KENT — In spite of the world in which we now cope with the corona virus and what it has done to our lives, certain things continue to follow a path of normalcy. For example: gardens and gardening. Plants continue to thrive and lawns and gardens still need to be tended. In fact, there seems to be a renewed and expanded interest in all things regarding to nature. Families have started growing vegetables; flower seeds are flying off the shelves. Gardening offers not only an amazing finished product but it gives people a chance to feel creative and useful during a time when so many are isolated. Outdoors in the sunshine, communing with nature.
So it seems like an advantageous time for two giants in the landscaping business to join forces. Hoffman Landscapes in Wilton, one of the premier garden centers in Fairfield County, has purchased Kent Greenhouse & Gardens, one of the preeminent garden and landscaping services in Litchfield County. Together they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Both companies have been in business for over 30 years and are still owned and maintained by their original founders: Mike Hoffman of the eponymous business and Bruce Bennett of Kent Greenhouse & Gardens.
“I started a business in 1987 as a way to put myself through college,” explains Hoffman. “Landscaping was a great way to do this. It started out as a tree business. I was young and able to climb trees and remove limbs. All I had was a Toyota Corolla and a chainsaw.”
Hoffman spent his time away from school growing his business. While others were going to Florida on spring break, he was doing spring cleanup. While working at the Village Market in Wilton, the manager had a small landscaping business on the side. He hired Hoffman to do some tree work and gradually he segued into landscaping.
“Trimming trees can be challenging and I decided I wanted to keep my feet on the ground. I worked with my dad doing landscaping around our house, so I had a little background.”
From that “little background” Hoffman has grown his business into one that has over 160 employees and several businesses within the business.
“The market for landscaping was a lot less sophisticated when I started out,” says Hoffman. “There are many more interesting landscape architects, and potential clients know a lot more as well. This business has evolved to the point where we have businesses within the main business.” I am a licensed pool builder, for example. We have an irrigation contractor, turf grass workers. We have an expert for each part of the company.”
In addition to offering a variety of services including landscaping, professional garden design, and irrigation Hoffman Landscapes can also install outdoor fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, stone walls, and other features to make outdoor living a pleasure. They can even build a swimming pool.
Hoffman’s business has been growing at a rate of 15 percent a year in its present situation. Over the years he has considered expanding and perhaps joining forces with another gardening outlet.
“We’ve looked at so many and didn’t find the right match. But when the opportunity with Kent Greenhouse arose it was a super match, not just geographically. We already had a presence in Litchfield County but we were servicing out of Wilton, which is quite a stretch. The greatest opportunity that the Kent operation hasn’t fully leveraged is maintenance and that is one of our strong suits. Once we met the people, it was sealed. The closing was in February so we’ve working with them for a while now and it couldn’t be better. There are two talented designers there and each has their own style. Bringing in new people changes the mix and that’s always refreshing.”
There is one aspect of Kent Greenhouse’s organization that differs from Hoffman’s: retail. Its gift shop does a thriving business with its seasonal garden-related items and its home décor offerings. It is what makes this establishment unique among other landscape businesses.
Hoffman says “I’ve spent my entire career saying I wouldn’t do retail. But then I met the people at Kent, saw the business and the traffic. Now I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about retail. Their operation is amazing.”
The merger will now offer a total of seven designers, including two in Wilton and two in Kent, who design complete landscapes.
While both Hoffman and Bennett have similar outlooks and philosophies about the landscape business, there will be an initiative on the maintenance side.
“That’s the fastest growing part of our business,” says Hoffman. “Instead of running to several different people for services we can be the one place to go that handles everything from weekly maintenance to spring and fall cleanup; a lawn care program by a licensed arborist; supplying someone who will bring the furniture out in the spring and put it away at the end of the season. One person puts together a whole proposal, like a menu created especially for each customer. The level of quality we can supply is not the same as other companies can offer.”
Bruce Bennett and his wife Debbie have been interested in plants and biology since there were high school sweethearts and for 48 years invested their time, energy, and talent into creating Kent Greenhouse & Gardens.
“We got involved in organic gardening even before we were married,” explains Bennett. “Then we discovered wildflowers and other aspects of trees and nature. It became out passion.”
Two years after graduating from college, the Bennetts learned that a small greenhouse n Kent was up for rent at the amazing fee of $35 per month.
“We had $600 our parents had given us for a wedding and used it as seed money to start buying plants,” Bennett recalls. “I started doing some landscaping on the side to make extra money and eventually were able to buy the building where the business is now located.”
Five years ago Debbie Bennett retired; her husband called it quitting.
“Then she fell off a horse and broke her neck,” says Bennett. “That really took her out of the equation, so I took on all the responsibility — the landscaping and the garden store business. The level of stress kept building and the business kept growing. At some point the people who ran the business side left and I really did not want to take that on as well.
We were having a great year and I thought it was time for me to leave as well.
I contacted Mike and told him that I had two things: my people went with the business and that he would maintain the Kent Greenhouse name — at least for awhile. He agreed to both and that sealed the deal.”
Thus far the merger has been seamless. It’s clear that Hoffman will retain and maintain the principles Bennett set forth in his business, and at the same time will bring both businesses to new heights and continue to serve their customers well.
And the Bennetts? The two trips they had planned have been canceled due to the corona virus. So, instead they bought a camper and will spend their time seeing the USA.