5 Minutes With … Stephanie Fleming
Stephanie Fleming, granddaughter of Behnke’s Nurseries founders Albert and Rose Behnke, was vice president of the business when it closed in 2019. She continued to keep the weekly newsletter going and rebranded the business Beyond Behnke’s, opening an online garden and gift shop under the same name.
You kept the Behnke name alive by rebuilding the business as an online community; how else have you stayed involved in the green industry?
When we announced we were closing, we kept hearing from our customers, “But where am I going to get my plants? Who will help us know what to buy for our homes?” During this time, other local and not-so-local garden centers, landscapers, and other companies in the green industry reached out to let us know that they’d be interested in hiring our staff AFTER WE CLOSED. This was so big, as we were concerned about how we would get through a spring if most of our staff left.
I had already been writing a weekly email for years, so I decided to keep going with it to let our customers know where their favorite salespeople landed and tell them about other local IGCs — that, while they loved Behnke’s, there were other garden centers with great people and plants with a story.
What are one or two of your favorite memories of Behnke’s?
Hands down, looking back, my best memory is of the days after we told our staff we would be closing in two years. This was such a sad and stressful time. We were closing an 89-year-old company. But the love and support from everyone was something I will never forget. And they all stayed until the end.
The support of our customers and the feelings they shared — and still are communicating — humbles me. They even started a private Facebook group for people who worked for us, sharing photos and information about each other’s lives.
What has surprised you about Beyond Behnke’s?
That people like reading what I say, even when it is not always about gardening. Plus, I love how everyone shares their memories of Behnke’s and pictures of plants in their yards, so we came up with the hashtag #bornatbehnkes. I have been asked when I will stop writing this blog, and I say when no one wants to read it.
I love how you visit neighbor garden centers and write about them in your e-newsletter; what are some ways you think garden centers can support each other?
On the advice of Robert Hendrickson, Behnke’s joined The Garden Center Group many years ago. This is one of the best groups that independent garden centers can join — sharing what works and what doesn’t helps all IGCs, and this group does just that. Plus, they have so many resources, from HR to accounting. This group was also helpful in connecting us to other owners who had gone through closing their garden centers so we could listen to their advice on the best way to close.
What do you love about what you do now?
I love being able to share about other IGCs with our followers. But even more, I love going to events where I can set up and sell my product lines of cards and Christmas ornaments. When people look at my banner and say, “Hey, I know Behnke’s,” it makes my heart happy. While I have an online shop, getting out and seeing people is the best. Plus, being home and being able to help with my four grandchildren is terrific.
What’s something that few people know about you?
I used to raise Eclectus parrots! At one point, we had over 10 pairs in our basement that we had turned into an aviary. It was a sad day when it got to be too much for me and we decided to sell all my pairs to a breeder in Texas.
Favorite plant to grow? Why?
The pansy. I grew up watching from start to finish what went into growing pansies. First, my grandfather would sow the pansy seeds from his own seed mix in raised beds, and later the seedlings would be dug up, counted out and sold in boxes. When my husband and I had a wholesale nursery, we grew over 300,000 4- and 6-inch pots of pansies. Nothing better than walking into a greenhouse filled with pansies and taking a deep breath. Of course, after a few days of rain, nothing worse than having to go into that greenhouse and pinch off all the spent blooms.