Situated along Route 29, just south of Emmaus, Herbein's Garden Center is coming into full bloom for the 2014 gardening season. Inside the garden center or talking to customers among the plants, trees and shrubs, owner Tom Bull, of Huffs Church, is enthusiastically welcoming the warmer weather that marks the 40th anniversary of the local business.
Bull's path to garden center ownership wasn't a direct one. He decided to pursue a career in horticulture after serving in the Army, using the G.I. bill to attend Temple University. After graduating, he worked for several landscaping companies before being hired at Herbein's. Eventually, he was able to buy the business.
Now, six years later, Bull is proud that he has seen the business through to this milestone. "It feels great," he says of the 40th anniversary. "We're trying to build this momentum up as a business, and as it builds continue…to gain momentum and take it as far as we can."
A wide variety of products – annuals and perennials bursting with color, unique and ornamental trees and shrubs, vegetable and herb seedlings, seeds (in packets and in bulk from the Seedway), soils, pottery and more – offers "better selection, better quality, competitive price, and service, service, service," Bull says. "That's where we will win every time over a big box store."
Herbein's also offers expert lawn care advice from resident turf expert Dan Sivco and has a full range of organic gardening products for sale. The garden center is a member of the American Nursery and Landscape Association, and Bull is a 2012 graduate of the ANLA's Garden Center University, a program that took him across the U.S. to learn about different growing and marketing techniques.
However, Bull says that he has faced the same struggles as many local businesses during the economic downturn of the past several years, especially with increased pressure from big box stores.
Looking toward the future, Bull says he would like to expand his community outreach and partnerships. Herbein's already actively engages in several community educational projects. For example, he has hosted tree plantings at Willow Lane Elementary School in Macungie and at the Seven Generations charter school in Emmaus. He also supports efforts of local gardening clubs and provides plants to several local municipalities.
Now he is looking for potential collaborative partnerships with other local businesses. "The opportunities are endless for a place like this," he says.
Another challenge Bull says he faces is that demographics are changing, and younger generations are not as engaged in gardening as older generations.
"Our challenge is: How do we get the younger generations that are so attached to their phones and electronics, how do we get them involved in getting outside, in getting their hands dirty? And that's why we're there at the schools. That's why we're showing kids how to plant trees," Bull says.
Bull looks to engage the youth on other levels, too. For example, he recently hosted a 3-year-old's birthday party at the garden center, and teenagers have come to Herbein's to take pre-prom photos among the flowers and greenery.
Herbein's will have a number of events and specials throughout the season. For example, the garden center is hosting a ladies' night happy hour May 30 and has live music on occasion, as well. To stay up to date, visit www.herbeins.com, sign up for Herbein's email newsletter and follow Herbein's on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HerbeinsGardenCenter.