By Kathy Hanks
The Hutchinson News, Kan.
Jennifer Gronau didn’t just buy a business when she purchased Benton’s Greenhouse last fall; she gained a legacy.
Beginning in 1946, the business on Valley Pride Road began growing from a strawberry patch and lean-to greenhouse to 11 greenhouses connected to the home of founders Farren and Maxine Benton. Plus, there are an additional six greenhouses at their Newton outlet.
The story of Benton’s Greenhouse hasn’t been lost on Gronau (pronounced “grow-now”). Providing the same quality products and the personal service is paramount for the new owner. Plus, she will keep the Benton name.
“There is 70 years of history; we’re not going to change it,” she said.
For the past seven years Gronau has worked for the Bentons’ daughter Diana Beasley, who took over the family business.
Gronau and her husband, Steve, live in Halstead. He owns an automotive business and she stayed home with her children when they were young. But when the children became teenagers, she needed something to do. A friend brought her to Benton’s Greenhouse and she was hired for seasonal work.
“I fell in love with the place,” she said.
She went on to run the Bentons’ Newton location at 2311 Edgemore, which is open spring through fall. Beasley began noticing something special about Gronau and began mentoring her in both the growing and marketing side of the business.
“I knew she would be very good,” said Beasley, who’d been nurtured in the greenhouse business by her parents and, in turn, is now passing that knowledge on to Gronau. Tips such as how to grow the fullest geraniums are being passed along.
“She taught me how to grow a quality crop,” Gronau said. Along with their retail business, they have a wide distribution area for their wholesale market.
Now that she has sold the business, Beasley plans to be there helping Gronau. However, gone are the 60-plus hours a week in spring. That will be Gronau’s responsibility.
Even now there are some nights Gronau doesn’t make it home to Halstead. The greenhouse is her home away from home.
Sleeping over at the business is something Gronau enjoys. Often during the night she’ll do plantings.
“It’s so calm and peaceful,” Gronau said.
While Beasley trained Gronau, it was Dave Dukart, director of the Quest Center for Entrepreneurs, and Christie Henry, with the Kansas Small Business Development Center, who worked with her to come up with a business plan and receive a loan.
“She did a lot of homework,” Beasley said.
Dukart represented Gronau when she presented her plan to the Reno County E-Community, which works with the Kansas Department of Commerce and the South Central Kansas Economic Development District.
The loan package was approved with Reno County E-Community awarding Benton’s Greenhouse Inc. a revolving loan, and another portion of the money came from SCKEDD. Because it’s a revolving loan, all the money Gronau repays then goes to fund another applicant.
“Jennifer is very excited,” Dukart said.
For Beasley, after 46 years, letting go is bittersweet: She spent her life at the greenhouse.
“I walked out the front door to kindergarten at Valley Pride School,” said Beasley.
Now it will be Gronau’s family growing with the business, keeping the family atmosphere. Daughter Ashlee, 19, who attends Hutchinson Community College, comes over between classes to help with the watering. She has worked several seasons at Benton’s putting together French gardens.
During the winter they have seven employees on staff watering and babying all the greenhouse plants. But come spring they will add more.
“We have been known for unique plants,” said Beasley, as she and Gronau talked near tables filled with colorful exotic bromeliads and kalanchoes.
“I want to keep the traditions and then expand on them over the next few years,” Gronau said.