Striving for perfection
by Sally Colby
Starting a greenhouse business is a major effort, but three Ohio women were willing to give it a try.
After working together at a greenhouse, Laurie Risner, Amber Holmer and Nancy Kochel decided they wanted to open their own business. They combined their talents, each focusing on what they did best, to create Perfection Greenhouse in New Washington, Ohio.
“When we started, we tried to be economical,” said Nancy. “My husband and son-in-law built all of our greenhouses except for the three-bay gutter where we grow the miniatures. We tried to save where we could, so we started with wire on the tables.” While the wire top tables worked well for the first 10 years, a recent facilities upgrade included replacing wire with plastic tops.
The upgrade also included new ends on the greenhouses with insulation and white siding for a neat, clean appearance. “We’re very particular about how things look,” said Nancy, “and we want the plants to be uniform and well-kept and not shaggy.” Today, Perfection Greenhouse has 34,000 square feet of indoor growing and retail space in addition to a selection of perennials, trees and shrubs outdoors.
The Perfection Greenhouse crew started preparing for spring not long after closing out last year’s Christmas season. “We started seeding geraniums, violas and pansies the second week of January,” said Nancy. “Our first shipment of vegetative plants and some slower growing plants came in February.”
In spring, many customers bring empty containers and trust the Perfection Greenhouse staff to create custom planters. “Amber is a graphic designer and has quite an eye for color,” said Nancy. “She can put things together that no one would ever dream of, and they come out beautifully. Custom planters are one of our niches.”
Each season, the women work together to determine what to plant. The process begins with the many catalogs they pick up at Cultivate, then Nancy and Amber cut out pictures of what they like. Nancy said customers seek low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants that provide color throughout the season, so those criteria are also considered for plant selection.
“We put the photos in a collage, then go through the various options and put combinations together for mixed containers and hanging baskets,” said Nancy. “We like to create our own mixes to keep them unique for customers. We’ve been doing it long enough that we know the habits of different plants, and we know what to put together so gardeners will be successful.”
Perfection Greenhouse is the go-to for many area customers who grow vegetables for canning, so Nancy selects the most appropriate varieties for that market. “Tomatoes have to be suitable for paste and sauces,” she said. “We grow a lot of them by special request for customers who have their favorites. Some I’ll grow 10 or 12 flats of one variety, and other varieties will be just one flat. We also try to grow what works well in our area.”
When customers arrive at the greenhouse to select vegetable plants, choices are made easier thanks to signage created by Amber. “She designs cards with information that includes the variety name and characteristics such as color, size and weight,” said Nancy. “It’s a good way for customers to get information about plants without having to find one of us to ask questions.”
Signage for flowers includes notes about color, height, bloom time, suitability and whether the selection attracts hummingbirds or butterflies. Since many customers must deal with deer and rabbits, information on battling these pests is posted on the greenhouse wall. If customers ask frequently about a particular topic, such as pruning roses or hydrangeas, staff will create a flyer to provide specific information.
Nancy has seen renewed interest in certain plants, including hydrangeas. “We’ve sold more hydrangeas in the past couple of years than we have since we opened,” she said. “People remember seeing big, beautiful blossoms at their grandmother’s house. It’s the same with roses – Grandma grew beautiful rose bushes, and customers want those varieties.”
As was the case for other greenhouses and nurseries, seedlings at Perfection Greenhouse were well-established when COVID hit last year. “We sat down to discuss ‘where do we go from here?’” said Nancy. “At that point we thought we were going to be closed down, but we kept seeding. Since we offer vegetable and fruit plants, we were deemed essential and could stay open. There were some plants we thought we shouldn’t seed as much of, but we went with our plans and were really glad we did. We were completely sold out by Memorial Day.”
Nancy attributes a good portion of last season’s brisk sales to the fact that people knew they would be home with time to garden. “We offered drive-thru service and took special orders,” she said. “We pulled orders and took them to customers’ cars and did some deliveries. Our wholesale accounts also continued to do well.”
Many landscapers, including Perfection Greenhouse, had an exceptionally good season last year. “We designed quite a few new landscapes and sold an unbelievable number of perennials,” said Nancy. “A lot of people were redoing their landscaping – they were home and had the money because they weren’t going anywhere.”
Young customers with a new interest in gardening have found Perfection Greenhouse meets their needs. Nancy said during the 2020 season, staff fielded numerous questions about growing vegetables. “We had more first-time vegetable garden growers than we’ve ever had,” she said. “We heard a lot of success stories – they were happy with their gardens, and I think they’ll do it again this year.”
Customers appreciate knowledgeable staff who are willing to provide gardening tips. “The more successful they are, the more successful we’ll be,” said Nancy. “If they keep a plant alive the first year they’ll come back, but if they lost it, we’ve lost a customer. Many first-time gardeners were interested in starting container gardens. They just want to be able to go out on their patio and pick a tomato. Containers make it easy for them to get their hands in the dirt just enough that they’re ready to do more the next year.”
When Perfection Greenhouse opens for the season on April 15, the crew expects brisk sales. Nancy has found that customers are anxious to purchase hanging baskets and annuals, so staff will stress the area’s frost-free date and discourage people from putting plants out too soon. Customers can check the Perfection Greenhouse website for information about expected frost.
“It’s nice being small,” said Nancy. “We pride ourselves in being different from everyone else. We try hard to look for unique items and seed a variety of plants so we can be different. That’s what draws our crowd – people come here and know they’re going to find things they can’t find anywhere else.”