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Spring revival for nurseries
Customers flock to find trees, flowers, shrubs
W BIZ SWEET WATER 01
Sweet Water Nursery partners Sandra Hodges, right, and Kandace Kemp prepare a mixed container in their potting shed in preparation for Mothers Day. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    It was a tough 2009 for those in the nursery business. The steep recession in the housing industry lead to double digit sales declines for many, but local nursery owners and plant dealers are optimistic that this year’s spring planting season will mark a positive turn on the road to recovery.
    “We experienced a significant decrease in sales in 2009 from the year before,” said Matthew Wise, owner of Wise Nurseries in Statesboro. “We’ve been able to work through it, and I feel like we have a very strong and experienced staff. It has been difficult, but I am seeing things start to turn, and our sales month-to-month are better this year than last.”
    Wise’s wholesale and retail operations have recorded strong spring sales numbers, and that, according to Wise, is the key for the rest of the year.
    “Basically, the money that we make in March, April, and May carries us through the next several months,” he said. “It is that important. People just love to get out and plant at this time of year when the cold is over, and it is so pleasant outside.”
    Although, this is their first spring as nursery owners, Kandace Kemp and Sandra Hodges said sales at their Sweetwater Nursery adjacent to Howard Lumber have been very good.
    “We are a new business that is establishing itself, but we are very optimistic,” Kemp said. “I have worked in the nursery business for the last five years and have my horticulture degree from Ogeechee Tech. I love what I do. Helping people understand what to plant, and how to maintain it is a passion of mine.”
    The nursery industry, like many others, has undergone a reduction in size over the last two years. Attrition has taken its toll, and Wise said it can be difficult to get what you need.
    “There have been two major wholesale nurseries that have gone out of business on the East coast,” Wise said. “Also, I have read that Carolina Nurseries in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina might close. That would be quite a blow for our area.”
    The Post and Courier reported ten days ago that Carolina Nurseries told its 335 employees that it will be forced to close June 21 unless it can secure new funding to repay a bank loan.  The massive wholesale plant facility dates back to 1911.
    “To see these large producers close is tough for a couple of reasons,” Wise said. “When they close, their inventory is dumped on the market resulting in steep price declines. Secondly, there goes another supplier from the marketplace. Right now, everyone seems to be able to get what they need, but that would definitely impact our industry.”
    Kemp said even though people are watching what they spend, they still want to plant something, and want to plant the right thing for their yard and space.
    “Sandra and I go out several times a week to look at peoples’ yards, and what they would like to do,” Kemp said. “As much as we would like to sell a lot of plants to each customer, you really don’t want to over plant. You have to plan for growth, and give plants room to grow and fill in. Plants are an investment, and if you plan and take care of what you plant, it will really pay off.”
    Jeru Minick, a partner in Tillman, Brannen, and Minick Farm Supply said his outdoor garden center is very important to his business. “My wife Gina is very involved with that, and we really do a very good business with it,” Minick said. “From March through May, we will have a couple of tractor trailer loads of plants delivered each week. I am glad to say that we see a lot of the same customers each year that come and buy our plants. That’s pretty neat.”
    Minick said their garden business has remained steady through the recession, and he is very grateful for that. “I can say that we have continued to do well,” he said. “We really try and service the customer from placing a special order to consultation regarding their plant, tree, and shrub needs. If Gina and I see a new plant that is coming on the market, we will take it home, plant it, and see how it does for a year or so. That way we can tell the customer what to expect.”
    Wise said there is an irony in the nursery business. “People really want to get out and plant all types of things in the spring, because the weather is so pretty and pleasant,” he said. “The reality is that it really is far better to plant in the fall when there is more rain, and the weather is cooler.”