Year of Local
This is the 12th in a series of submitted stories produced by the Year of Local, a collaborative project highlighting businesses and not-for-profit organizations in Sarnia.
When Frank Praill started Praill’s Greenhouse in 1915, he did so because he loved flowers.
His son Harold took over in 1946, and Harold’s son Bruce took over in 1997. Then, last year, as the family celebrated its first century of business, Bruce retired and handed the operation over to his three sons: Sean, Chad and Ian.
The sprawling operation at 1508 Blackwell Rd even uses a greenhouse originally built by Frank Praill.
When you ask Bruce Praill what sustained the business for four generations and more than 100 years, he mentions quality products at a fair price. But you also have to be willing to evolve with your customers, he said.
“Originally, we focused on market gardening. When I was a kid, I used to pack tomatoes and cucumbers that were loaded onto ships waiting in Point Edward, where the casino now sits, bound for Port Arthur and Fort William.”
Praill’s also sold flowers wholesale to local flower shops.
“My grandfather Frank began the relationships with the flower shops and my father Harold built on them,” he said.
Father Harold was a founding member and president of the Sarnia Farmers’ Market. He sold flowers from a stand at the Market for more than thirty summers.
In the winter, he drove his Model T Ford to Miller Lake in the Bruce Peninsula to buy Christmas trees. Praill’s was one of the first businesses to sell Christmas trees in Sarnia. When Bruce took over he began offering poinsettias, and they now grow 10,000 each Christmas.
Over the years, the family has seen significant changes in the city.
“I learned to ride a bike on Modeland Road and we only saw five cars a day. Our location was out in the country. Murphy Road was the edge of the city and coming out to Praill’s was a trip,” Bruce Praill said.
The operation is now well within the city and the retail business has grown as a result. Praill’s is known for its hanging baskets, but also offers a wide variety of annuals, perennials, and nursery stock, and works closely with local landscaping companies.
What hasn’t changed in 100 years is the family’s passion for what they do.
“We value our customers. We still carry things to our customers’ cars and load mulch for them. We provide advice on what they can plant in their yards. The most rewarding part of running a business is the sense of pride you get from seeing people come back year after year.”
Sean, Chad and Ian grew up in the family business and are now continuing the tradition. They understand the responsibility involved, their father said.
“When I tell people about our business, I explain that this is a farming business. It’s not a ‘milking the cows’ kind of farm, but we are on the job 24 hours a day.
“It’s a business you become married to, and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it.”