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Jan 4, 201711:23 AMCity Beat

Small Business of the Month, January 2017

Jan 4, 2017 - 11:23 AM
Small Business of the Month, January 2017

Larry Sorensen

Tell us about the origins and impetus of Highland Gardens.
Started as a mom-and-pop grocery store and decided it was more fun to sell tomato plants than canned tomatoes! Started selling vegetables and fruit trees and expanded into a full-service garden center. Our impetus was being perfectly timed and situated to grow with the Highland Park and Camp Hill area.

For readers who may be unfamiliar, describe Highland Gardens.
We are a full-service garden center. Great plants – many unusual and collector plants, as well as the usual. Over 1,500 perennial types, heirloom tomato varieties, fancy annuals, many, many hydrangeas, dwarf conifers, Japanese maples, awesome trees. We love trees! Garden embellishments, such as granite bird baths, chimes, benches, frilly and silly, too! Fertilizers, seeds, mulch, top soil, rocks and flagstone – lots of organic garden choices! Full-service department selling top-of-the-line Honda and Stihl equipment. We are also wild-bird lovers, and stock bird seed, houses, feeders and wildlife accessories.

What is one aspect of Highland Gardens that readers might be surprised to know?
Employees stick around and root in. Between 13 full-time employees, we have been here 253 years (5 of us are over 25 years each here).

Sum up Highland Gardens in one sentence.
Highland gardens is growing to please your green thumb!

What is your definition of an entrepreneur?  How do you fit that definition?
A person who has a pulse on future needs of the community and shifts and adjusts to satisfy these needs. We keep an eye to our established customers and have realized more mature plant needs are something we have adjusted to. Keeping an eye on our younger customers – we keep a constant presence on social media and try to give extra info to the newbies to ensure their success. So always watching, always listening.

What's the best part of owning your own business?
I enjoy watching our team pull together for the big games (April, May and Christmas weekends), realizing we foster a great working environment. I love the family type atmosphere that is our team. This is not a "punch the clock" business. Watching the excitement of new ideas and changes, laughter and friendship gives me great satisfaction.

What's the most difficult aspect of owning your own business?
Because we are a garden center, we can do every preparation there is, and we are still at the mercy of the weather. The weather dictates a very successful, or an unsuccessful, season.

What advice would you give to those thinking of opening up a small business in general, and in the Central Pa. region?
To start a new small business would be a daunting task. There are so many new regulations to comply with. For advice? Schmooze, listen, watch. Keep an eye on similar businesses to know your competition. I think Central Pa. is a bit more insulated from the ups and downs of the general economic swings of the country.

What does it mean to you to be a small business owner?
You have to stay on your toes and be fair and reliable within the community. You are depending on repeat business to stay in business. You are a neighbor of the community, and you are part of the economy of the community. You are hiring people within the community, which supports the whole area. To be a small business owner is to be aware of your role in the community. How you ripple the spirit of togetherness and of all of the support the community also provides in return.

In your opinion, how important are small businesses to the Central Pa. region?  How important are they to the nation as a whole?
Small businesses are the root system of information, customer service and sense of community, both in the micro and the macro. Small businesses keep more green (dollars) in the local communities, serving the libraries, the food pantries, etc, the needs of the small towns.

Owning a small business requires a tremendous amount of work and dedication.  What is the single most important moment for you that represents the reason for all of your effort and time?
When I am away from the shop in a social engagement, appointment or just out and about, and I receive unsolicited compliments about the staff or a plant they bought or how they love their lawn mower – all the hours, all the years, all the going-home-tired melt away like the spring thaw in a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Where and with whom do you find inspiration as a small business owner?
From a young age, watching my dad work seven days a week, doing what it took, exploring, trying new things – that's what it takes to be successful. I grew up with the idea that you committed to what you were doing, and you did it. My father inspired me early to be a moving part of the business, not a guy at the desk. Other garden centers out of our direct region can inspire some ideas and fortify knowing that we have some cool unique ideas ourselves! Gardeners asking for special items, trade shows, co-workers who report in fresh ideas, the weather and seeing customers with smiles on their faces.

Do you have any events, happenings or specials coming up in the near future?
Not until spring when the Georgia Peach Truck pulls in again.

Anything else?
Thank you. It is a real honor to be an established part of the Central Pa.community.

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