Taking care of your customers can get you far in business, but a specific plan for expansion is also important. Russ Bedner, owner and CEO of Bedner’s Farm & Greenhouse, explains how he plants to capitalize on his company’s strengths to become an even greater asset to his community.
Garden Center: On top of retailing, I understand you also grow, deliver and install much of your own plant material. Can you tell me more about that and your other departments?
Russ Bedner: We have the nursery end of things, which would include perennials, trees and shrubs. We also have a landscape division now, which started about four years ago, and that stemmed from the nursery division — people [were] coming in and wanting some larger trees and [saying], “Well we can’t take it home, can you deliver it?” And then we would deliver it and then we started getting questions [such as], “well, can you plant it for us too?” And then it was like, “Well, can you come and design some flower beds for us?” So it kind of evolved to now, where we’re a full-service landscaper. We do boulder walls, waterfalls, patios and outdoor living spaces. Annual-wise, we sell bedding flats and bedding plants. We have a hard good section to include chemicals and fertilizers, retail soil and decorative pieces for your garden, pottery and some other decorative pieces, [including] fairy garden stuff. One of our main things that we’re known for is our hanging basket combinations and our different sizes and styles of baskets that we carry. Another thing is our custom containers and container gardens. We come up with some very unusual mixes that people can’t find anywhere else, and we have a nice selection of six-inch and gallon material that is unusual that people tend to tend to come to us for. People know that they can come to us and find some unique things that they don’t see anywhere else.
GC: Could you tell me more about how your custom container department works?
RB: We have some really unique pieces that people bring in that they’ve gotten in other parts of the country or even overseas. They’ll bring them in to us, and we will plant them for them and call them when they’re finished. They will either drop them off with us over winter, and since we actually grow on-site and we start planting things basically at the beginning of February, they can drop them off, and we can plant them up early or we can do them actually in season, in May, whenever [customers] come out to start their shopping. We have a form that we have all made out for them; if they want certain colors that they are looking for, or certain sunlight conditions or any certain plants that they want specifically in there. They can actually pick out the plants that they want in there if they want to, or it goes all the way to the other extreme and [they say] “Well, just give me some purples and pinks in there, and it’s for sun.” We have a lot of comments like “You guys do such an awesome job, I’ll let you just figure it out yourself.” So we have a few people on staff, one of whom is my mother, and she comes up with combinations and puts everything together. We have my mom and two other people on staff that take care of planting those things up. We get some huge planters — sometimes they’re too large for customers, and we’ll actually go out and pick them up for them and bring them back. Once they’re finished, we’ll deliver them back to them. So, we have that as an option, as well.
GC: I also noticed that you host an annual fall fest. How long have you been doing that?
RB: It is newer. I’d say it’s around six years old. It started off fairly small, and it’s been growing ever since. It consists of a corn maze, and you can pick your own pumpkin. It’s a hay ride out into the fields and [guests] hop off, and there’s a bunch of different, smaller activities for the kids to do. There’s what we call a pumpkin launch, where there are big slingshots where people can shoot pumpkins into the ponds, and we have like all kinds of targets in the pond and around the pond they can try to hit. There’s a little barrel train that we take the smaller kids for a ride around the fields on, and then we have a two-acre corn maze that people can go through. We have a couple of different little mini mazes that the smaller kids can play in, as well.
GC: Do you have any big plans for the future, as far as renovations or additions?
RB: I started making wine about four years ago and, probably within the next month or so, I’m going to start to sell it. So, one of the big plans for that is to open it up and have it as its own separate building, like a winery and an event center. People could come and rent the space if they wanted to hold a shower or a corporate event or something of that nature. Another thing that we’re looking to get into is a deli, so having some on-site food.
We actually have a food truck now, which we started two years. We’re getting our feet wet with it, seeing how that works. So, we’re taking baby steps in that respect, but we want to have a real place to eat. So [customers] will meet up with [friends], hang out, spend a few hours here and buy flowers together and stuff like that. Another thing that we’re going to have in the mix for the upcoming year is that we’re going to become more focused on [becoming] a community place to come and learn things. So we’re going to be holding more events and more educational seminars.
Our customer service is our main thing, I would say. We strive for far and beyond what most other retailers do.” – RUSS BEDNER, OWNER AND CEO, BEDNER’S FARM & GREENHOUSE
We’re looking into doing maybe some girl scout and boy scout [sessions] so they can actually come and gain some badges — more school field trips and corporate events that can utilize our farm to escape from the city. We want to have a structure that may be a part of the winery — we haven’t quite figured it out yet. We’ve got some good ideas, but, [the goal is] having that facility that we hold some classes and events in. Our mission is to become more community-oriented and to educate — we want to be like a service for the community.
GC: Any final thoughts on what sets Bedner’s apart?
RB: Our customer service is our main thing, I would say. We strive for far and beyond what most other retailers do. We strive for that customer service, and that’s what we’ve built. That’s what my dad started with. People came to him just for his customer service and [his way] of finding what they needed when they wanted it and taking care of them. I still have customers that come to the store and they say, “Hey, I bought a Christmas tree off of your grandfather.” I’ve never even met my grandfather. He died before I was born. So that’s how long and loyal our customers have been with us.