by Sally Colby
Sneed’s Nursery is a whimsical, magical place to visit year-round, but for the holiday season, the Sneed’s team transforms the Richmond, VA, business into a wonderland for the senses.
The Sneed name has strong roots in the community. The first business was Sneed’s General Store, established in 1933 adjacent to where Sneed’s Nursery is today by the grandparents of two young men in the family who wanted to start a landscaping business.
Those young men, Bob Sneed and his brother Tommy, had barely enough funds to start a business, but were supported by their family, including grandmother Tooie Sneed, who was an avid gardener and wanted to see the beauty of the family property preserved.
In 1975, the Sneed brothers started their business with bare bones equipment: a truck and a shovel. They brought a load of Christmas trees to the property to sell, and with the profits purchased enough poles to start construction of a slat house for nursery stock. With the help of family and the proceeds from a landscaping job the following spring, they completed the slat house and began their business venture. Their original business name was The Family Tree, a name that reflected the dreams of two brothers and their grandmother. Over time, as the business grew and expanded to offer other products and services, The Family Tree became Sneed’s Nursery and Garden Center.
Today, Sneed’s includes a garden center, a flower shop, a landscape department and an online store. Sneed’s has unique offerings in all departments along with creative, knowledgeable staff who ensure customers can choose from interesting and unique selections throughout the year.
When the growing season starts in spring, customers stop in for annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetable starts, and can also select small fruits, trees, shrubs and groundcovers. Knowledgeable employees guide customers and help them select the best plants for their location and lifestyle. “We also have a small-space vegetable garden here,” said garden center manager Jenny Jenkins-Rash. “Customers can get ideas that way.”
A popular service of the garden center is the “we plan, you plant” service, designed to match customers with a Sneed’s employee who can help select the right plants for a customer’s style and landscape. Many customers bring empty pots to Sneed’s and work with staff to select the most appropriate plants for those pots. Workshops and seminars held throughout the year help inspire gardeners and entice them to return to purchase plants in season.
The landscape department at Sneed’s has grown from a simple dream to a design and build company. The process begins with professional designers who work with customers to discuss and plan the design, and continues as crews implement the design during the installation. The landscape department also provides services such as irrigation, drainage, retaining walls, outdoor kitchens and patios. As with other aspects of their business, Sneed’s puts strong emphasis on individuality and working with each customer’s unique needs to complete a vision.
Sneed’s strives to share their goal of sustainable gardening practices with both customers and the community. In 2008, Sneed’s made a conscious decision to stop using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and also removed those products from garden center shelves as part of an effort to help prevent runoff from entering the nearby James River and the Chesapeake Bay.
In keeping with Sneed brothers’ tradition, Christmas trees arrive and customers from throughout the area come to select the right tree. Jenkins-Rash said trees are sourced from different farms and arrive in several deliveries at the beginning of the season to ensure an ample supply. “Because of the shortage of smaller trees, we don’t want to run out,” she said. “Trees are all graded and set up in the lot by size.” Trees are organized by size at the time of unloading, which Jenkins-Rash says helps the staff work more efficiently as they arrange trees for sale.
Sneed’s has paid attention to customer needs and offers extra services. “One popular service is for homeowners who want us to deliver the tree to their home and set up the tree on the stand,” said Jenkins-Rash. “We add more to the delivery fee, and people are willing to pay it because it eliminates that headache for them.”
About five years ago, Sneed’s initiated a holiday preview party event. “We start getting ready for that in October,” Jenkins-Rash said. “It’s a festive party after hours for our customers. We use our email list and Facebook to let people know about it, and customers can come and see everything that’s new and fresh for the holidays. People have a great time.”
The holiday preview party transforms the cottage, one of the main buildings among several on the property, into a creative, inviting atmosphere that helps customers see the possibilities of using decorations for their homes. Items in the cottage are arranged in a way that makes them look unique – there are no rows of poinsettias or ornaments that all look the same. Jenkins-Rash said that transitions to a different season, including Christmas, don’t happen suddenly – changes are made over about a month’s time.
Customers entering the cottage at Sneed’s during the Christmas season aren’t greeted with an array of red and green. Instead, they’re greeted with an eclectic selection of items, each one carefully selected and presented. Jenkins-Rash is careful to make sure customers see new ornaments every year as well as traditional favorites. Interior lighting and appropriate music add to the holiday atmosphere. Ornaments are displayed throughout the store: from the ceiling, placed creatively on tables and hung on small, open trees that allow the entire ornament to be seen. Although the cottage includes plenty of gold and silver, these elements are used tastefully and combined with more traditional items. Customers enjoy browsing and selecting from among the many unique gift items.
In addition to Christmas trees, Sneed’s seasonal greenery includes wreaths. Two wreath stations allow ample space for custom decorating handmade wreaths brought in from a local wreath maker. “People bring their orders in before Thanksgiving,” said Jenkins-Rash. “We’re usually booked out a couple of weeks.”
Visit Sneed’s Nursery online at www.sneedsnursery.com.