Creekside Nursery: Celebrating 20 Years of Growing a Family Business

Chris Richardson started Creekside Nursery (Creekside) in 1992 to make use of a few acres of little-used land to supplement his adjacent cattle-raising operations. Almost as soon as it started, the nursery took off. The few experimental acres of nursery ultimately couldn’t keep up with growing demand, and the operation's acreage jumped from two acres to 40. Along the way the company brought on a steady flow of professionals. Today, Creekside encompasses over 400 acres where 250 employees use a hefty dose of know-how and an unwavering drive to succeed.

“We try to make this a one-stop shop,” says Chris Richardson, president and owner of Creekside. Though the Texas-based operation’s bread and butter has been landscape plants for almost 20 years, Creekside has also expanded its product lines extensively and strategically for its client base of nursery retailers and re-wholesalers. Trees and large container plants have been supplemented with topiaries, citrus trees, berries and stone fruit trees like apricots, peaches and apples.

Creekside’s specialized horticulturists have also made a point of seeing the silver lining within challenging growing conditions. “With the drought in 2011 and 2012, our succulent program has been expanding a lot,” says Richardson. Creekside has adapted to the drought by boosting its production of drought-tolerant plants, as more and more customers clamor for realistic landscaping solutions in communities with water restrictions.

Tuning in Together

Throughout Creekside’s 20 years, the company has made a point of automating processes wherever possible. Creekside’s use of potting machines since 2000 and movement away from pallet loading toward conveyor belts are prime examples of how the team has saved both time and labor. The conveyor system has helped expedite the process of loading shipments onto trucks, and racks are now used to ship the tenderest products. All of this has been an integral part of Creekside’s product diversification and the company’s expansion into new retail markets in the past few years.

There are eight total departments that make up Creekside’s product lineup, including annual color, perennial color, woody ornamentals, trees and specialty ornamentals as well as two propagation departments. Within these departments are more specific product lines, which include grasses, cacti, palms and tropical specialties among others. A degreed horticulture manager, who coordinates with field supervisors to ensure every acre is used for maximum productivity and quality, oversees each department. A full 15 acres of space have been set aside for propagation efforts. Creekside will often field special requests as it did in 2012 propagating watermelons exclusively for some local farmers.

In fact, Creekside’s capabilities are so extensive that the company relies on external producers for only the most specialized products, including things like patented liners developed for rose cultivation. “We also rely on outside vendors for things like tissue cultures and micro-propagation that requires a sterile lab environment that just doesn’t make sense for us to invest in developing here,” adds Richardson. Even so, the company remains loyal to its network of suppliers, many of which have been working with Creekside since its earliest days.

What Matters Most

This loyalty carries through to Creekside’s own experienced and tenured professionals, who serve as the company’s on-the-ground experts and contribute the valuable insight that has helped Creekside diversify its focus over the years. For example, in the wake of major storms or hurricanes, Creekside began producing its own mulch, rounding up felled trees and mixing in pine bark to turn debris into high-quality growing media. In another case Creekside was designed to capture its own runoff water and fresh rainwater to be reused elsewhere in the operations, which Richardson attests is often better than fresh Gulf Coast groundwater.

While there may still be some debate over celebrating anniversaries marked by Creekside’s beginning or its incorporation date, the company has always been clear about giving proper credit. “We go back and forth over whether it’s our 20-year anniversary or 17-year anniversary in 2012, but the thing we’re most proud of is our employees,” admits Richardson. “Many of them have been here for 10 and 15 years and it’s because of them that we have such a great team.”

In the next few years, Creekside will focus on investing into the areas with the most potential for growth and the highest profit margins, especially in the fruit and vegetable categories. As a result, Creekside will begin preparations in fall 2012 for building additional greenhouses and warming houses to be ready for the growing season in spring 2013.

“We’re concentrating on margins because it’s been a fairly tough market, even though it is now on the upswing,” adds Richardson. “We just want to make sure that sales and production are on the same page and that everyone continues to work as a team.”

No one can say for sure what economic climate lies ahead, but Creekside has already proved capable of weathering more than just storms. As the second generation of Richardsons joins the family business, Creekside Nursery will ensure Texans have a steady supply of high-quality, cost-effective landscaping and gardening products.