For the past 133 years, Skillins Greenhouses has been a namesake in Maine since it first opened in 1885 to provide seedlings and produce. As fields and pastures developed into housing after WWII, the business grew right alongside the community – expanding into a greenhouse, landscaping, and floral business astutely tuned into customers’ changing needs.
Today, the greenhouse continues to grow under the fourth-generation leadership of CEO Terry Skillin, CFO Mike Skillin, and VP Jeff Skillin. Terry’s son, Chad Skillin, and Jeff’s son, Lee Skillin, are also involved as managers, helping to guide the long-standing business into the fifth generation and beyond. Terry and Chad, the head landscape designer, explain how they’re keeping the family tradition alive.
Garden Center: What have been the keys to your company’s growth and success for the last 133 years?
Chad Skillin: The Skillin family has been able to work so well together through the generations because we share the same goals: to grow our business and supply our community with the best products, services, and advice we can at reasonable prices.
We want our customers to get solutions and be happy with their experience. We have devoted our time and energy to making sure that our customers feel like we’re here for them and that the community is important to us. We also take the time to make sure that the products we’re presenting represent the best the industry has to offer, while being geared to what our customers want.
GC: How was this past season for you?
Terry Skillin: The season started slow with a prolonged winter, which created a demand as soon as the weather broke. It was our busiest on record. Perennials and shrubs continue to be the largest growth in green goods, followed by vegetables and fruits. Larger landscape material like shade trees and evergreens are still big, but with minimal growth.
GC: You offer a plant installation program called Green Plus, in addition to landscape design services. How has this part of your business grown or changed over time?
TS: Our Green Plus program fills a need for some customers [when small installation jobs are] more than they can handle and less than is required by a professional landscaper. It’s more of an answer for customers’ needs than a growth area.
Our landscape design service has been a constant growth area. Landscape design drives a lot of plant sales and helps us connect our customers and our products to independent landscapers, as well as [serving] the DIY customers.
CS: The landscape design and consulting service has exploded in the last two years. Currently, I’m the only one on staff who takes care of it, and [it’s] all I can do to keep up. We are a design-only firm and that helps us get more work for landscapers in the area. There are several landscapers who use us as their designer. It’s a huge win-win for everyone. It’s been a great way to support and build our community.
The Green Plus program is not [as busy]. Generally, it’s run through local landscapers, as we do not have any installation crews and do not plan to in the near future. I think a lot of people take the knowledge we give them and plant things themselves. However, there will always be a need to support the customers who find the task too difficult or time-consuming.
Both programs do a great job of supplementing our business. The more we can do to service our community, the better it is for all of us.
GC: How else is Skillins involved in the local community?
CS: Our family has lived in this town longer than the company has existed, so being involved with the community is very important to us. We take out ads in sports programs, give gift cards to raffles, and offer donations or discounts to people doing fundraisers. I have gone to schools and talked about plants to kids. We also do news segments on how to plant or what to do when.
GC: What kind of training do you provide your employees?
CS: We do ongoing training we call Beyond the Package, where we just take a lot of the most common [customer] questions and answer them for the employees. Once everyone has had training on a few questions and topics, we start again with new questions and topics. We have also, in the past, had vendors come in and tells us more about their products.
We try to fill our employees with knowledge and tools to make them better at servicing our clients. Also, we try to provide written care instructions for house plants, as well as proper planting cards [to help] our customers succeed.
GC: What are the best lessons you think other IGCs could learn from the long history of Skillins Greenhouses?
TS: Stay focused on your mission, create an inviting shopping experience, help your team stay educated, and always stay friendly and community connected.