Growing up, Jessie Jacobson spent her birthdays at Tonkadale Greenhouse, which her grandparents, Bill and Shirley Maruska, had owned since 1978. However, her May birthday coincided with the busiest time for the store, meaning she often ate her birthday cake off the checkout counters.
“There was one year when my grandfather ate my birthday cake the night before the party,” Jacobson says. “I think he was sleep walking, or so I heard.”
Jacobson worked at her grandparents’ garden center through every stage of her life. From childhood through post-college, from starting out making 50 cents apiece for planting begonia and impatiens plugs to helping select new annual varieties, she spent her days at Tonkadale.
Jessie Jacobson, owner of Tonkadale Greenhouse, spent her childhood at the family-run store, which was owned by her grandparents since 1978.
Since her grandparents’ retirement, she has taken over as the owner of the Minnetonka, Minn., garden center she grew up in. She purchased the business on April 1, 2016, and went through her first spring as owner shortly after.
“It was a tough one,” Jacobson says. “We went into spring prepared and ready to go but had a major set-back in production related to media quality and soil fertility.”
A complication with the soil the Tonkadale team used that spring “devastated” much of the 2016 hanging basket crop, causing lots of stress and anxiety for Jacobson and her team during their first spring season. Despite that challenge, Jacobson says she and her staff figured out how to capitalize on other product categories. This spring, however, went much more smoothly at Tonkadale Greenhouse.
Since taking over as owner at Tonkadale Greenhouse, Jacobson and her team have worked to improve merchandising and presentation of Tonkadale products.
“The plants have never looked so beautiful, our presentation was the best ever, and our team worked and is working like a well-oiled machine,” she says. “That being said, there are tough days, and we work really, really, really hard.”
Since becoming owner, Jacobson’s made several changes behind the scenes when it comes to employee culture, engagement, accountability and the company’s core values. She has also been working with her team to bring the next generation of gardeners into the store.
“We have been very successful at this and the basis of our strategy is to make gardening and all that goes with it more approachable for gardeners of all levels and life stages,” Jacobson says. “All of our strategies are rooted in my and our passion for the work that we do. You have to start there. If you have that, it shines through brightly.”
Jacobson says she’s starting to get glimpses of what the future looks like for Tonkadale, rather than working day by day just to make it through, like she was doing when she first became owner. She never expected to develop the sense of appreciation and gratitude she has for her job.
As a young, female owner, however, she’s encountered both implicit and explicit bias on the job.
Despite a rough first spring as owner in 2016, Jacobson says her team has significantly improved operations at Tonkadale in 2017.
“This kind of bias, or you could even say discrimination, still exists,” Jacobson says. “I really have to prove myself to gain traction in some situations, especially when the going gets tough.”
Nevertheless, Jacobson says there are many people who support her as owner, and she’s out on the retail floor 90 percent of the time during peak season. She likes to be with the Tonkadale team, leading the presentation of merchandise and welcoming customers.
“My favorite days are planting combination planters at the design desk,” she says. “This makes my heart sing.”