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Engineer toils in soil to grow businesses

John Seelmeyer

Not long after he took over owner of Plantworks-Reno and Plant People Inc., Dave Hendriks invested in new light bulbs throughout the companies’ Mill Street location.

To be sure, the dimming old bulbs needed to be replaced.

But just as important was the statement Hendriks wanted to make about his desire to breath new light into a dimming business.

A longtime mining engineer who didn’t want to move one more time, Hendriks joined with his wife, Chantal, to buy the companies late last year.

As the couple scouted businesses of their own, they knew they could undertake a start-up but opted instead to pay more for an established company largely because of the immediate cash flow.

That was important to their hopes of allowing Chantal Hendriks to stay home with their children most days.

An existing business, however, isn’t any less work.

Chatting the other day, Hendriks stated the matter succinctly: “The company shrank in the last 10 years.

I’m trying to build it up.” His work is all the more challenging because Plantworks-Reno and Plant People Inc.

are squeezed from several directions.

Plantworks-Reno, which has been selling custom-made silk plants since 1978, makes everything from small floral pieces to carefully crafted imitation trees.

Employees one recent day, for instance, were building trees for the interior of the new Casino Fandango in Carson City.

Plant People Inc., meanwhile, takes care of live plants for about 100 customers mostly businesses around town.

It’s another well-established name, as the company was established in 1980.

Along with solid brand names, the companies’ strengths include well-established employees, including Beverly Baker, the artistic director of Plantworks-Reno and Vicky Ross, the maintenance manager of Plant

People Inc.

Margins are under pressure at Plant People Inc.

as competitors have come onto the scene.

At Plantworks-Reno, meanwhile, big discount and specialty stores such as Costco and Michael’s Arts and Crafts sell silk plants and flowers at prices that Hendriks barely can touch.

His strategy, then, is to emphasize customer service and professionalism.

“Customers are buying the service rather than a price,” he said.

And the companies go looking for niches where competition is lessened.

One of their specialties, for instance, is model homes in subdivisions.

In that market, Hendriks explained, the companies’ combined size and expertise can provide value to the interior designers who buy the service.

Prospecting for that business means that Hendriks and his seven fulltime employees stop whenever they see a sign announcing a construction project.

They take the name of the architect and begin calling.

Among the challenges, Hendriks said, is avoiding any hint of competition with interior designers.

“We are not interior designers.We work with interior designers,” he said.

With his family’s savings sunk into the businesses, Hendriks feels some urgency about revitalizing them.

On the other hand, his training in the mining industry taught him that a methodical, step-by-step approach that pays attention to the basics

will pay off in the long run.