Henry King is a self-made man, having sold his thriving garden centre business to pursue angel investing, with the Valhalla Angels group. “After selling my business of many decades, I wanted to remain in the excitement of building a business, and the Valhalla Angels offered a perfect outlet for that,” says Henry. As will become evident from his journey, Henry has learned many lessons from his own entrepreneurial journey, and is now using his angel investor role to give some of this wisdom back. “Whether it was learning that bankers aren’t there to be your friend, that cash flow is king, or that if my suppliers are making money then I am too, Valhalla Angels is also the outlet to mentor new entrepreneurs that I’m looking for.”
Henry first came to Canada in 1976, as a visitor, to work on a farm. Originally from rural south Wales, he had an agricultural background, and was eventually offered a job by the farmer that he was working for. Unfortunately, he had to return to the UK to deal with a visa issue, but in 1978, he once again came to Canada, in large part due to uncertain job prospects back home.
His vision was always to own his own farm, which was much more feasible in Canada than the UK, due to cheaper farmland, so while working four years on the farm, he slowly bought shares in the feedlot, and some of his own sheep. As his vision diverged from the farmer, Henry tried to rent some land and use the farmer’s equipment, but this arrangement couldn’t be figured out.
Back home, his father ran an accounting business that worked primarily with other small business people. In this spirit of entrepreneurship, Henry decided to partner with a childhood friend from the UK, to purchase a failing garden centre in Penticton, in 1981. He had no horticultural experience, and the first years were quite a struggle, including buying out his partner in 1984. From this experience, Henry learned the importance of having a partner with aligned values, goals, and capabilities.
The business began to turnaround in 1985, but by 1987, the lease on the land became month to month, as the landlord was looking for higher rent. Henry decided that purchasing his own property was the way to go, so he did so in 1988, and moved the garden centre on to the land in 1989. The garden centre was part of the Art Knapp group, which gave the group of small garden centres buying power, private label brand recognition, and the ability to advertise in large volumes.
Over the next few years, the business grew, with retail sales at the store and a small amount of wholesaling supporting this growth. By the mid 1990s, Henry bought a company called Superior Peat, an act of vertical integration. His garden centre had been Superior’s number one customer before the purchase. He ran the companies separately, but benefitted from synergies between the two, especially from transporting product. The mid 1990s also marked the beginning of his growing operation, renting a small greenhouse in Penticton.
Henry was then selected Chairman of the Art Knapp group, and began to organize the group as a franchise, which allowed for those involved to sell their business more easily. In 2001, under Henry’s leadership, the Art Knapp group joined the Garden Centre Group Co-op, which became the only Garden Centre buying group that was truly national with members from coast to coast. In 2004, he became Chairman of the Garden Centre Group. The genius behind the Garden Centre Group was that consumers generally don’t understand the buying power that goes into these garden centres, as they are under the impression that they’re dealing with a strictly local business. What the Co-op allowed these individual garden centres like Henry’s to do was compete with giant corporations, like Home Depot, when it came to selling the hard goods such as pots, fertilizers and other ancillary products that go along with the sale of plants.
During the early to mid 2000s, Henry’s business continued to grow, as he made strategic moves like buying six acres of land in Lower Summerland, where he established his own greenhouses. His business with commercial landscapers was booming, so he needed his own supply to keep up with the demand for trees and shrubs. Unfortunately, like so many other businesses, the financial crash in 2008 hit Henry hard, as commercial landscaping and construction nearly dried up completely. This was also around the time when Henry began thinking about his exit strategy from the company, and thankfully, the combined strong leadership from Henry and Marg, his wife and partner, guided the business through its tough times. Over the next seven years, Henry worked to find a buyer, which can be difficult in his industry, because few garden centres change hands, as they are often family run, and the property is so valuable.
There were several key aspects to selling the business that Henry focused on. He needed to show good profit, and that he wasn’t an integral and irreplaceable part of the business’ success. Thankfully, he had a good management team, to show that business wouldn’t suffer when he left. In 2013-14, he developed a portfolio for selling the business, and eventually closed a sale in 2015. Initially he was still involved with the company, mentoring employees, and now helps out on a busy spring weekend if needed, and is on great terms with both his former staff and the new owners.
Henry has now taken a huge interest in investing, thanks to the Valhalla Angels organization. He loves business, and angel investing is his way to take a few risks, on top of his more stable long term plans. When investing, Henry likes to understand exactly what a company is doing. For this reason, his two main investments at the moment are in a company that makes construction blocks from hemp and limestone, and a software company creating foot recognition software for shoe buyers and shoe companies. In these companies, he has pooled money with other investors through shares in a numbered company, in order to meet the investment amounts required, which also helps to build community between the angels.
Family has also been a key part of Henry’s professional journey. His wife, Marg, has always been part of Henry’s progress, as they have taken a team attitude towards business, doing everything together as a couple. “While my clients were always talking to Henry, more often than not, the real answers came from Marg,” jokes Henry. His daughter also runs her own business, as a holistic nutritionist in Vancouver, while his son lives in New York, working in digital media and communications. Both of them worked at the garden centre throughout high school, and were even offered the business before it was inevitably sold, choosing to pursue their own paths.