by Gail March Yerke
It’s early spring 1972 and the lumbering rural school bus gradually comes to a stop at the edge of town in Janesville, WI. When the door opens a young boy scampers toward the old farmhouse recently converted into a retail garden shop. After homework he goes out to the one small hoop house, helping his dad transplant flowers as only a 10-year-old can.
Those first five acres on the edge of town were the humble beginnings of K&W Greenery. Over the years as the city of Janesville expanded around them, that corner location became the anchor for today’s 10-acre site, now one of southeastern Wisconsin’s premier garden centers.
Chris Williams recalls helping his parents in those early days and today manages the family’s growing operation with two acres of greenhouses. “Our year-round staff of 25 bumps up to about 60 in the spring season,” he said. His younger sister Jordan Graffin manages retail sales and is responsible for their marketing program. Their parents Bill and Phyllis Williams are also involved in the 47-year-old family owned and operated business.
In the main greenhouse you are greeted by ever-changing colorful displays of garden florals and gifts along with decorative pottery and garden accents. They offer an extensive collection of tropical florals and green plants besides seasonal color. “Our bread and butter are the annuals and perennials that we grow ourselves,” Chris Williams said. “We grow 700 – 800 varieties of annual flowers each year and just as many perennial varieties.” Over 6,000 floral hanging baskets are raised each spring along with hundreds of floral patio planters. The most popular floral hanging gardens are “definitely the mixed color Calibrachoa baskets,” Williams said. “We always seem to sell through on them.” The size of hanging baskets range from 11-inch to 18-inch diameter baskets. He indicated that by far their customers prefer the mixed color floral designs.
Besides the Janesville retail center, the Williams family operates a small farm raising nursery stock, roses and ornamental grasses. A 10,000-square foot greenhouse there includes their new rose production program. “The landscape and nursery division of our business represents about 25% of sales,” added Williams. The company’s professional design/build landscape division promises yards of natural beauty and custom stonework and takes pride in the fact that Wisconsin’s first Certified Landscape Technician came from K&W Greenery.
Open year-round and offering the product mix of many Midwestern garden centers, it’s what they do differently that has made K&W Greenery the success it is today. “For us to be a success we need to offer our customers a good experience and present it in a way that is not the same each year,” Williams explained. “Our educational classes each spring and summer draw over 200 attendees to each session.” A passport introduced at the beginning of the spring series offers a $20 gift certificate to customers attending six of the seven educational programs. Some of this year’s topics included “New Varieties,” “Tomato Growing Success,” “Composting 101,” “New Bugs in Town” and a presentation by the local wildlife rehabilitation center.
Speakers are brought in for a few topics but most presentations are done by staff experts.
In charge of the retail center and company advertising, Graffin said, “About 80% of the customers attend at least six of these classes and get the gift certificate. It’s some of the easiest and most effective marketing we do.” In addition to their social media campaigns on Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube, Graffin hosts an hour-long Saturday morning call-in radio show.
Grateful for their continued business success, the Williams family believes in giving back to their community. Each year they partner with several local non-profit groups, and Chris Williams has served as vice president of the Commercial Flower Growers of Wisconsin the past 11 years. K&W Greenery believes in growing the best for their customers’ gardens, and with over 200,000 customer visits per year it seems their success continues to grow.