Celebration Corner: Oakland Nurseries' 75th anniversary

By Barbara Spector

The Central Ohio business marked the occasion with promotions and beefed-up special events at its garden centers.

The Business: German immigrants Gustav and Bertha Reiner opened a small garden center in Columbus, Ohio, in 1940. Two of their four sons, John and Paul, became the second-generation leaders.

"My dad and my uncle were instrumental in seeing these places where they could expand the business," says third-generation member Genevieve Reiner. A landscape architecture division, Oakland Design Associates, was added in the late 1970s, followed by an irrigation department, Oakland Irrigation. Oakland Interiorscapes, begun in the 1980s, focuses on interior tropical plants for offices and residences as well as holiday decorating. A subunit of that division, Oakland Streetscapes, provides seasonal plant displays for municipalities. A sister company, Acorn Farms, is a wholesale nursery operation that grows, distributes and sells plants in the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard.

Oakland Design Associates has won numerous state and national awards, Genevieve Reiner says. "They've been involved in all sorts of big civic projects over the years, and at this point we have a very solid name in our community, which is really great."

The company has about 450 employees in the peak season. "We have a lot of employees who have been with us for decades," including several multigenerational employee families, Reiner says.

The Family: John and Paul Reiner are co-presidents of the nursery. The family business now also includes three third-generation members, all in their 30s: siblings Genevieve Reiner and Max Reiner and their cousin Mark Reiner. Max is vice president of landscape operations, Mark is vice president of nursery operations and Genevieve is chief operating officer and in-house counsel.

"The funny thing about titles and roles in a small business," Genevieve Reiner says, "is that even though those are our titles, we sort have eight thousand other unofficial titles. My cousin and I also both dabble in the marketing of the company, and my brother does a lot of HR work. And everybody just kind of pitches in, in whatever way they have to."

The Celebration: Oakland's garden centers offered a variety of 75th anniversary specials and sales throughout the year. The company revamped its website in conjunction with the anniversary and began posting on Instagram.

The garden centers beefed up the offerings at its annual special events, including a Spring Fling, a Fall Festival and a "Girls' Night Out." In honor of the 75th anniversary, the events were "bigger and better" in 2015, Reiner says. The festivals featured entertainment, prizes and giveaways, educational presentations, food, children's activities and special discounts. "It's a nice opportunity for us to engage with the community on a fun level, and get kids involved and show people something really fun and different," Reiner says.

Oakland invited customers to submit their photos and memories of shopping at the garden centers over the years; the best submissions were posted on the company's website and Facebook page. "That's been really fun, because people have really gotten into that," Reiner says. "We're seeing a lot of people showcasing their landscapes and their gardens and their various projects. It's very rewarding to see their hard work and our hard work pay off in that respect."

The Planning: "We all realized that this is a big milestone for us," Reiner says. "The folks who plan the festivals have definitely spent more time putting together events. We have spent a lot of time just in terms of marketing our anniversary."

Oakland issued several press releases and mentioned the anniversary in its ads. Company representatives are often invited to appear in seasonally themed local television news segments, and they mentioned the anniversary during the spots. "Obviously, our website and Facebook pages have been a big place to promote what's happening," Reiner notes.

In addition, Reiner reports, in 2014 the company refreshed its stores with a new paint job and other updates in anticipation of the anniversary year. "We built a big, really nice water feature at our Columbus location. The checkout counters got facelifts with new facing and granite countertops. Everything kind of got spruced up," she says.

The Response: Reiner says that although Oakland Nurseries is well known in the community, "People are really surprised to realize that we've been around for 75 years. It's a long time for a family-held company, and so people are pleasantly surprised." Turnout for 2015's special events was high, she says.

The anniversary provided an opportunity for the third-generation members to reflect on the past, Reiner says. "We've grown up in the business, all of us, in some capacity or another. We all worked there as kids," she notes. "So we've always sort of known how things evolved and how things developed. But in terms of reflecting, it's been a significant year for that. We realized all of the hard work and time and money and life that was put into this company, and here 75 years later our grandfather is no longer with us, but it's an amazing business. It does incredibly great work. And it's really rewarding to look back and see how hard our dads and our grandfather worked to put this together."

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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January/February 2016

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