Design with deep roots

Design with deep roots

Barnes Nursery transitioned out of its wholesale nursery and is growing its retail design/build presence, while continuing its organics initiative.

July 18, 2014
Kristen Hampshire

The piazza centerpiece of the lifestyle center Crocker Park in Westlake, Ohio, is a green, growing focal point of the development’s retail and restaurant district. The space is bustling with people taking in a warm day (after a frigid winter). Barnes Nursery is the design/build firm behind the lush landscape at the popular shopping and dining destination, and this year the Huron, Ohio-based firm is creating seasonal feature gardens that showcase a division of the 64-year old family owned business that is gaining traction.
It’s eye candy plus marketing — it’s experiential for visitors and good exposure for Barnes Nursery’s design/build division.
“We have somewhat rebranded our name and our partnership to focus on the design/build aspect of our business,” says Jarret Barnes, vice president.

Essentially, the company is seizing more opportunity in this market after a sleepy economy, at best. Even the $5,000 and $10,000 jobs are back (“We haven’t seen that in a long time,” he says), and larger retail accounts such as Crocker Park present opportunity to grow this division of the full-service business, which includes maintenance, lawn care and bulk materials including compost and specialty soils.

For Barnes Nursery, a series of “good runs” in the business was challenged by the recession, when new construction in the Lake Erie communities it services virtually came to a halt. The 300-acre parcel of land the family has owned for three generations was chock full of plants: shrubs, trees of all sizes, including 6- to 8-inch caliper specimens, that had no where to go. “There haven’t really been any large-scale commercial projects — but that is starting to happen again now,” Barnes says, hopeful.

Today, design/build at Barnes Nursery complements the company’s eight other divisions — a full-service approach because, Barnes says, “Our clients want a one-stop shop: install my yard, cut my grass, maintain it, maintain my plants…”

Meanwhile, the company has evolved from a nursery of heirloom roses with a national reputation, founded in 1950 by Barnes’ grandfather and great uncle, into a significant wholesale player with a team of 250-plus employees during the 2001-2003 heyday, to a firm focused more intently on design/build opportunities. Harold and Jeanne Barnes started their nursery with 11,000 rose bushes, expanding over the years into landscaping when their son Bob graduated from The Ohio State University with a horticulture degree. Bob and Sharon’s children, Jarret and Julie Barnes Foster, carry on the tradition.

There has been a lot of change over the years, but what has remained the same is the Barnes name and reputation. “We have always surrounded ourselves with talented professionals, and the core, the structure of the business is here,” Foster says.

Creative solutions.

To capture more design/build business, Barnes has extended its footprint about 30 miles south, west and east of its home base (north is Lake Erie). Barnes knows the sweet spot, and that’s not too far into Cleveland’s suburbs. Crocker Park in Westlake, for example, is just 40 minutes from Barnes Nursery. But selling a job in Willoughby, an east-side suburb, would mean traveling an hour plus.

“We can be more competitive when we watch the travel time,” Barnes says simply.

With building and enhancements picking up in the region, the design/build division is receiving a healthy amount of work and Barnes is optimistic that this year is the comeback they’ve been anticipating.

And following a tough winter that took a toll on plants, Barnes expects to hear from homeowners who need to replace damaged beds. “I think it will be a strong year from a retail perspective,” Foster says.
Beyond design/build, Barnes has continued to evolve its licensed compost operation, which Sharon Barnes launched in 1991. Barnes Composting is part of Ohio’s infrastructure to divert food scraps from the waste stream. They accept food scraps from grocery stores, resorts and restaurants, and implemented Ohio’s first curbside residential food scrap recycling program in Huron.

“We compost food waste, green waste and run a wholesale retail division for blended soils and decorative stone products,” Barnes says.
Foster adds that the growth potential for organics is significant. “It has captured the public’s interest, and we do a lot of tours for groups that come in and want to learn more about the process,” she says.
The rich material is incorporated into special “athletic” soil blends used for sports fields. “The bar is being raised with the quality of fields, whereas years ago a client wanted 300 years of topsoil, now the technology has reached a level that those soils are specially engineered,” Barnes explains, noting that the company may blend special varieties for soccer, baseball and other athletic environments.
Meanwhile, maintenance and lawn care at Barnes continues to be a recurring revenue mainstay. It’s a competitive part of the industry, Barnes says, but the company has stayed involved because of its consistency.
Now the Barnes family is looking forward to their next “run” after refocusing on design/build, continued growth of organics and streamlining wholesale. “We have a strong past here,” Foster says, reiterating that the core of the business has never wavered. “The Barnes name is here — and that is a good feeling.”