A perfect storm for growing a potato company

Sometimes, intangibles can take a project to another level.

Trust, vision, lack of egos, care-for-craft, respect for detail, and process were catalysts in a win/win/win project for the developer, the tenant, and Ingenuity’s team.

Keys to the success of this project were:

  • Fengate’s trust in us to act as their on the ground ambassadors
  • Pearce McClusky’s comfort that we would respect their details, and their consideration for our feedback
  • Tom Hughes’ clear vision and willingness evolve it, sometimes standing in a shell of a building imagining the shape of ductwork

Background

Earth Fresh is a Canadian produce company that supplies the retail and foodservice industries with premium fresh potatoes, carrots, and onions. But potatoes are the big one. In addition to the spuds they grow, Earth Fresh brings in potatoes from 38 States and 8 Provinces–all over North America–and processes and distributes from just outside Toronto.

They’d outgrown their old home and were planning an expansion to consolidate their operations in a new, customized facility. The idea was to build a dual-purpose warehouse and corporate HQ.

The facility would need to accommodate sophisticated packing and distribution requirements, offices for a sales team and management, and a few (major) culture-related twists.

In considering how to build “where” they would work, Earth Fresh wasn’t going to miss the chance to think about “how” they would work.

Tom’s Vision

Tom Hughes, the entrepreneur who owns Earth Fresh, grew up in a farm family. Maybe that’s what gave him the blend of patience to take the long view and hands-on interest in the details; he was with us every step of the way.

The project vision outlined by Earth Fresh’s dynamic owner would include an open concept sales team area at the heart of the office surrounded by management offices and board rooms.

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Glass windows throughout would allow light to pass through the entire space, reinforcing a team sensibility. Transparency was built in.

Other manifestations of the brand designed to impact happiness/SQ FT. include a gym, complete kitchen, and patio areas for monthly team lunches.

Tom secured the right to plant in the adjacent field and then planted a small vegetable garden (no potatoes!) surrounded by thousands of sunflowers. As you’ll see in the video above, they make for a sunny perspective.

Fengate’s vision

Beyond Tom’s vision and flexibility in seeing it come to life, the space Fengate gave us to do our best work was a critical factor in the projects’ triumph.

Their priority was client satisfaction, which doesn’t mean that cost wasn’t a building constraint (it always is) – it means it wasn’t the only up-front consideration. Which in turn means we were able to work with our preferred trade partners–people with a focus on craft.

Eschewing conventional low-bid impediments, we could recommend our first choice in materials and approaches.

Trades with unimpeachable integrity and better quality materials are investments, not costs–they make clients/occupants/people (/potatoes) happy in the short term but are amortized through lowered maintenance costs over the long-haul. In short, we were put in a position to make sustainable decisions.

We didn’t take the responsibility lightly.

Acting Ambassadors

We have fond memories of standing in the dirt under the recently erected steel structure in what would be the future office area, trying to help Tom imagine how the finished space would look. We marked dimensions with spray paint, held cardboard up to denote potential wall and window locations while Tom bounced ideas off us.

Tom wanted an industrial look for the office area. We walked him through an open ceiling concept (to expose the steel structure, ductwork, electrical wiring, etc.). We presented different materials and construction methods (flooring, frames, spiral ductwork, etc.) while incorporating some of his ideas like the use of barn board.

It’s amazing how you can convey complex concepts with enough hand-gesturing. Add in a bit of vision, trust, and craft, and you get a long-term home for your cutting-edge equipment, a workspace that reflects your values and reinforces your culture, and a view that makes it feel like home.

A solid return on productivity, happiness and culture/SQ FT.

I was very proud, right from the beginning. As soon as we walked in for the first time I was very proud of what Ingenuity and ourselves had created.

The response from our staff has been fantastic. They love the space, they enjoy coming into work. We overlook a beautiful field of sunflowers everyday, it feels like home.

Tom Hughes

President of Earth Fresh