By Angie Landsverk
Paula Gorrell and Sheri Hacker turned their mutual passion for plants, gardens, and landscaping into a business.
“We decided we wanted to work for ourselves and bring the landscaping world to an area that didn’t currently have one established,” said the friends who met in college. In 1995, they opened Springwater Greenhouse & Landscaping on Paula’s family farm in Malta Bend, Missouri.
They did so after working at a greenhouse and landscape company, where they trained in everything from growing and retail sales to landscape installation, with Paula trained in design as well. Sheri and Paula opened their wholesale business with the help of Paula’s family.
“When we started back on the farm in Malta Bend, we had to dig and lay several hundred feet of pipelines to pump water from the springs by the woods along the river bluff,” they said. “That is how Springwater got its name.”
After people found out they had opened the wholesale business, it did not take long for Paula and Sheri to add landscaping to it. The retail sales began when their neighbors and friends started leaving money for plants on the counter while Paula and Sheri were out making deliveries or landscaping.
When asked how their backgrounds and past experiences helped them in this venture, Sheri and Paula said they worked at a greenhouse and attended college. However, their greatest learning came from hands-on experience and talented people training them in their early years.
“Nothing prepares you for handling the day to day like being in the middle of it all,” they said. “We learned customer service skills. We learned to teach customers and employees how to care for plants in their landscapes.”
Springwater has grown since its start on the family farm. In 2009, Paula and Sheri purchased land in Marshall, Missouri, so they could expand their business and add retail home décor, giftware, holiday décor, and a larger cash-and-carry area for outdoor plants and hardgoods.
They said Marshall is agricultural, with some of the finest soil in the United States and agriculture production-based factories. After moving to that community, Sheri and Paula found the opening they needed to build a new store.
That took place in 2020, allowing them to expand their home décor and garden décor areas due to the demand they saw for more inventory. And the new store also resulted in a cleaner environment for the added inventory.
The business has one retail store, four large greenhouses, and two small greenhouses. Paula handles the landscaping side, which includes designing, bidding jobs, and running the landscape and maintenance crews. Sheri handles the retail side of the business — from the store to the greenhouse — which includes buying, merchandising, pricing, and inventory.
“We both try to attack the paperwork side for the business as a whole,” Paula said. “But we also have a great accountant, which is what I would tell anyone starting out — to find a great accountant.”
They said there has always been interest and excitement in their area for plants, home décor, and a service to install landscapes and decorating anything from porches and Christmas trees to events. “It is fun to help people pull off a great event or even just a great container look,” Paula and Sheri said.
During the last six to seven years, they have noticed a younger age group is interested in classes and buying houseplants and succulents, as well as trees and shrubs for their new homes. “We are in a rural area, and we have many do-it-yourself people who are used to hard work, so we do many design and cash-and-carry sales to accommodate their needs to do it themselves,” they said.
Challenges, Turning Points
For Paula and Sheri, their initial challenges were making sure they made enough to pay the bills, sourcing supplies, and all the little things. But Springwater’s biggest challenge was in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down.
“We had to pivot quickly by putting all our plants online, which allowed our customers to order online. We did delivery and no-contact pickups,” they said. “We also had to navigate the inventory shortages and shipping challenges during that time.”
Springwater has had two major turning points. The first was when Sheri and Paula purchased the land in Marshall and moved the business from the rural farm in Malta Bend to a high-traffic location on Highway 65.
They said their second turning point — surprisingly enough — was from their biggest challenge, which was the pandemic. “We did everything to bring ease to our customers from a live commercial in March 2020 to announce what our changes were going to be, so they could continue shopping and continue home projects. We set up call-in and online orders, paying by phone or via email, and curbside pickups and loading so they never had to get out of their cars if they didn’t want to. We also delivered. We did DIY designs via emails and in person when needed. We stayed open longer and set up appointments after hours for customers who needed them. And we found financially, like most any business in the nursery industry, sales reflected the need people were feeling to help themselves by gardening, working on their homes, and having the time to finally landscape their homes,” they said.
A Diversified Business
Springwater’s current offerings fit a wide variety of categories. Annual flowers, perennials, trees, shrubs, and landscape materials have been their focus since the beginning. Moving to Marshall in 2009 allowed them to add home décor, garden gifts, pottery, seasonal items, a clothing boutique, and — most recently — food lines.
Paula and Sheri said adding the garden gift and pottery products was second nature because of their greenhouse backgrounds.
“We decided to add some seasonal home décor with fall first and then about 12 years ago, made the jump into Christmas. We started to grow after adding fall into the mix. We were trying to add product lines that supplied our community with options that they couldn’t find anywhere locally. So, our product is always changing with trends and what our community and customers need,” they said.
The large, eclectic mix of products makes it difficult to pinpoint one thing that sells better than another. On the greenhouse side, unusual houseplants and succulents have been a hot trend for several years. Landscaping is still a huge segment of what they do, from in-house design and installation to their knowledgeable employees helping DIYers.
For their inside store, the food additions have been popular the last couple of years, including Wine-a-Rita mixes, Wind & Willow, and locally sourced honey and freeze-dried candies. “Probably our biggest swing this year has been in our boutique,” they said. “We have doubled our sales by adding Bogg Bags and accessories.”
Springwater offers such services as in-house landscape design and installation; delivery of bulk materials like rock and mulch; landscape maintenance; custom front porch plantings and decorations for various seasons; and custom floral arrangements.
Classes and unique events are also offered at Springwater. “Our classes range from customers creating their own wreaths to planting their own annual pots. We use our classroom to host classes for others to share their expertise, like paint classes and charcuterie classes. We do private classes. We hold our annual Spring Open House, Fall Open House, Mumaplooza, and Christmas Extravaganza,” they said.
Springwater does not currently have an online store but is planning a small one in 2024 and building from there.
A Loyal Customer Base
Paula and Sheri said they try to greet customers by their names as often as possible and get to know them. “Paula is really big on listening to the customers and finding out what their wants and needs are, so their shopping experience can be the best possible,” Sheri said.
They described their employees as an excellent group of people who are concerned about the business and customers.
Springwater has a loyal customer base that has stayed with them through the years, including the family members and friends who started with them back on the farm. After they moved the business to Marshall in 2009, Paula and Sheri spent time creating a shopping destination to draw people from out of town and thus expand their customer base.
And it worked. On many weekends, about 50% of their customers drive from at least 30 minutes away.
The customers look forward to seeing what Paula, Sheri, and their staff do to change the business from season to season — both inside and outside of the store. Visitors often remark on how beautiful and amazing it looks.
People seek inspiration and customer service when they visit Springwater. Sheri and Paula frequently hear such comments as, “This was worth the drive. Thank you for being in Marshall. I like to stop and look at the landscapes you’ve done. I love coming here for decorating inspiration. I get such good advice when I come here.”
They believe their store is successful because of their commitment to their employees. “This commitment to our employees helps them to make every project, whether landscaping, floral arrangement, or customer potting, unique and beautiful to each customer. We try to listen to what our customers want or need (different class, new product). We are committed to putting our customers first,” Paula and Sheri said.
What sets Springwater apart from other businesses? Sheri and Paula said it is their knowledgeable employees who put customers first and care about how they represent Springwater, offering a little something for everyone, and being a place to find a gift for any occasion, especially at the last minute. “We are in a rural community, so you would have to drive 30 minutes to find another store, outside of a big-box store, with a selection as large as ours,” they said.
Marketing, Connections, and More
Springwater’s marketing strategies include Facebook and Instagram, with a nice following in the community. They run Facebook ads, work with a couple local radio stations, and usually do live broadcasts during their annual, main events. “We recently implemented a live, weekly video on our Facebook page that our customers look forward to watching,” they said.
Paula and Sheri are members of the Marshall Chamber of Commerce. They participate in community events, sponsor events, and are active with local schools, 4-H clubs, and other civic organizations.
“We are a small, women-owned business in a rural area. We have embraced the community and our local customers by making their shopping an experience,” they said. “We look forward to meeting new customers, making them feel welcome, and making sure they have a great time while they’re here.”
Their advice to those who have recently opened a store is “to always be looking for employees who are as committed to your vision as you are. Get to know your customers because they can sometimes be the best gauge of how you are doing, what is popular, and what the next direction or new thing is for your store. And get a great accountant who isn’t afraid to have a hard conversation with you and celebrate when the changes you make pay off.”
And what do Sheri and Paula like best about what they do? “We enjoy the people and helping them to achieve their goals, solve their problems, find the perfect gift, and sometimes just answering questions,” they said. “Making people happy is a big one. And being passionate about what you do.”
Facts at a Glance
Business Name: Springwater Greenhouse & Landscaping
Location: 1340 N. Highway 65, Marshall, MO 65340
Email: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
Employees: 10 full time in the off-season; 25 when things are in full swing.
Size: About 4 acres.
Trade Shows Attended: Atlanta Gift Market, Dallas Gift Market, Las Vegas Gift Market, IGC Tradeshow, Cultivate
Product Categories: Plants (annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees), garden gifts, home décor, food, clothing boutique, landscaping hardgoods, pottery, seasonal gifts
Social Media: Website, Facebook, Instagram
POS System: Square