Tips from the Top: Rick Christensen, Teufel Nursery

Rick Christensen, Teufel Nursery’s Landscape Division Manager

Soon after Rick Christensen started work as a salesman for Teufel Nursery 30 years ago, the company decided to deepen its gardening roots and grow into landscaping. Christensen was the first employee for the operation.

Christensen‘s tenure as landscape division manager is just one example of many consistencies and traditions in the company’s history. Since 1890, founder Gustav Teufel, a gardener, ran his nation-wide provider of nursery stock in a sustainably-minded way that was years before its time. And the current staff wants to keep it that way.

We’ve always been a sustainably-minded company. It’s part of the tagline in our logo, “Environmental solutions since 1890.” It really has been one of our founding beliefs.

Don’t wait for regulations to make changes. If you can figure out what changes are coming, you should be making voluntary changes just to do the right thing. Teufel Nursery, probably 40 or 50 years before it became a regulation, had already made the decision to capture all of our runoff water from our nursery and re-circulate it to use for irrigation water on our production nurseries. For decades, we’ve also been collecting all of the organic yard debris that we generate and bring it back to our facility and compost it and reuse it as a soil amendment back on our jobs. That was long before it ever became regulated, and long before the municipal composting facilities that there are now existed. We’ve just always done that because it was the right thing to do.

There are things that are coming now, like noise regulations and pollution from two-cycle equipment. I always say, why as an industry do we wait to be regulated? We can make those changes now.

When we started doing landscape in the early 1980s, because we were a wholesale nursery and we provided horticultural supplies, we had to be careful that we weren’t competing with our own customers. So, we took on only the very largest, most complex projects for landscape construction. A lot of the work we did early on was government work. Since that time, we’ve done a lot of private sector work, we have taken on commercial landscape maintenance, and broadened even further to custom residential work. You really cannot be in just one single line of business. It’s just smart to diversify.

Bankruptcy was a very painful time, and I think that the one take-away from that is don’t have one single lender. That’s the mistake that smarts the most. In our case, our longtime lender, Textron Financial, made the decision in 2009 to get out of the lending business, and in a matter of days they called our note and we had no choice but to file a Chapter 11 for protection from our own lender. It was a hard decision, but a lot of businesses were faced with those decisions back then.

There really is a significant difference from a family operation to a large corporate or a publicly held business, and that is a tremendous amount of pride. Every business has to have profit, but for us, reputation is even more important. Larry Teufel, our current president, understands that reputation isn’t something you can buy – you have to earn it. It takes a lot to build up. The reputation that we have has been from generations, and that’s not something you take lightly. I like that very much about a family-run business – the pride of ownership and the importance of reputation. It’s not just strictly about bottom-line profit.

The service that we provide is not rocket science, but we do want to be the best in the industry. We’re always looking to improve what we do and we’re looking to invest in our employees so they can always have the most up-to-date knowledge. We are always looking for a better way to do what we do.