplanter and began to sell them across the United States. Although we don’t sell transplanters anymore, many greenhouses today use transplanters, which all began here at Metrolina Greenhouses. As of 1982 the business had grown to a size of 12 acres. Grocery Chains were still the main customer, but we started to sell to big box retailers who saw a larger need for high quality product from regional growers.
The 1990’s marked a greater focus on breeding. Metrolina started growing plants from vegetative cuttings in addition to growing product from seed. By 1996 we had grown to a size of 50 acres. During this time we introduced a moving table system in to our greenhouse to minimize strenuous labor. We also installed the ECHO hanging basket system into the greenhouse to help with the shipping and growing of baskets. We started selling to Home Improvement chains and increased our business with big box retailers. At that point, many retailers were starting to include greenhouses into their store designs, which enabled us (and them) to sell product year round.
During the 2000’s, we placed more emphasis on marketing and packaging. We started to learn what the consumer wanted and developed whole programs around that. During the last 10 years, we have seen our growth go from 50 acres to 150 acres of greenhouse space and production. We have also become a logistics solution for our customers by utilizing contract growers who help us grow product during our peak times. The recycled/reclaimed water from our retention ponds (no public water sources are utilized in the production of our plants) is run through an extensive filtering system and then re-used throughout the greenhouse. We use up to 1 million gallons of water per day.
2010 until now has marked an increased focus on logistics and shipping. We have tweaked our shipping process to be the most efficient possible. Technology is king these days, and we are joining forces with it instead of shying away from it. Our employees have access to key information from home and many retailers are equipped with iPhones and iPads for better on-the-spot customer service. We are continuing to expand and grow as we celebrate our 40th Anniversary and we thank everyone who has been a part of it.