In 1972 Metrolina Greenhouses was founded by Tom and Vickie Van Wingerden, who immigrated to the United States from The Netherlands in July 1971. They moved to Charlotte, NC in the spring of 1971 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 Metrolina’s plants were Woolworth and the local retailers. The business continued to expand and grow, in order to meet customer needs. During the first 10 years of operations, food chains were its 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, Metrolina in the process.
The 1980’s saw automation come to Metrolina, in full force. We wanted to do tasks at a more efficient rate, minimize costs, and to reduce the amount of necessary physical labor; in other words, we wanted a more cost-effective operation. Tom Van Wingerden was a naturally gifted engineer and developed much of the automation that has enabled our continued success and growth. One example of his automation foresight was the introduction of automated transplanters. Tom designed the Metroplanter and began to sell them across the United States. Although we don’t sell these transplanters anymore, many greenhouses currently use automated transplanters, which all began here at Metrolina. As of 1982 the greenhouses had grown to a size of 12 acres. Grocery chains remained our 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 saw Metrolina refine its focus on plant breeding. We began utilizing vegetative cuttings for product development, in addition to growing from seed. By 1996, Metrolina had grown to around 50 acres. During this decade, we introduced a moving table system in to our greenhouse to minimize strenuous labor, continuing the previous decade’s automation efforts. We also installed the ECHO hanging basket system into the greenhouse to better the shipping and growing of baskets. Metrolina Greenhouses also began selling to Home Improvement chains and grew our business with big box retailers. At that point, many retailers were starting to include greenhouses into their store designs, which enabled Metrolina – and retailers – to sell and carry product year-round.
During the 2000’s, Metrolina emphasized product marketing and packaging. We started to learn what the consumer desired and developed entire programs around their desires. During those years, we grew from 50 acres to 150 acres of covered greenhouse space. We also specialized in logistics, in order for our customers to carry a larger variety of product, by utilizing contract growers who assist in product growth during peak seasons. Production refinements came from our use of recycled/reclaimed water from retention ponds, which ensure that no public water sources are utilized in the production of our plants and use an extensive filtering system to reuse water throughout the greenhouse. We use up to 1 million gallons of water per day, so this water system keeps our greenhouse “green”.
2010-the present has seen an increased focus on logistics and shipping here at Metrolina Greenhouses. We have made our shipping process more efficient by using technology, which is imperative nowadays. We have found that joining forces with it instead of shying away from it is a wise decision for our company. Metrolina employees have access to vital corporate information from home and many retailers are equipped with iPhones and iPads for better on-the-spot customer service; in short, technology has become extremely important for Metrolina Greenhouses. We are continuing to expand and grow after celebrating our 40th anniversary. Metrolina Greenhouses would like to thank everyone who has been a part of our story throughout the years, especially as we look to the next forty years and beyond!