Park City Nursery's Path to Success
"Work hard, play hard" and "savor the challenges" are the words Steve and Ann Barrett, Owners of Park City Nursery and Park City Nursery's Tree Ranch, have lived by.
Steve started the nursery back in 1983. The main road to Park City was just two lanes and traffic trickled by. At first, Steve had to work another job to support the nursery, but by 1985, he went full-time and hired help.
Ann, a certified ski instructor, applied at the nursery in 1988, thinking it would be a great job for the summer. "I worked the retail side and was the lawn maintenance girl, mowing lawns of Fridays", she says. "I loved it, I came back the next summer, and again in 1990, the year Steve and I married."
Together, they worked on growing the business and fine tuning the operations. Ann says, "We were potting bare root plants when I first started, but most took three to five years to develop into the quality 5-gallon stock that we wanted to offer our shoppers. As we analyzed our use of space and return on investment, we started being more realistic about what we should do."
800 Percent Growth
At 6,800 feet above sea level, Park City has snow cover throughout the winter. As the town evolved and attracted more resort development, there was an influx of businesses catering to resort clientele. "As the town grew, with both commercial and residential development spreading out from the heart of the city, it grew customers for us," Ann says. "We estimate out customer base now is close to 800 times what it was at first."
And so the nursery had to evolve, too. When the road was widened, it installed a 10-car parking lot to supplement the street parking. A 600-sqaure-foot greenhouse was added to increase the covered display area of the 500-square-foot store. The acre of nursery display was expanded to include 2 acres of hillside to display B&B plants.
The Barrett's added the garden center's Sprinkler Barn to showcase a full line of in ground and drip irrigation supplies, and now run irrigation installation and maintenance crews. Their landscape consulting division fluctuates, with each designer serving as project manager working with the crews . Along with soil contouring and planting, they install water features and hardscaping.
Areas of Expertise
While Steve and Ann wear multiple hats, their areas of concentration have evolved with the nursery. Ann's focus is buying, selling and communications. Steve concentrates on the logistics and keeping the fleet of equipment operational, safe and in the right place at the right time.
"We meander a lot and make observations, learn, give hints and encourage," Ann says. "We have multiple managers, but we're not big on titles or dictating responsibilities. We hire good people, and give them what they need to do their jobs. We want them to work together as a team, enjoy what they're doing and pass that on to the customers. If you don't allow your staff that freedom, you limit a lot of your avenues to make money. The freedom keeps your people motivated."
With a staff that blossoms to 60 during the peak season and sales of these combined divisions reaching more than $1 million, more than the duo ever dreamed, the Barretts' approach is working.
Meeting the challenges of the high altitude short season, alkaline soil with rocks and heavy clay and multiple micro-climates is a big part of the equation. "Steve's focus from the beginning was finding and providing plants that would perform well here. Matching the right plant to the right place is what it takes to be successful," Ann says.
After compiling research data and input from staff and local longtime gardeners, making notes and combining all of the information on specific topics into a handout, "Steve and I decided it made sense to write a book," Ann says. "So, when questions did come up, we could just turn to the page and show customers the answer. It took me about 10 years to pull it all together." High Altitude Planting: A Practical Guide to Landscaping, Gardening and Planting Above 6000 Feet, is a quick and easy resource that helps customers and employees alike.
With so much focus on finding the right plants, it's no surprise that summer is buying time for the Barretts. They visit their favorite growers, walking the fields to check quality and noting on their orders which varieties should be pulled from which fields. "Anything we retail in plants is also available for wholesale. Because we're so selective in what we buy, our wholesale and retail customers know we'll have the nicest product around for that special specimen plant," Ann says. "Quality is the key."
The Barretts buy wildflower seed in bulk, bringing in only varieties adapted to the area. The seed is sold by variety, and the garden center offers four unique blends of its own; it even creates custom blends to order. "We package our blends in sizes from 2 ounces to a pound," Ann says. "For Christmas, we sell them packed in little ornament-type canisters. They make great gifts."
The garden center offers Ames, True Temper and Jackson Professional Tools, stocking only quality items that hold up to hard work. They've been a Felco distributor since the early '90s; it's the only pruner they carry.
They're equally selective in ordering pottery they bring in each year. And many of their décor items are unique creations from regional artisans, with emphasis on a rustic look and sturdy metal pieces with bold styling.
In 2004, the Barretts purchased a 4-acre site about 2 miles away from Park City Nursery and opened Park City Tree Ranch. "It was being used as a tree and shrub holding area by a local landscaping contractor," Ann says. "We needed a little more room, so we decided to buy the place and compete against ourselves." The location is convenient, just off the main freeway.
Park City Tree Ranch is run by a five-person staff. The two operations share sourcing information and often use the same suppliers, but buy plants and materials separately. The ranch takes advantage of the expanse of flat space for bulk mulches and rock, as well as larger B&B trees. It is just beginning to build sales of smaller plant materials, including annuals and perennials.
"The two retail sites differ in their client base," Ann says. "The tag line for Park City Nursery is, 'We know what grows.' For the Ranch, it's, 'We know what grows, too!'"
While the ranch has 10 designated parking spaces and room for overflow, Ann notes it's not as busy as the nursery yet. "At Park City Nursery, our little lot is often full, with cars parked all along the street. We know it will take work to grow the business at The Ranch, but we love the challenge," Ann says.
Park City Nursery becomes a Christmas wonderland once the month-long Oktoberfest celebration and sale winds down. The whole retail team pitches in to tackle the conversion. Natural themes prevail. Another of the Barretts' ventures, a Christmas tree farm in northern Idaho plays a big role. "Steve and I head there in the fall," Ann says. "We spend about three weeks harvesting most of the greenery we'll use for making garland and wreaths, and about a quarter of our Christmas trees. Then we hire a semi, load it and ship it to the nursery."
They bring in fresh-cut trees from other sources, too, stocking only premium varieties of fir. Ann says, "We decorate our garland and wreaths, and have a huge assortment of ribbon and permanent 'natural' berries in every color you can imagine. We love glitter and use a lot of copper, silver and gold."
Wonderland closes on Christmas Eve, and on December 26, the retail contingent gathers again to clean up and pack away any remaining merchandise. "We close everything for the winter," Ann says. "The snow cover will protect the plants. So all of our salaried personnel take the winter off and come back to work around April 1st - when the snow clears enough to open."
That's the time for Ann and Steve to play hard. The couple used to spend it skiing; Ann even kept a ski instructing position for five years while Steve enjoyed the free pass perk. Now, they head to warmer climates on New Year's Eve for wind surfing and kite boarding, returning in March to get back to work.
Ann says, "It just doesn't make financial sense - or sanity sense - to sit in an office all winter waiting for the snow to melt."