Garden Center magazine introduces 2017 Advisory Board

Garden Center magazine introduces 2017 Advisory Board

The Advisory Board, comprised of IGC industry leaders, will help guide the direction of the magazine.

February 8, 2017
Michelle Simakis
Industry News

Garden Center magazine is pleased and honored to announce the 2017 Garden Center magazine Advisory Board. We are incredibly thankful for the board's commitment. Their combined strengths and knowledge will help us continue to bring you the most useful, engaging content with ideas to enhance your business. Learn more about this year's board:

Frank Benzing, president and CEO of SummerWinds Nursery, with locations in California and Arizona

Frank started at SummerWinds Garden Centers Inc. in 2001 in store operations. In 2003, he was promoted to president and COO, and in 2007, he began his current role as president and CEO. Frank has an appetite for uncovering why customers use particular products and services and how the industry can better serve customers to help them realize the look and feel they desire in their gardens and homes. Frank enjoys being associated with people who continually discover ways to improve both customers’ shopping experiences and the culture of their workplace. “I love being married to my wife, Marion, being a father to my daughter, Samantha, the thrill of mountain bike and road bike racing, and clearing my head while back country skiing,” Frank says. In addition to his role leading SummerWinds, Frank is a contributor at Valley Verde in San Jose, Calif. The non-profit organization teaches families with low-incomes in Santa Clara County how to grow their own vegetable gardens. He is also a board member at large for Bogus Basin Recreation Area in Boise, Idaho, and ride leader at Eagle High School Mountain Bike Student Athletes in Eagle, Idaho. We’re looking forward to having Frank on the board and to hearing his insights about running 10 store locations in two states with different spring seasons. SummerWinds Nursery is No. 10 on Garden Center magazine’s 2016 Top 100 Independent Garden Centers list.

Related: Building toward a better spring
How SummerWinds Nursery cultivates excellent customer service and a strong staff.

 Richard Christakes, CEO of Alsip Home & Nursery, with locations in Frankfort, Ill. and St. John, Ind.

Richard is a second-generation owner of one of the nation’s largest volume retail garden centers. An Indiana State Certified Horticulturist, talk radio host and CEO of Alsip, Richard brings nearly 20 years of industry experience and a passion for the industry to the Garden Center Advisory Board. Richard has helped lead Alsip in developing a successful pet division and also offers a popular grooming service on-site at both locations. Alsip also launched an e-commerce website in 2015, and we're looking forward to hearing about how this initiative is progressing. Richard serves as president on the board of directors for Alsip To The Rescue, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal rescue. Alsip Home & Nursery is No. 15 on Garden Center magazine’s 2016 Top 100 list.

Sandi Hillermann McDonald, president of Hillermann Nursery & Florist, Washington, Mo.

Sandi is a second-generation owner of Hillermann Nursery & Florist, started in 1951, located in Washington, Missouri. She has held board positions (including president) in the LNAGST, MNLA, WNLA, GCA and currently on the BOG of TV H&G Showplace. Hillermann includes a garden center, nursery, florist and landscape division that specializes in design, irrigation, lighting and hardscapes. Hillermann also has an expansive lawn & garden equipment department. Sandi became the first woman president of the family-owned company in 2006. Hillermann is known for offering an array of innovative workshops, which includes a pottery shop and beer- and wine-making classes. The landscape division has also been successful in recent years due to a shift from DIY to “Do-it-for-me.” We’re looking forward to hearing more of Sandi’s ideas. Hillermann Nursery & Florist is No. 53 on Garden Center magazine’s 2016 Top 100 list.

Related: A creative outlet
Providing customers with opportunities to make everything from their own pottery to beer and wine has led to profits for Hillermann Nursery & Florist.

Julie Kouhia, CEO of Molbak’s Garden + Home, Woodinville, Wash. 

Julie joined Molbak’s in 2006 as COO, and has deep experience leading all aspects of Molbak’s retail operations. Prior to working at Molbak’s, Julie was a marketing executive at Starbucks and Amazon for a combined seven years. She is strongly creative and entrepreneurial, with exceptional analytical and people development skills, which consistently produces outstanding results. Julie has a passion for business and her specialties include increasing profitability, competitive advantage, and long-term value by growing/strengthening customer relationships and developing and delivering effective new business partnerships and programs. Julie earned an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, a MA from University of Washington and a BA from Washington State University. She currently serves on the UW Bothell School of Business and is a member of Vistage International for CEOs. A native of Washington, Julie is an avid walker and enjoys Pilates. Julie has been part of the Molbak’s leadership team during many changes, including the decision to stop growing to focus solely on creating a successful retail experience in 2012. We are excited to hear insights from Julie, who not only has a decade of experience leading Molbak’s, but has launched marketing and customer analytics initiatives at well-known, international brands. Molbak’s is No. 21 on Garden Center magazine’s 2016 Top 100 Independent Garden Centers list.

Related: 'What we do matters'
Julie Kouhia worked for American Express, Starbucks and Amazon before becoming COO of Molbak’s Garden + Home a decade ago. Now as CEO, she talks about why they stopped growing plants to focus on retail and other “growing” opportunities.

Jere Stauffer, retired Home & Garden COO of Stauffers of Kissel Hill, with eight locations and based in Lititz, Pa.

Jere grew up in the Stauffers of Kissel Hill family business. He worked full-time for two years after graduating high school and left the company to pursue pastoral studies at Cairn University (formerly known as Philadelphia College of Bible.) He returned in 1975 and spent the next 14 years working in various roles, developing his skills in purchasing, management and leadership. In 1989 he joined the ownership team and Board of Directors for the company. In 1995, he was also chosen as director of the new Training Division, and guided its creation and development. He retired from his career at Stauffers in January 2017. From 1983 to 1989, Jere served on the Lititz Borough Shade Tree Commission. He was chairman of the Education Committee for the ANLA from 2000 to 2004. He has been active in Christian Education and Music Leadership at Salem Bible Church in Voganville, Pa. He lives in Lititz, Pa. with his wife, Jo. They have three children. His hobbies include gardening, canoeing, fishing, archery and hunting. Stauffers operates both garden centers and grocery stores in Pennsylvania, and in the past few years, has developed initiatives to promote the farmers behind the locally grown produce offered in stores and to make returns at their garden centers seamless. We look forward to hearing Jere’s perspective on these and other aspects of Staffers, and to hear his thoughts on the changes in the industry over the years. Stauffers is No. 7 on Garden Center’s Top 100 list.

Related: Delighting customers
Jere Stauffer, COO of Stauffers of Kissel Hill Home & Garden, reflects on some changes at their eight locations this year, including the new “No Hassle Return” policy.

 Susan Bachman West, president of Bachman’s, with six main locations in the Minneapolis, Minn. area

Susan Bachman West, a 26-year company veteran and the first woman to serve as Bachman’s president, oversees overall planning, merchandising, and marketing of perishable products (annuals, perennials, blooming plants, green plants and cut flowers), and leads the teams in Bachman’s Floral Design and Weddings and Special Events departments. She also manages Bachman’s production and wholesale operations, which are led by John Daniels, vice president of production/wholesale operations. Susan is the great, great grand-daughter of Bachman’s founders, Henry and Hattie Bachman, and a member of the fifth generation. Her new role was announced in the April 2016. Susan worked part-time in various positions of the company throughout her high school and college years. She joined Bachman’s full-time in 1997 as a manager trainee at Bachman’s Eden Prairie Floral, Home and Garden Center. She has served in numerous management positions since that time, most recently as vice president of perishable merchandising and floral design, learning the family business from the ground up. In addition to six major garden centers, Bachman’s operates 26 outlets at the grocery store chain Lunds & Byerlys, and a floral, gift and card store in downtown Minneapolis. We are looking forward to hearing Susan’s insights on overseeing such a wide range of departments – from wholesale to floral – and also what it takes to keep a business strong and relevant for 130-plus years.

Related: Preserving the past, focusing on the future
Bachman’s treasures its more than 130-year, family-owned history, all while adapting to the evolving industry.