Wreath retailers win state small-business award
Everlasting Specialties started with sales of dried flowers out of the back end of a truck and eventually grew into its current business in Urban Hess Business Park where owners Steve LaForge and Jim Bennett now house the Wreath Depot, the Pest Depot and the Flower Depot.
The company’s ability to always change has been important, according to Will Katz of the Kansas University Small Business Development Center in Lawrence.
“It’s one thing to be an entrepreneur; it’s another thing to be a business person,” Katz said.
The business recently was named 2011 Existing Business of the Year through the Kansas Small Business Development Center. Katz nominated the Wreath Depot for the award, which it will receive in March in Topeka.
The business partners started selling dried flowers out of the back of a truck and eventually moved into a building — the former Union Pacific depot in downtown Tonganoxie.
More than a decade ago, the business moved to the Urban Hess Business Center north of U.S. Highway 24-40. All part of Everlasting Specialties, its subsidaries sell dried flowers, wreaths and pest control products.
LaForge and Bennett have worked for years with Katz and the KU Small Business Development Center. The company also has partnered with the KU business school for internships and other projects.
In September 2001, the company launched the first color catalog for its wholesale company. It mailed out on Sept. 11.
Though the catalog was not successful, the company evolved to emphasize online business, which has paid dividends.
The business has clients in all 50 states, with high concentrations in New York and California, LaForge said.
LaForge pointed to population concentration as a possible reason for higher sales.
“Those people are more web-oriented I think,” LaForge said. “When they go out searching, they go to Google. We’re really high on Google for wreaths and door wreaths on the Wreath Depot.”
Bennett said about 75 percent of Wreath Depot orders are shipped to a third party, normally a gift recipient.
“Our flower business started because we started out growing flowers and had a love of gardening,” Bennett said.
LaForge and Bennett said the award was quite the honor, as the business was selected from eight across the state.
“And of course we couldn’t have done it without our employees and staff,” Bennett said. “And the help of many others over the years.”
LaForge said the company has been looking to move back to the downtown area. Its building has been discussed as a possible new home for the Tonganoxie police station if the city council approves such a move.
“Full circle would be to move back to downtown,” LaForge said. “Jim and I both love the downtown.”