by Enrico Villamaino
Taking over the family business is usually the result of years of planning and preparation. One generation serves an apprenticeship to the one that came before it, with the tacit understanding that the years of training and service will culminate in a passing of the torch. The fact that the son will follow the father is never called into question.
And then there’s Scott Longfellow.
Longfellow was unrestricted by any such expectations. He pursued his interests, conducted years of study and followed his passion to work in a field that he found rewarding. By a happy chance, it just happened to be in the field in which his father owned a successful business.
Longfellow is a native of Manchester, Maine. His father Lawrence first opened Longfellow’s Greenhouses in 1977. Located in Manchester, the business has thrived and expanded through the years as it passed from one generation to the next.
“It was never expected that I had to take over the family business,” Longfellow explained. “I was just drawn to what interested me. I went to the University of Maine in Orono, and I graduated with a degree in plant sciences.” Longfellow took over the family business in 1987 and currently oversees its operations with his wife Sandra, also born and bred in the Pine Tree State.
Longfellow’s Greenhouses has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding. Originally situated on two acres, the business has expanded, and continues to expand, in both size and what it offers to its customers. From the 12 original greenhouses, Longfellow’s has grown to a much larger, state-of-the-art facility featuring 21 greenhouses. “We produce 40,000 geraniums, 22,000 fall mums, 15,000 flowering hanging baskets, 75,000 perennials and 25,000 poinsettias annually. We also stock over 800 varieties of perennials, most grown right in our own greenhouses; 200 varieties of herbs and scented geraniums, over half of which are grown on site; more than 500 varieties of trees, shrubs and vines; and an excellent selection of water garden plants. We also carry over 100 varieties of roses, many of which are especially suited to our northern climate.” He added his retail shop is filled with everything one might need to help with successful gardening, including a large selection of flowering bulbs, seeds, plant containers, baskets, tools, fountains, statuary and gifts inspired by the garden. They carry a large selection of seasonal flowering plants and foliage plants to fit any light requirements.
“Nowadays, our sales are about three-quarters retail and one-quarter wholesale,” said Longfellow. “Almost all of our products are grown on site.”
Longfellow discussed the seasonal nature of the business: “We’re busiest around the May – June time of year. We’ll start the year with 28 or so employees in January, the slow time of the year. By the busy season, we have around 90 employees.”
On site, Longfellow’s offers an ever-growing number of courses for its customers. “Our weekend courses consist of lectures, demonstrations and how-tos. They are usually themed to coincide with what’s going on during a specific time of year. To date, we’ve had courses covering succulent gardens, seed starting, terrariums, fairy gardens, Thanksgiving table arrangements, balsam wreaths and kissing balls. We actually have a lecture entirely dedicated to growing tomatoes – very popular.” If a customer is unable to attend a particular lecture, Longfellow said anyone visiting their location can always get help with whatever plant-based project they might be working on.
Longfellow’s has gone to great lengths to serve its customers electronically as well. They’ve worked with a marketing firm to build a website their customers appreciate. Featured on its website is “Tips & Topics,” offering visitors a chance to read up on the most frequently asked questions of the month as well as an online resource center, which has compiled useful information for professional and recreational grower alike from the University of Maine, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Vermont and the University of Ohio. “Our resource center contains many answers to the most commonly asked questions – information ranging from plant and flower care, soil information, pests, hardiness zones to monthly advice and seasonal information to name just a few topics,” Longfellow said.
On the website’s “Soil Calculator,” a customer can enter the size, depth and plants for a planned project and the tool lets the customer know exactly how much soil is needed. “It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation,” Longfellow said. Finally, an interactive Plant Guide allows users to enter the height, color and foliage type to learn just what plant, tree or shrub they are looking for.
Three years ago, Longfellow’s Greenhouses introduced an app for its customers and it has met with a great deal of success. “With our app, customers are eligible for special prices on select products,” Longfellow detailed. “They also have the option of scanning barcodes next to our product displays which will connect them to more in depth information about the product and its uses than we could physically display in the store.” To date, hundreds of customers have made use of the app. Longfellow hopes to expand the app’s offerings in the future. “We’re looking into using the smartphones’ GPS data to help customers locate the exact location on our property of whatever it is they might be looking for.”
An active community member, Longfellow’s Greenhouses has made itself a partner in numerous local fundraising efforts. The beneficiaries of these partnerships are most often local schools, libraries and civic organizations. “It kind of works the way that the Girl Scouts sell their cookies,” Longfellow said. “The fundraisers sell the poinsettias, geraniums or garden mums, depending on the time of year, then we fill that order, providing it to the fundraisers at cost, and they keep the profits for their causes.” In the 10 years since they’ve started these drives, both the non-profit organizations and Longfellow’s have reaped the benefits. “We now sell about half of all our poinsettias through our fundraising partnerships alone,” he boasted.
Longfellow is sanguine when he talks about the business his father started years ago. “We’ve come a long way,” Longfellow concluded, “and we’re always looking to do more.”
For more information on Longfellow’s Greenhouses, visit www.longfellowsgreenhouses.com .