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Finding a Perfect Niche

Marshall Dirks
Emily and Dave Wirick, owners of Forest Hill Gardens in Union City, OH, focused their business on a profitable high-end niche that grows and sells Proven Winners® plants.

Dave and Emily Wirick changed their business from 100% garden retailing to “focused” growing, and discovered the ideal way to become more profitable while keeping their family life the way they want it.

The owners of Forest Hill Gardens in Union City, OH started out in 1999 as a garden retailer with several high-end customers.  “Some of our customers only came to our shop once a year but many of them trusted us to ‘take care of everything’ for them (grow and install plants, select patio cushions, etc.),” says Emily Wirick. “The only problem with this picture was that we lived about 30 minutes away and the travel time between our facility and home (especially in the busy times of spring) was a damper on our family time.”

Shared vision of success

Their solution was to become growers with very limited retailing (four weekends in spring) and reach out to a high-end niche, with other types of customers.  They tore down and moved their 6,500-sq.-ft. greenhouse and rebuilt it near their home.  Then they changed their customer base.

“We streamlined our customer base and focused on growing specifically for a high-end hardware chain in our area, as well as local landscapers working for high-end property owners,” explains Dave Wirick. 

“It has panned out well.  We’re picky whom we do business with. Our customers get our concept and we get theirs.” He notes, “We share the same vision of what the end result will look like. These customers pay their bills on time and appreciate a good plant.”

The Wiricks grow combination and monoculture hanging baskets and fiber-basket plants for the three hardware store locations, as well as thousands of Proven Winners® plants in 4-inch Grande™ containers. 

Marshall Dirks
Forest Hill Gardens has expanded its business by growing hanging baskets and many kinds of Proven Winners plants in Grande™ containers for an upscale hardware store chain.

“One of the first things we did when we decided to change was to contact our landscaper customers who had never preordered their plants, and educate them about Proven Winners,” says Emily.  “They sold their property owner customers on the need for beautiful splashes of color in the residential developments.  Now, we grow trays full of Proven Winners Petunias for them.”

“We tell the landscapers that they’ll get stability and longevity from the Proven Winners varieties over other brands,” she adds.

Supported by Proven Winners

When the Wiricks originally bought the business, they grew about half of their plants as Proven Winners varieties, but over the years have expanded until their production is about 95% Proven Winners. 

“One of the reasons we expanded production of Proven Winners is that through the years, we found out Proven Winners does what they say they will do,” Dave explains.  “Their advertising is so good and it exactly addresses the market we’re looking for.  And the product looks as good as they do in the ads.”

The Wiricks make sure to have Proven Winners’ Gardener Idea Books sent to their remaining residential customers annually, and have used its literature and speakers at events.

Marshall Dirks
The couple also focused on expanding business with landscapers working with property managers of local home developments.

They introduced their hardware store clients to Proven Winners and encouraged that firm to become a Proven Winners Certified Garden Center.  Forest Hill helps the hardware chain by sending staff to “make it simple” and do the plant merchandising for them, says Dave. 

“They let us go in and get the shelves ready, pull out things that shouldn’t be there and make the displays look like they should,” he notes. “We work with them on signage and the staffers we send know how everything should look.  This has helped increase their sales.”

Working with the experts

“When we were a full-time retail establishment, we were showy enough with displays and grew such good looking plants that our customers leaned on us for advice – and they still do,” says Dave.

Likewise, the Wiricks have leaned on Four Star Greenhouse through the years for growing advice, ideas and support.  “We study new growing technologies so that we can continue to improve, and follow the advice of Dennis Crum (Director of Growing Operations) and the other Four Star growers,” Dave recalls.  “They are so easy to work with.  We follow their recommendations for using growth regulators, outdoor growing, handling cool weather plants – pretty much everything.  If we have a question, we call.”

He adds, “We also listen to our Four Star sales rep, Tara.  If she suggests we try a new variety, we tend to follow that advice.  Whenever we have had any kind of issue, we call Four Star and they take care of it – immediately.”

Asked for his advice, Dave Wirick says, “Take a look at the total Proven Winners package from Four Star.  All along, they have been willing to tell us what we need to know to be better in our business.  Four Star works at maintaining the relationship between us so that we can be better growers.”

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