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THREE 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 Business
Despite 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.

Betty Vermeer, owner of "Hilltop Greenhouse and Floral" in Sterling, Nebraska.
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Center for Rural Affairs -- Rural Enterprise Assistance Project
145 Main St.    PO Box 136    Lyons, Nebraska  68038
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