Women In Business Blog Series: Horticulture

Photo by Katherine Shearer

Katherine Shearer has been a resident of Kamloops for 46 years!  She grew up here in Brocklehurst on a small orchard. Ambitious and energetic, she is a certified Horticulturist running her own successful business! Her relationship with plants and trees started at a young age:

“My parents had ¾ of an acre of land and when I was a kid they had 30 fruit trees and an apricot hedge for a fence line. My sister and I used to have to pick up fruit after school every day and I used to say I would never want to have a fruit tree when I grew up! My how things have changed. I am now the manager/owner of Outside the Box Horticulture Service.

Both Katherine and her husband graduated from the TRU Horticulture program in 2010.  They started their business from the ground up.  The first seeds of their future business were planted when Katherine got injured doing a local herbicide spray job.  She ended up enduring three months of rehabilitation and when she was better, her job was no longer available.  This was when her husband convinced her to open a business with him and, with much hesitation, she agreed:

“My husband took an ‘Own Your Own Business’ course through Community Futures and so it began.  He did the class details and we worked on the rest together.  In this course they taught us how to build our business from a business plan to funding.  It was a great experience as neither one of us really understood all the small details needed to start a business. We spent weeks going from door to door polling people on every aspect of landscaping.  It really helped us narrow our field and be competitive with our pricing.

Also, the best piece of advice I can give someone starting a business is to get a great book keeper and a CPA. This took us three years and a great deal of money to learn.”

Of course there is more to running a business than good education and business knowledge. Landscaping requires running a crew, so team management, customer service skills and communication skills are keys to success.  These are not things that can be taught or learned out of a book:

“I think my biggest challenges were learning how to talk to people.  Some people are very laid back and some are not.  I am very direct and without meaning to be, I’m blunt.  I try every day to curb that as not to offend.  This goes for customers and staff.  Staff can be a serious challenge.  We have an amazing group of people who work for us.  Some have horticulture backgrounds and some do not. I find a diverse staff contributes to the bottom end.  I like to train in my own way as I am very specific about the things we do.  I am very hands on.  I like to know all of my clients and want them to feel like they can ask me or my staff any questions.”

Photo by Katherine Shearer

A typical work day at Outside the Box Horticulture Service starts early.  There is a meeting every morning with staff to review the previous day and to do a Covid-19 health check. The teams are given their task lists for the day and sent to their various jobs. Katherine spends the rest of the day driving around, meeting clients, supervising and doing office work.  There is a lot of work to do and the days can be long.  Katherine thinks the weather is the biggest daily challenge to contend with:

“We can’t control the weather and it can be unforgiving.  This spring, with the eight weeks of rain, was especially hard on employees and equipment.  We strive to do a beautiful job and mowing in the rain does not always allow for beautiful results. Then the heat hits and we worry about heat stroke and heat related injuries.  We do make our staff understand the importance of food and water and proper PPE.  In fact these things have been mandatory since we hired our first crews.”

Katherine feels fortunate that Covid-19 did not change the general design of the business.  Part of what they do is spray trees, so the protective equipment was already on hand.  Each of their staff members was given a chemical respirator that filters to .01 micron, which is smaller than the Covid virus. They were given rubber gloves to wear at all times as well as cloth masks when the curve dropped.  All of the trucks, tools and machines were cleaned thoroughly and regularly.  Each staff member has their own set of tools and they are not to share.  Also, they work outside and are rarely in close proximity.

And so the long days and hard work continue on for this team. The future looks very busy:

“I thought of all the years, this one would be the hardest financially but it really has gone the other way.  I can say this is a career for a young person.  I think the future is bright and the sky’s the limit.  I believe everything happens for a reason and in the perfect time and if you can stay positive, life gets better every day.  I try very hard to wake up and say ‘it’s going to be a great day where I meet only amazing people who will change my world for the better’.”

Katherine Shearer, owner of Outside The Box Horticulture Service

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