In 1965, Ron Nelson found himself in a bit of a predicament at his wholesale plant growing facility. He had an overabundance of geraniums that needed homes.
When he took out a newspaper ad to try to sell the flowers, he wasn’t exactly envisioning starting a retail business. Yet, when many answered the ad and drove out to their part of Overland Park, which was on the outskirts in those days, he began to see the potential in opening a retail side to his business. Fifty-four years later, Family Tree Nursery now has locations in Overland Park, Shawnee and Liberty, with three generations involved in the business.
Ron first got involved in horticulture when he worked at a plant shop in high school. There was some talk of him taking over that business when he graduated, but he instead decided to go to K-State to study dentistry. Ultimately, he decided against dentistry and went back to plants, co-founding the growing facility that first yielded the extra geraniums.
As in any endeavor, there have been ups and downs throughout the years of the business. It took some time during the early years for them to begin making a profit, and the first year they were going to be profitable their whole facility burned down. This was a huge setback and energy killer for the family, but nevertheless they persisted.
Over the decades, the company eventually opened stores in Shawnee and Liberty, and they now sell a wide variety of horticulture products including lawn care products, pots and planters and even a gift shop. Ron initially ran the whole business himself, but to ensure future growth he began empowering others to help lead the company.
Today, Ron’s son, Eric, now owns the business, and his grandsons, Jonah and Jesse, are all involved. The Nelsons have additional employees who have been with the company for 15 to 30 years, some of whom are childhood friends of the Nelson brothers.
“Our grandfather and father both got the business to where it’s at, and we want to continue that legacy and tradition of what they started,” Jesse says.
The most recent addition to the business has been Café Equinox, a new coffee shop that the eldest of the brothers, Bo, has opened at the Shawnee location. It was something they had been wanting to do for years as Bo branched out of the business and started his own coffee roasting company, Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, and they had room at the facility. Jesse, Bo and Jonah all grew up experiencing food as a focal point for conversation and community thanks to the efforts of their mother, Lorrie, to make this a priority, and this café provides an outlet for just that.
As much as the company has grown, it still retains its connections to the family and their values. Jesse said when he was growing up, he and his brothers didn’t spend much time inside watching television, but they would instead play outside exploring and building forts.
“We all gained a strong appreciation for being outside, and we love hard work. It brings us a lot of fulfillment,” Jesse says.
Overall, he’s never seen the business as a job but rather sees it as just something the family does. Growing up, when they would have friends spend the night, they would all get up early and help with plants and contribute to the business. To top it off, Lorrie would always make it fun for them and make them big meals afterward.
Jesse also sees what they do as a form of modern farming.
“There is something very natural in our human DNA that we desire to grow and produce things,” Jesse says.
Jesse says the family has always been tight-knit and loves working together, adding that there is no one else he would rather partner with in business. He says their goal is to find the best products on the market with the best genetics.
The company focuses on helping customers find success with plants, discussing their needs and finding a product that fits their interest and lifestyle. Sometimes this means telling a customer they shouldn’t buy a particular product or steering them to another product that might work better for them.
Choosing the perfect indoor plant
Picking out the prefect plant for your house can be tricky, but Jesse suggests asking yourself the following questions when considering an indoor plant purchase:
What plants do you like and find interesting?
Where are you going to place the plant in your home, and how much lighting will it receive in that location?
How much time do you have to water the plant and give it attention?
What type of design and style works best for your home?