CALDWELL, Ohio – Stacy Hrinko stands in the doorway of her tiny log cabin and is grateful.
It’s May and this is one of the first mornings it actually feels like summer – it’s still 9 a.m. but too warm for a jacket, and the sun is already streaming across the lawn.
The birds sing, an orange cat sips water from a planter, an Australian shepherd dozes in the grass, and freshly watered plants glisten in the sunlight.
“It’s easy to sit here and revel in the Lord’s creation,” she says.
But Stacy can’t just sit and stare. There’s too much work.
Going green. Stacy and her husband, Chris, have a small retail and wholesale nursery business in Noble County, Ohio, growing evergreens, shrubs, shade and flowering trees and a few perennials.
The couple also helps run a Christmas tree operation that’s been in Chris’ family since the 1950s.
But it hasn’t always been green for the Hrinkoes.
Instead they spent years raising beef. Chris and Stacy didn’t have any complaints until the cattle market dropped and they stopped making money.
They had something to fall back on, though.
A few years earlier they saw an increased demand in balled and burlap evergreens. So they bought a tree spade for the Christmas tree farm, which allowed them to sell their trees in the spring, too. This also meant they could offer other types of trees throughout the year.
“We still wanted to have an agricultural business, one where we could be a part of the land and have our whole family involved,” Stacy said.
In 1990, they ordered their first seedlings. And by the time they decided to sell the cows in the mid-1990s, their nursery was in business.
Getting a hand. Chris is a natural out here, Stacy says, waving her hand toward a field of young trees. But that doesn’t mean it all came easy.
“We knew we could grow good, quality products, but how to market them is where we needed help,” Stacy said.
They were advertising by trial and error, wasting time and money.
A group of college students came to the rescue. For a school project, they helped the Hrinkoes develop a marketing plan.
The students’ recommendations? More signs, an accounting program, brochures, catalogs.
Stacy and Chris followed the advice, and then talked with a small business development center in Marietta and got a list of “everyone who might be interested in buying a tree.”
After talking with businesses from golf courses to other nurseries, the couple found their strongest business in small-scale landscapers.
Getting the word out. But in addition to wholesale, the Hrinkoes also had to develop a retail business.
Turns out, it wasn’t quite as hard as they thought.
The problem was the location. Hrinko Nursery sits back off a gravel road in Caldwell. Stacy worried this may put them at a disadvantage, but customers are traveling 25 miles from Cambridge and Marietta.
Somehow the word got out, she said.
In fact, on this May morning, a woman driving a tan car pulls up near one of the overwintering houses.
Her son pulled out her bushes and she needs something to plant in their place. But no evergreens, she says.
As Stacy points to bushes and makes suggestions, she asks the woman how she found out about the nursery.
“My daughter came here from Columbus to get a dogwood and pine. Her dogwood is doing beautifully.”
Stacy says, yes, she remembers the girl who came specifically for a dogwood.
Then the woman says, “My grandson also comes here every year for his Christmas tree. He loves it.”
The word is out.
What’s in style. The Hrinkoes have been in the business long enough to know trends are a problem when the crop takes years to grow.
People want whatever is featured on the Home and Garden channel, but these tree trends often haven’t reached Ohio yet.
When Chris and Stacy notice a fad, they bulk up on the plantings for the next year, but this doesn’t always mean the tree or plant will still be popular when it’s time to sell. For example, Blue Rug Juniper used to be popular, but now no one asks for it.
Weeping trees, like the weeping cherry, are the big rage now.
But most people just want something a little different – an unusual color, tree shape or leaf, Stacy said.
Personal flair. The cattle didn’t require the time that a retail business does, especially one that’s open year-round.
While Chris works at a heating and cooling business and their four children are in school, Stacy is consumed by the nursery.
It’s her personal touch that keeps people coming back.
She enjoys greeting each person as they get out of their car, asking what they’re shopping for and offering advice. She likes answering their questions and helping make their yard look like they imagined.
Plus the work is “easier.”
“I like working with trees better than cows because they don’t get out,” she said. “Once you plant a tree, it stays there. It doesn’t get loose.”
Stacy looks out from the log cabin that doubles as the sales office. She takes in the morning again – the sun, the warmth, the lush green.
“With the cattle, we had all this beauty, too. But I’m very glad the Lord gave us trees now instead of cows.”
Get the details
* Hrinko Nursery
47633 TR 44
Caldwell, OH 43724
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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