5 Minutes With … John Kelly
John Kelly is co-owner of Chippewa Valley Growers in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with his wife Jessica.
Can you share a little about how you got involved in horticulture?
The desire to own a business is how I found the horticulture industry. I was a farm kid looking to fulfill a dream when I came across Chippewa Valley Growers being for sale. I thought, heck, this will be like “farming in a hut” — and made the purchase on April 13, 2018 (Friday the 13th!). The rest is history. And, boy, was I wrong about being like farming in a hut! I never dreamed of all the complications and hurdles one can encounter growing a successful crop.
What do you love about your job?
I love the challenges of growing and owning a business. A lot of people in this industry are their own growers. I’m a bit different — I enjoy working on the business and surrounding myself with great people who each have a certain knack to fill certain roles. Put them in a position to succeed, lay out a few ground rules (we call them our “House Rules”), get out of the way, and watch your business grow and excel.
What keeps you up at night?
I am a visionary who never stops dreaming of future possibilities. I struggle to sleep as my mind wanders through visions of the future. I’m blessed to have a loving wife, Jessica, who keeps me grounded and is truly the integrator of our business. She really is able to implement new ideas and strategies that I have and keep things running flawlessly.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the garden center world?
I’m filled with lots of advice, much of it probably nonsense!
- Never be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer — but be willing to put in the effort to find it!
- Second, define your business fundamentals and live by them.
- Keep smiling and keep livin’ the dream!
What’s something that few people know about you?
I don’t know a ton about flowers. I’d love to learn more, but my dream was always to “own” a business and employ great people, create a great culture and let it progress from there. Again, most owners are their own grower. I find it best to hire great people and get out of the way.