by Cori Hilsgen
Tom and Ellen Woods, owners of Woods Farmer Seed and Nursery, are hearing a lot of comments from customers as they walk into their new location in Waite Park.
“Everybody that has come in so far, their first expression is ‘wow’,” Tom said.
“They walk in the door and go ‘wow’ and that is what we want,” Ellen said. “We get comments like ‘nice place,’ ‘very nice set-up,’ ‘It’s so bright and cheerful,’ and others.”
The new store, which opened Feb. 26, includes a larger 55,000 square-foot building with attached greenhouse, more outside space and parking space.
“As gardeners, we love the itch to get out in the dirt,” Tom said. “As soon as that snow starts flying in the winter months, people are climbing the walls because they can’t get out into their gardens and get their hands dirty soon enough. When you walk in here you hear the water fountains and a bird song playing in our showroom. It gives you a sense of spring at Woods Farmer Seed & Nursery.”
The couple, who has lived in St. Joseph for 39 years, is happy with their new location and said it feels like home.
“We wanted to design it so it’s easier for the customers, but also for us,” Tom said. “The old location was lacking in space for parking, the greenhouse and outside space. This new location is going to give us all of that and more. The attached greenhouse will allow us to do more things sooner and longer into the season itself.”
“Once we were in the new home, it felt so good,” Ellen said.
“It was sad to leave that location, but now once we are in our new home, it feels so good,” Tom said. “Occasionally, going back to the old store, it was hard looking at the future of what we have now, where we’ve been, what we had to do at the old location and that we just had to make it work, but this new location is going to be so much more exciting and easier for the customers, and that is what we want them to experience.”
Their nursery business has been in the St. Cloud area for more than 55 years. Tom Woods, 59, began working there part-time in 1973 while he was attending vocational school studying to learn the electrician trade.
Upon graduation, he worked for an electrical contractor for one year, but because of very high interest rates in the 1970s, people were being laid off and there were fewer jobs in that field.
“At that point I turned back to my part-time job with gardening and I just fell in love with the business itself,” Tom said.
Ellen, 58, operated a daycare out of their home in Pleasant Acres for 18 years while their children were growing up and also worked several other jobs, including fast food, factory work and cashiering.
In 2006, they purchased the business and Ellen began working there. Tom said his wife is a fast learner and absorbed so much in their first years of owning the business.
“What she had to learn the first year or two, I had learned much of it in 30 years,” he said.
In fall 2013, because of upcoming city water and sewer work, and road construction around their business, the Woodses needed to decide if they would stay at the Division Street location or if they would relocate. At the time, they leased the 30,000 square-foot building from which they operated the business.
They soon realized the construction would make it difficult for customers to get to their business, to find parking and it could even possibly put them out of business.
The couple reviewed their situation. They had the property appraised, studied their finances, sought business advice and tried to negotiate a purchase price on the Division Street location.
“We looked at each other and agreed that we were having too much fun to stop,” Tom said.
In the end, they made the decision to relocate. Because of the business’s long-term reputation in the area, they wanted the new location to be close to their current one.
The Woodses found the Waite Park property and broke ground on their new store at the end of August last year.
Tom said when they announced they were moving and building, many of their customers said they were thankful the Woods were putting money into the economy by building something new and keeping construction workers employed. He said many of them said they knew a family member, friend or relative who was working on the new store.
“It was a nice feeling that we were doing something good for the community,” Tom said.
Once they decided to relocate, they planned their move. Much of their product is seasonal, so the Woodses were able to pack away displays at the end of each season in a rented semitrailer so it was ready for their move to the new store. They were also fortunate to be able to ship spring orders directly to their new location.
January and February are usually their slowest months, so they chose that time to open the new store.
The couple is grateful for all the help they received from their employees, family, friends and other volunteers who helped them move their business.
“A lot of family and friends were here getting everything moved over here and packing up the old store,” Ellen said. “It was amazing how many volunteers we actually had to help make the transition as smooth as it was.”
The couple said one full-time employee, Ron Kruckeberg, has worked with the business for 25 years and has been a huge asset to the business. Kruckeberg works with landscaping design and installation and sets up many of the store displays.
All of the couple’s four children are involved with the business. Melissa Theisen, 36, is married to Adam and they have two children – Andrew, 15, and Valerie, 8. Eric, 33, is married to Amber (Pfannenstein). Megan, 28, has one daughter – Bailey, 8. And Morgan Franzwa, 24, is married to Jordan.
Eric and Morgan work more seasonal full-time hours, while Melissa and Megan help out when they can when they are needed.
Franzwa said experiencing the move with her parents was a fun and amazing experience.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she said.
Tom said while their children were growing up, they showed very little interest in gardening, but when they purchased the store, it became a perfect fit for their family. He believes there is a good, strong possibility their children will take over the business when he and Ellen decide to retire.
The Woodses are gearing up for spring and have expanded some product lines.
“At this time, we don’t want to expand too fast,” Ellen said. “One thing at a time.”
They said it’s hard to know what products will sell each season because weather controls much of what they sell.
“In a wet season we won’t sell many bird baths, but in a dry season we sell a lot of bird baths,” Tom noted.
“If it’s dry, you are going to sell hoses and sprinklers, and if it’s wet you aren’t going to,” Ellen added.
The Woodses pride themselves on offering customers knowledge of plants and products and believe the quality of their products stands out.
“Customers pay for products and knowledge and we pride ourselves on quality,” Ellen said. “We have always done that. If it isn’t the right quality, we send it back to the supplier.”
They warranty many products such as trees and shrubs. Ellen said customers might pay a little more, but they get a warranty on the products.
The Woodses employ about 15 people at the height of their season. Many of them are family, so Tom said it can sometimes be difficult to gather together for holidays and time off.
Woods Farmer Seed and Nursery is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday and Friday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. They are planning to have longer spring hours. For more information, call 320-252-5234.