Pride in diversification
by Sally Colby
Customers who visit Kah Nursery are pleasantly surprised to see eye-catching displays of nearly every kind of plant that will thrive in the Botkins, Ohio, area. But Kah Nursery is more than a retail store – it’s a garden and landscaping center and greenhouse where the owners pride themselves in providing unique plants, interesting landscape design and gardening information to customers.
DeAnna Baughman, current co-owner, explained, “George Kah established the business in 1948 and hired my father-in-law William (Bill) Baughman,” she explained. “They worked together as partners, and Bill eventually purchased the nursery.”
DeAnna is married to Bill’s son Nick, who is the CEO and head designer. Nick’s brother Tom is foreman and landscape supervisor. DeAnna is the CFO, overseeing the garden center aspect of the business and providing input on landscape design projects.
Although the upcoming winter trade shows are either cancelled or taking place virtually, DeAnna is familiar with what her customers want, and will make selections for 2021 merchandise based on that knowledge. While she tries to keep up with trends, she admitted it’s sometimes difficult to predict what will be popular. “When people find something new, it’s fun and different,” she said. “Finding that next unicorn will be important.”
One new and extremely popular item this past holiday season was tomato cage gnomes. DeAnna had hoped to sell 30, but she and her staff made and sold 350. She also hosted workshops for customers who wanted to make their own gnomes.
“People were yearning for a social event, so we tried to provide that in the safest way possible,” DeAnna said, adding that holiday workshops were scaled down to provide ample spacing. “We doubled the space by clearing out an entire greenhouse for the workshops.” She said that home kits for making holiday decorations were also popular last year because they allowed customers to purchase all the materials needed for a project without having to shop or attend a workshop in person.
A garden center trend that began last year was adding an online shopping option to an existing brick-and-mortar business. Kah Nursery did that, and their online presence will become more efficient in March. “We invested in a new point-of-sale system that integrates our inventory with the online store,” said DeAnna. “It was difficult to manage the inventory in last year’s online store. Now, if someone purchases 10 shrubs, the new inventory numbers will show up immediately.”
Kah Nursery is open year-round, but business is relatively slow in the beginning of the year. During the six-week period between Jan. 1 and mid-February, DeAnna takes time to regroup and review the previous year, train employees, plan endcaps for the retail area and prepare for spring. Next, it’s time to gear up for growing, and that’s when the five hoop houses and a hot house are put to use. An additional hoop house serves as both a growing and retail area. DeAnna said Kah Nursery grows plants from plugs so they can customize planters for landscape clients who request certain varieties. Although Kah Nursery maintains field-grown stock, DeAnna is scaling back that segment to focus on other aspects of the business to meet customers’ needs.
DeAnna said the landscape side accounts for two-thirds of the business. “We’re well known in the area for quality installations and service,” she said. “We’re a design/build company, and we pride ourselves in maintaining diversification. We try to keep a good selection and rotate items. Instead of selling out or having a year-end sale, we manage the inventory throughout the year.”
Kah Nursery keeps a landscape crew through the winter, and DeAnna said there’s enough work to keep them busy as long as the ground is suitable. If the weather is bad, the concentration shifts to equipment repairs and maintenance.
The combination of a garden center and landscape company as one business has multiple benefits. “We order some smaller B&Bs and as they grow and become less desirable for a garden center customer, they become more valuable as a landscape piece,” said DeAnna. “The product that needs to move doesn’t lose value. By running plants through the garden center, we can meet minimums for orders and always keep fresh plants.”
The garden center, including the growing area, covers 12 acres, and Kah Nursery recently acquired additional acreage adjoining the property where they constructed a large building that’s used for potting and storing landscape equipment. The new ground includes a pond that supplies water for irrigation, which DeAnna said improved plant quality.
She said house plants are becoming more popular again, and Kah Nursery sells a lot of them. She recently learned that Florida growers are short on plants, likely due to increased sales last spring that depleted supplies, so she’ll adjust her orders to ensure sufficient supplies. Succulents remain popular, especially for those who haven’t had plants, so DeAnna will try to keep those in stock. However, the availability of containers and B&Bs is uncertain, and some of the unique specimens DeAnna brings in from Western growers may not be available due to last year’s wildfires.
Although the nursery is officially open year-round, DeAnna tried something different last year. “We shut the garden center down in July and August and took our staff from the garden center to the landscape side,” she said. “That helped financially and helped us catch up.” The cross training helped in more ways than one – employees learn more about the business and can better assist customers with accurate information.
Students in the local vo-ag program are welcome to work at Kah, and DeAnna has retained some good permanent staff through the program. “We love seeing the young generation excited about this industry,” she said.
Kah Nursery is a member of several industry organizations, which DeAnna said has helped them remain centered during a challenging season. “We try to stay abreast by sharing information with like-minded businesspeople.”
Visit Kah Nursery online at KahNursery.com.