This article was originally written for and featured in Garden Center Magazine.
‘My Support System’
Ed and Margy Kopec founded Edward’s Landscaping Service Inc. in 1978, and got married the following year. The couple reflects on their nearly 40-year professional and personal partnership.
By Michelle Simakis
Garden Center: You opened your business, what is now known as Edward’s Garden Center, in 1978, and got married a year later. Did you both want to own your own business? Did you have the same vision for what that company would be?
Ed Kopec: I went to a community college for two years, and I had a little grass cutting business. The first truck I purchased cost $250, and I paid my way through school. Then I went in a partnership with a fellow, and he’s still in business today. That partnership lasted three-and-a-half years. We split the partnership up in 1978, and that’s when I went on my own. It was tough because back then, the interest rates were about 19 percent. So, to start a new business was not easy, and Margy was just getting out of college, but we made it work.
Margy Kopec: I never really expected that my life would take a turn that way. I went to college to get an accounting degree, but I never dreamed that someday I would end up owning a business with my husband. It was never in my realm of thought. But once we started dating and kind of knew that things were heading in that direction, I knew I’d someday be part of the business. It’s a lot of hard work, and we made sacrifices along the way, but it’s all worked out.
GC: What separate interests and skills do you bring to the table?
MK: Finding more things to involve children. That is the route to go, as they are our younger generation, and hopefully that will get them more interested in the Earth and all things garden.
EK: My passion is just the industry, really. I’ve always had an interest in it. I love being creative. Our garden center is more different than any garden center that I’ve ever visited. We reinvest heavily into the garden center and pick new projects each year. We built a concession stand this year. Last week, we just got done putting a sound system in. We’re always doing something different and neat, and I love the creative side of it.
GC: What specific roles do you have at the garden center?
MK: I do tours with groups of children from different schools in the area, day cares, summer camps, and that’s been very successful. We have 10 animal stations here, and at each animal station, we have popsicle sticks. They’re numbered 1 through 10. I talk a bit about the animals, [explaining] what the animals eat and where they go in the winter. One of our employees who is in charge of animals will be with me at the time, and she will bring them out for children to see and pet. At each stop, children will collect a stick that they count along the way, and at the end we provide all of the children with a goodie bag. We didn’t charge when we started doing the tours, and then two years ago we decided, just to cover our costs a little bit, that we would charge a nominal fee.
We try to make it about the kids at our garden center, and that’s worked out very well for us. We have customers who come in with their children repeatedly just because the kids love to come. In the school groups we’ve had through, some of them have [included] children who are underprivileged. I always ask, “How many of you have been here before?” Our findings have been that a lot of kids maybe don’t get the opportunity to come to a garden center with their families, so they really enjoy the time they spend here.
GC: What about you, Ed?
EK: I love what I do. I have had the good fortune of surrounding myself with an incredibly talented team. They are dedicated to making Edward’s Garden Center a true destination.
GC: More than 90 percent of independent garden centers are family-owned. What advice do you have for other husband-wife teams for successfully working together?
EK: We’ve got a great relationship. I never bring problems home. I leave them at work. We share stories about the business but really only positive things. We leave the negatives out. If I have a lousy day, I want to forget about it, so I throw it over my shoulder, and that’s the end of it. That’s been beneficial.
MK: I think being a support system for one another. Just being there for each other. We’ve always gotten along very well otherwise and carried it through the business, as well.
GC: How do you separate home and work life?
EK: We never missed any of our children’s school activities, never missed their sporting events. I would just work that into my schedule. Maybe I’d have to go back later at night to catch up on what I missed during the day. And I am always home for dinner.
MK: We always made time for family. That’s really most important. Everything else comes second. But that has seemed to work out best for us.
EK:The business revolved around the family.
GC: What have been your greatest challenges?
EK: In 2007, Margy and I decided to expand both the garden center and the landscaping business, and I brought a consultant in for about seven months with the plan of taking the business to the next level. We invested about a quarter of a million dollars in both the garden center and the landscaping business, buying equipment. Timing was bad because the economy crashed. It was tough. But we just sold some trucks off, our estimators ended up leaving for one reason or another, and I basically scaled back because of the way things were. When I scaled back, I liked it. The garden center was growing, the wholesale business was growing, and getting up in age, it was more comfortable being a little bit smaller in size. When I scaled back to six or seven employees on the landscaping business, I was able to cherry pick the work that we were doing and take better jobs, and that’s been very beneficial.
GC: How has your company evolved?
EK: I went on my own [in 1978] and started just the landscaping maintenance side of the business. Margy and I purchased a property in 1983, which has terrific highway exposure, and people would drive in to our site and want to buy trees and plants that I had set aside for landscapes. I said, “I have to be crazy. It’s a lot easier to put the shrub in the back of their car and get paid and have them drive away.” So that’s when the idea for a garden center came to mind. In 1993/1994, when we opened the garden center, our name changed to Edward’s Garden Center (DBA), but we’re still Edward’s Landscaping Service.
On the wholesale side, we mostly sold contractors aggregates and mulch. There was a wholesale seed supplier that was a half mile from us. All landscapers bought seed and fertilizer from them and topsoil/mulch from us. About four years ago, that business went out of business, and we saw an opportunity, so we built a warehouse. And everything they used to sell to contractors, we now sell to them. It’s an excellent business, and it really complements the garden center. We might have a slower day at the garden center and a terrific day wholesale, and vice versa.
GC: What’s been the most successful recent initiative for you?
EK: About four years ago, we started a program called “We plan, You plant.” We noticed that when people would come into the garden center, they were just puzzled by the amount of plants and trees and didn’t know where to start — that kind of spurred this on. A homeowner will bring in pictures of an area that they want to have landscaped as well as a very rough measurement, and we walk them through the garden center to get a feel for what their tastes are, and then we draw a design up. If they spend $500 or more on retail plant material, we deliver the plants and set them up exactly the way they should be to be planted. This year to date, we did $108,000 in the We Plan, You Plant service. In 2016, we did $60,000.
GC: What’s the best part about working with your partner?
EK: Margy has been my rock. She’s my support system.
MK: Over the years, I have learned to trust Ed with all of his business decisions. Everything he’s ever done, he’s always put a lot of thought into things before actually jumping on the ideas. Of the two of us, I’m certainly more cautious and conservative, and he always wants to go ahead with the ideas. Maybe I’m a little bit more grounded, but at the same time, I’m willing to take chances because I know we’ve never been steered wrong. Ed’s got a good business head.
EK: I think it’s balance. We balance each other out.
MK: I’d say we complement each other.