A successful business changes to meet the demands of its customers. It is not a new idea, but few businesses succeed without obeying that simple law of commerce.
Matt and Julie Harper operated their successful Four Seasons Landscaping business for many years. As their customers asked to see more plants, shrubs and trees to plan their property improvements, “Our stock of samples took on a mind of its own. They sort of took over,” Julie Harper said. The Harper’s collection of samples grew until it became the equally successful Four Seasons Nursery & Garden Center at 3181 N. Main Street Extension in Jamestown.
“We still do landscaping work,” Julie explained to a customer recently, “but it is free and it is on paper. Just bring us the layout of your property, measurements and some pictures and we’ll give you some ideas on how might lay it out and what you could plant.”
Four Seasons provides an example of efficiency and design for customers to follow even in the way the Harpers display and care for their products. One of the most often heard remarks from new visitors is “Oh! How neat.” Flowers in the green houses are displayed for sale in meticulously ordered rows on wooden benches that are clean, free of spilled dirt and not ankle deep in mud. Trees are set in rows into specially designed, ground level pots with dedicated irrigation systems for each.
The reason, however, is simple efficiency and economy. “It keeps the weeds and the bugs down to keep things neat,” Julie explained. “It’s just the way we do things.”
When asked for her best advice for new business owners, regardless of the business, Julie offers a broad smile and a simple phrase, “Be ready to work.” Good workers, however, even as employees, can be hard to find. “We have six or eight right now, mostly part timers, who know their business and understand how to treat a customer. You have to hire carefully.”
Time is one of the most valuable commodities in a nursery and gardening business. Plants in a nursery need water almost the way babies need feeding; frequently and carefully, in a good environment. “That’s also why we depend on a plant broker when we need new varieties and new stock,” Julie said. “The time it would take to research and grow as many varieties and types as our customers want would be far too much. We couldn’t spend as much time taking care of the nursery as we have to. Our plant broker combs the nation, the world and the catalogs for us, then all it takes us is a phone call to give our customers the plants they need, if we don’t already have them here.
Julie Harper offered the same answer many local merchants give when asked about the best part of being self-employed in their own community. “It’s the people we get to know,” Julie said. “We can have garden talk and family talk and help folks beautify their homes all at once. It builds trust.” In that way, Matt and Julie and all successful local businesses echoe the same values as the nation’s biggest business. Warren Buffet once said, “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”
Matt Harper has been familiar with the outdoors and nature since his childhood in Ohio. Both his grandfather and his father were skilled nurserymen. He went on to earn an animal husbandry degree in college, and kept his future work in the family tradition, close to the land. Julie’s academic career earned her a degree in mathematics and computers.
“The mathematics part sure helps with the math of running a business,” Julie admits. “But I love this work,” she said gesturing toward the multicolored expanse of flowers in one of the greenhouses. Even though Julie earned a degree in computers, her principle of time economy led her not to design the company’s website. “That’s a huge time commitment. As with the plant broker, we chose a professional web designer who devotes all his time to that kind of work so we don’t have to. It’s still under construction, but we hope it helps customers connect with us.”
Homeowners, whose plants might have been fooled into budding and blooming by 2012’s early hint of Spring and then been frozen back by the frosty return of wintery weather, may find just the consolation their garden needs in a visit to the Four Seasons Nursery & Garden Center at 3181 N. Main Street Extension in Jamestown.
Readers who would like to contact Matt and Julie Harper before visiting can email Four Seasons at: email@example.com, look for plants and products on the website, www.fourseasonswny.com, call (716) 484-1485 or Fax (716) 484-0592.