Greenhouses are a place where things grow. Trees. Plants. Flowers. And for Jeff Webeler and his sons, a business and a legacy that they hope will sustain their family for generations.
Webeler started the legacy when he began working at White Oak Nursery in 1978 and purchased the business shortly after. For more than 20 years, he had an eye to expand.The White Oak Garden Center, which would eventually become White Oak Gardens, was thriving, but he knew to continue that growth, he needed bigger and better greenhouses, more parking and more room to show plants.
He said even back in 1984 he knew the greenhouses were inadequate for the plants he had. The old-style greenhouses were too hot in the spring and summer, the ventilation was bad, and they were too small. “We made the best of it then,” he said. “Because, frankly, that’s what we could afford.”
More than plants grew in those greenhouses. The business grew, as well. And when Webeler's sons said they would join the family business, he began thinking more seriously about replacing and improving the facilities.
Over the past 10 years, White Oak Gardens bought adjacent parcels of land to expand the site to 4.5 acres, making room for additional parking and a 12,000-square foot, ultra-modern greenhouse. It's a high-tech take on the classic A-frame greenhouse structure, complete with retractable glass panels and outdoor weather station monitors, all run by computers. Rough Brothers Inc., a Cincinnati firm, built the greenhouse. A house behind the greenhouse and nursery yard will become an office for the landscaping department.
The expansion – a $1.3 million investment – was unveiled in April.
White Oak Gardens can display four times the plants as before and still have room for workshops, garden seminars and the popular potting bar, which gives customers who want to design their own container gardens a place to do it where they can leave the mess behind and get help as they plant if they need it. “Now it’s a great place for plants and plant people,” Webeler said.
Plants and people are a good mix
White Oak Gardens also shares with the community through free monthly seminars at the Monfort Heights branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. In addition to the potting bar, another new feature is Snapshot Gardening, which allows customers to fill out an online questionnaire and photographs and, for a fee, get professional landscape plans and a $30 gift card to get started. The company also added online tree sales through the Bower & Branch Trees for Life program. Purchase a tree online, and it will be shipped to the garden center within seven days.
Geoff Milz, assistant administrator and economic development director in Colerain Township, says White Oak Gardens is the kind of business residents want in their community. It stacks up well against any garden center in the region when it comes to innovation, inventory and customer service, he said.
"One of the things you have to love about White Oak Gardens is that it's owned by a local family," Milz said. "They are invested in our community. It wasn't an easy project, as they were landlocked. The expansion would have been much simpler had they gone out and found a greenfield and started from scratch someplace else. It's great for us that they decided to do it here. They built a world-class facility here.
"And it's great to have them. They are good neighbors, active with our Chamber of Commerce and are engaged with our community."
Webeler’s wife Patty manages the office and his sons, Evan and Andrew, have different roles but share the same vision as their dad to provide a high level of service to customers and build relationships that lead to the loyalty that brings those customers back every year.
Evan, an economics major who worked for Fifth Third Bank before joining the business, is now chief financial officer. His wife Renee also works at White Oak Gardens as a greenhouse and perennials sales person.
Andrew, who did landscaping at White Oak Nursery when he was in high school, majored in landscape architecture and worked for a large landscaping firm in Marietta before returning to the family nursery. He is the landscape designer and works in sales. “I always intended to come back,” he said.
But it's not just family that makes White Oak Garden a success. Webeler built a beautiful place for plants and filled it with staff who love to work with plants and people. "Our staff is a big reason for our success.They love plants as much as I do and want to share their enthusiasm with others," he said. "This was my dream. They made it happen.”
He’s grateful for and proud of his staff. Many of his team members have horticultural or related degrees and he currently has 12 Ohio Certified Nursery Technicians on staff. “If you have questions, we have people here who can give you the right answers,” he said.
Loyalty goes both ways
Monfort Heights resident Peggy Lopez is a loyal, longtime customer at White Oak Gardens.
"There's a good variety, and the quality is always good here," she said. "But more than that, if I have a problem with a plant, I can go back, and they make it good. No questions asked."
She says another reason she's a loyal customer is the Webeler family. "Jeff has been such a friend to the Monfort Heights/White Oak Community Association," she said. "He supported us through 17 years of garden tours, giving us coupons and pots for our raffles. And he has donated untold numbers of seeds for the Monet Garden at Monfort Heights Elementary School. He does a lot, and not just for the White Oak area. He's engaged with our schools, our garden clubs, and our business associations. He's a good businessman and it's lovely to have a business like this in our community."
Webeler says he believes doing business is about more than offering a plant or product for a price.
He builds relationships that he looks forward to growing over time, just like his plants. “People over here like to support local businesses,” he said. “And we are part of the local community. We live here, we eat here, we shop here, we work here, we employ here, and we have invested here."
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