Greenhousing, like farming, is a family business for many

ABOVE: Robin Voltz (left) and her sister, Rinda Sloan are the third generation of managers at Richardson’s Greenhouse just north of Loudonville, in Ohio’s Ashland County. They sell a wide assortment of ornamental flowers, in addition to vegetable plants, and provide a landscaping service.

LOUDONVILLE, Ohio — To keep a farm in the family, many families increase their acres, buy more cows, hogs or poultry so they can increase production for the newest generation.

The same strategy of expansion and development is important for sisters Robin Voltz and Rinda Sloan — the third generation to manage their family’s operation just north of Loudonville, Ohio.

But they’re not investing in livestock or acreage. Instead, they’re improving their perennials, poinsettias, herbs, fruits, vegetables and landscaping. The sisters manage Richardson’s Greenhouse — a family business for more than 65 years.

Some history

Richardson’s got its start in 1943, when Ernie and Mabel Richardson began raising geraniums and vegetables for wholesale and retail. Eventually, they became a major supplier of geranium cuttings to the eastern United States.

Their son, Jim, and his wife, Beverly, took over the business in 1973. The couple increased the production area and plant selection, and began offering a landscaping service in addition to sales.

In 2002, Robin and Rinda took over, adding 13,000 square feet of retail space and modernizing the facilities. Rinda’s husband, Ed, leads the landscaping department and their children make the fourth generation of green thumbs.

Jim and Beverly — both in their 70s — still help in the greenhouse, a busy place this time of year.

Rinda Sloan said the family succession is something that’s “just kind of worked that way.”

“You’ve got to be dedicated to it for sure,” said Robin, who started full time in 1980, after studying greenhouse management at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute.

Family histories common

The Richardsons are not alone among multi-generational, family-run greenhouses.

Bob McMahon, ATI’s greenhouse coordinator and professor for 24 years, said many of his students come from family-owned businesses.

That was the case with greenhouse coordinator Doug Schuster, who just a couple years ago was a student of McMahon. Schuster grew up in Elyria, Ohio, working at the Donald A. Schuster Greenhouse — a business his grandfather started on just a few acres of the family’s farm.

After graduating, Schuster returned to ATI as a full-time greenhouse coordinator, but still helps his family during the busy season.
Of the 150-200 acres that make up the Schuster farm, the greenhouse only takes about four-five, Doug figures. There’s about 15-acres of pumpkins, and the rest is traditional crops.

Learn the ropes

McMahon said its common to get students in the second or third generation of their family’s business. A few of the graduates start their own businesses, but he cautions them to get experience first.

“I always encourage students before they open up their own businesses to work at a greenhouse business first and learn the ropes,” he said.

Some of the “ropes” they learn at the ATI include plant care, growth, arrangements and sales. But many of the students also study chemistry, botany and entomology, and math and business courses like economics, accounting and small business management.

Economy helping industry

McMahon said the greenhouse and floral industry is still a viable choice for students, dropping only about 2 percent in wholesale value during the economic slump, from 2007-2008.

Some consequences of a weak economy actually help those in this industry, especially in gardening.

“Even when the economy sours like this, people stay home, and so instead of going on vacations they plant gardens or devote more time to their yards,” he said.

Rinda said the economy has hurt Richardson’s landscaping service, but is generally helping the greenhouse, because people are staying home and choosing to grow their own products.

Beverly Richardson said one of the biggest difference over the years is people today want to buy plants much earlier in the year, and they want them to perform instantly.

“They want instant bloom … they want instant color,” she said. “They want to start as soon as the sun is shining.”

Keeping it modern

The family tries to offer varieties that can be planted earlier, and is open year-round. They also attend training sessions to keep their own skills sharp, and offer a series of grower lessons at the store.

Some highlights include “Backyard Vegetable Gardening April 17, spring open house April 24-25, and a special “Tomato Tasting Party” Sept. 11.

Robin and Rinda’s children help during the busy season and when they’re not in school. Seasonal employees begin in early March.

The next generation of managers is unknown, but with parents and grandparents still involved, the grandchildren have a lot of opportunity. And with nearly seven decades of family-owned experience, the Richardsons have painted themselves a positive image.

“We try to make it a fun place to visit,” said Rinda. “We want them (customers) to succeed, because if they don’t, then they won’t be back.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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