CHEERS — Hip Hip Hooray!
This column salutes REAP businesses that are
finding ways to increase their success.
Betty Vermeer Marks Ten
years in a Successful Rural BusinessDespite rejections from business
experts and lenders, one rural woman's determination to succeed helps her
business reach its tenth anniversary this spring.
Hilltop Greenhouse and Floral in Sterling, Nebraska will celebrate its
10-year anniversary this spring. Betty Vermeer started the business because
working with plants and flowers was a hobby she truly enjoyed. Hilltop is a
full service floral and gift shop with three small greenhouses to grow and
sell bedding plants.
Spring is definitely the biggest time of year with the sale of flowers
and garden plants, plus Mother’s Day and graduation. Hilltop also carries
balloons, propane bottle exchange service, tux rentals, and prints t-shirts.
Betty believes you’ve got to make every square foot earn money, and
diversity is the key in a small rural business.
Early Preparation, Negotiation
It took about two years to settle on a price and acquire the business
location from previous owners who used the site as a lawn equipment repair
shop with a small corner of gifts and another small corner with florals.
While the business acquisition deal was in the works, Betty took classes
at the community college to learn about horticulture and flower arranging.
She visited with the University Small Business Development Center about her
business plan. They said it wouldn’t work.
Betty hired a private consultant to review the plan and heard the same
negative response. Her local bank did not want to deal with her. The banker
would only talk to her husband.
Listening to Her Heart
Betty’s bull-headedness made her push ahead. After meeting with several
banks, she finally found someone who was encouraging and helpful.
Asked about lessons she’s learned along the way, Betty says there are
many. She stays positive and loves her work and providing a service to the
small town and surrounding rural area.
Her first operating mission and one she still believes in is “big city
service with small town care.” Recently she’s switched her catch phrase for
area advertising to “we deliver 24 - 7.”
Networking with Others
Betty was a charter member of the Johnson County Small Business Network in
1996. She has served in all officer positions and is currently serving as
chair. She gained a lot from the business training classes REAP offered when
the association began.
The association provided Betty with strong friendships. She’s read often
that small business owners should belong to small business networks (like
REAP) or trade associations for support and on-going education. No matter
what the business, someone has the same issues or has had them. Through
networking, small businesses learn from each other.