Business close-up: A strong foundation
A ‘Lunch & Learn’ tour and scavenger hunt is written in chalk on the sandwich board just inside the main greenhouse at Forth Floral. It is welcoming anyone who wants a sniff of spring, a look at the vibrant colors of orchids, tulips and hanging ivy or to feel the heat of summer on a very cold March day.
Owners Ruth and Henning Hempl began the midday escapes several years ago for a couple of reasons. Like many businesses, the beginning of the Great Recession forced the couple to look closely at what they were doing, and what could be done more efficiently.
“You could say that going through things like that is good because you go through every item,” Ruth remarked. “We decided that, number one- we’re dedicated to these greenhouses, we have to heat them anyway. Secondly, we wanted to get more people in here during the winter.”
Changing with the times, rolling with the punches.
“We started opening up more of the greenhouse to make room for seating to encourage people to walk around, “Ruth continued. “We got the idea from following a florist at a great flower shop in Billings, Montana.”
Any business, like Forth Floral, that can say the doors have been open for 115 years must know a thing or two about adapting. Ruth’s great-grandparents moved to Rhinelander from Luxembourg in 1900 and bought the property where the current greenhouse sits. They started out growing vegetables, even selling radishes to the lumberjacks at the taverns down the street. As Ruth said, they had to do what they had to do.
Eventually, her grandmother, then mother kept the business in the family. Ruth, the eldest of four girls kind of had an interest in the business, but as a teenager didn’t want to commit.
“I went to college and got a degree in horticulture and business so it was like I was setting myself up for it,” she said with a laugh and slight shake of her head. “I stayed in the twin cities and worked in a greenhouse, met Henning, who also worked there; he also grew up in the family greenhouse business in Germany. We looked at Rhinelander and said, it’s there, it’s in the family, we might as well move back.”
That was 1988. Today, Henning is tending to Easter lilies he planted last fall and bedding plants for the summer; little poinsettias come in July to prepare for the Holidays. Always planning ahead, and except for the tropical plants, the Hempels grow everything they sell from scratch.
The last of the tulips are blooming in the greenhouse.
“The spring stuff is tricky because it doesn’t last long,” Ruth said. “It’s just that burst of spring, and that’s what I tell people. It’s the emotion you get from those plants that lasts, that’s what you remember. So if someone is down in the dumps and a little pink tulip will make their day it doesn’t matter if it lasts for a week or if it lasts forever; it’s the emotional feeling you get from it.”
Admitting that a life surrounded by blooming plants is a good life, Ruth and Henning don’t know what the future will hold for this long standing family business. But they have decades of history at the corner of Timber and Brown, and time for the fifth generation to contemplate their futures.