White Oak updated and expanded its greenhouse space last year, adding facilities with panels that open and close with changing weather.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITE OAK GARDENS

In 1979, six years before White Oak Gardens CFO Evan Webeler was born, his father, Jeff, bought a small Cincinnati, Ohio, rose business. Webeler grew up in the industry, earned an economics degree and gained banking experience — but his sights were always set on the family-run independent garden center.

 

Garden Center: Your website invites people to “Come get the full experience.” Tell us about it.

Evan Webeler: We’re a full-service garden center with a brand-new greenhouse facility as of last year. We almost quadrupled the size of our covered greenhouses … to over 12,000 square feet, now paved and under automated roof panels that open and close with weather conditions.

We make sure to take care of each and every customer with our knowledgeable staff, which includes 12 Ohio Certified Nursery Technicians. We’re known for creating remarkable displays, including our straw bale designs and VW (Volkswagen) Bug, which we repaint multiple times each year.

We talk a lot about improving our customers’ quality of life through plants. We stay current on plant pests and design issues with Ohio State University Extension and keep ahead of customers’ problems.

 

GC: What inspired you to stay in the industry and work at White Oak Gardens?
EW: I knew I always wanted to work in the business. I’ve been proud of what my parents built over the years with their long-tenured staff, and I’ve always looked up to the employees that worked here since I was little. It is very much a family-oriented culture.

I bring a financial background to the business. My father always said, “I can teach you all the horticulture you need to know, and you can teach me the business end of things.” I love working with my own family. My brother Andrew and my mother, Patty, work in the landscape division, White Oak Environmentals.

My wife, Renee, works in the greenhouse, and I get to be in the same office as my father.

GC: What are White Oak’s greatest challenges?
EW: Developing business practices to manage and develope our employees as we continue to grow our sales and our staff. Also, continuing to constantly deliver a “wow” experience to our customers to increase customer count in a retail environment where everyone is predicting the downfall of brick-and-mortar retail locations. Lucky for us, we are a glass-and-outdoor retail establishment that connects people with nature.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITE OAK GARDENS
It’s amazing how much we as an industry instinctually fear raising prices and how little customers really take notice. Without some of the pricing changes we made, which directly reflected on our bottom line, we would not have gotten approved for financing for our $1.1 million rebuild/expansion of our greenhouses.” – EVAN WEBELER, CFO, WHITE OAK GARDENS

GC: What has been your greatest success to date?
EW: Seeing the rebuild project come to fruition and how excited the community and the staff is to be in the new environment. Working with [consultants and peers in the industry] has given us many of our ideas and helped us implement pricing structures to ensure we are making money. It’s amazing how much we as an industry instinctually fear raising prices and how little customers really take notice. Without some of the pricing changes we made, which directly reflected on our bottom line, we would not have gotten approved for financing for our $1.1 million rebuild/expansion of our greenhouses.

GC: What categories are most popular at White Oak Gardens?
EW: Important categories for us are, in order, annuals, shrubs, perennials, mulch, hardgoods and tropicals. Our annuals category has been the backbone of our growth and profitability, comprising almost 25 percent of our yearly sales. The largest growth has come in tropicals, pottery and outdoor living. We’ve focused on increasing our selection of houseplants and succulents and trying to recreate the beautifully styled pictures that are all over Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. The results have been quite noticeable in our financial statements.

GC: What do IGCs need to do to stay relevant and reach consumers?
EW: Constantly be innovators and know how to get the word out about how awesome their place is. Focus on building a consistent brand that reflects well with consumers.

The store’s Volkswagen is painted multiple times a year and is a hit with customers.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITE OAK GARDENS

GC: What advice for do you have for other IGCs?
EW: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Learn to communicate effectively with your family who work in the business and your staff, which all starts with being able to listen.

We’re going through a University of Cincinnati Goering Center course (through the Lindner College of Business) on how to successfully transition your business. That has opened our eyes to how much family, including employees, are hesitant to discuss important business matters.

Not until we all take the chance to invite others to share their thoughts, and actively listen to what they have to say, will we be able to make the right decisions for the overall health of the business.