Garden Center magazine announces 2018 Advisory Board

Garden Center magazine announces 2018 Advisory Board

Insights from seven industry leaders will help guide the editorial direction of the magazine.

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February 6, 2018
Michelle Simakis
Industry News

Garden Center magazine is pleased and honored to announce the 2018 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 applicable, engaging content with ideas to enhance your business. This year's board includes five members who served in 2017 and have committed to a second term, and two new members. Learn more about this year's board:

Mark Ruibal, vice president, sales and marketing, Ruibal's Plants of Texas, with four locations in Dallas

Mark Ruibal started working in the family business full-time in 1992, and has helped grow Ruibal’s Plants from a small farmers’ market stand into four retail stores with 30 acres of annual growing facilities. Ruibal is serving his first term on the board and represents the second generation of leaders in the Dallas nursery business. "I have a beautiful wife, two daughters and two sons," Mark says. "Away from the nursery, I golf, travel and play bar league indoor soccer." Ruibal's Plants of Texas is No. 19 on Garden Center magazine's 2017 Top 100 list.

Related: Capitalizing on opportunities
Ruibal’s Plants of Texas bought Rosemeade Market in 2011 without grocery experience, but five years later, the owners are glad they made the leap.

Eliza Blank, founder and CEO of The Sill

Eliza Blank is the founder and CEO of The Sill, the first digitally native, direct-to-consumer plant brand with a big ambition – to put the garden center online, combining commerce with content and community. Eliza was previously a Brand Manager at Living Proof and a Brand Strategist at Wolff Olins. In addition to spreading her mission that #plantsmakepeoplehappy online, Eliza and her team run two retail stores in Manhattan. 

Frank Benzing, president and CEO of SummerWinds Nursery, with six 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 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. SummerWinds Nursery is No. 13 on Garden Center magazine’s 2017 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 Editorial 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. 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. 16 on Garden Center magazine’s 2017 Top 100 list.

Sandi Hillermann McDonaldpresident 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.” Hillermann Nursery & Florist is No. 54 on Garden Center magazine’s 2017 Top 100 list.

 Related: Experiences and experiments
The 66-year-old Hillermann Nursery & Florist may have a long history, but the company is constantly adapting and trying new departments to ensure it has a prosperous future.

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. 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. Molbak’s is No. 21 on Garden Center magazine’s 2017 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.

 Susan Bachman West, president of Bachman’s, with six garden centers 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. Susan is the great, great grand-daughter of Bachman’s founders, Henry and Hattie Bachman, and a member of the fifth generation. Her current role was announced in the April 2016. 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 27 outlets at the grocery store chain Lunds & Byerlys, and a floral, gift and card store in downtown Minneapolis.

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.