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Jenco buys James River Valley Nursery

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by Steve Vert

SBJ Contributing Writer

Sloppy spring weather may have delayed its installation for a time, but a new sign nestled in the trees at 5236 S. Campbell heralds the arrival of the latest entrant to the area's already bustling nursery market.

During the first week in April Dallas-based Jenco Wholesale Nurseries Inc. began operating at the location that has been the home of James River Valley Nursery Inc. since it opened in 1968.

"We had been supplying plant material to this area from our Tulsa operation for some time," said Gary Sullens, Jenco branch manager. "We determined that it would be more feasible to have an operation here."

Founded about 30 years ago, employee-owned Jenco has five nurseries in Texas, two in Oklahoma and one in Kansas. "Part of our interest in Springfield was it looked like a good market for us to be in," Sullens said. "There's a lot of construction going on here. A lot of need for plant material."

To set up operations locally, Jenco purchased James River Valley Nursery from Nixa resident Leroy Uber, one of three partners who established the company.

"One of the partners, John Slack, left the business after the first year," Uber said. "The other partner, Howard Pyle, remained in the business until he passed away."

Along with the satisfaction that comes from operating a successful business, Uber said his fondest memories are of the loyal customers that supported him all those years.

Among the accomplishments he's proudest of, Uber pointed to the fact that his sons, Matt and Chad, decided to come into the business alongside him in the early 1990s.

"That would please any father," he said. "That we could work together and still be friends."

And, Uber said, he's proud of the loyal employees that "stayed with us through thick and thin."

At the time of the sale, James River Valley Nursery had 13 employees. Since Jenco doesn't do any landscaping, Uber said, nine of those employees accepted employment with James River Lawn and Landscape, a new company he formed with his sons.

The remaining four employees, members of the nursery's retail division, made the choice to become Jenco employees.

"This is a good deal for them," Uber said. "Jenco is able to provide benefits that we weren't able to offer."

Bruce Cobb, a veteran of 23 years with James River Valley Nursery, now a Jenco employee, agreed.

"We love it," said Cobb, who managed the nursery's retail store for seven years. "They are super people. We've really been impressed."

And it's not just the benefits that are top-notch, Cobb said. Jenco has made important changes in day-to-day operations.

"First, they've computerized everything," Cobb said. "When a customer calls, we can look and see exactly how many of something we have and how much it's going to cost. They've also increased the amount of inventory we have on hand."

Sullens said taking over an established company has been a big help.

"We're happy that all of the retail employees decided to stay with Jenco," Sullens said. "That's worked out nicely for everyone. Everybody was able to keep their jobs, and we got some well-trained employees."

In addition to changes in operations, Sullens said Jenco customers can expect to see other changes in the near future.

"We are working on a three-acre expansion on some property next door," Sullens said. "That expansion will be mostly trees."

At this point, however, Sullens said he doesn't think the expansion will result in an increase in the number of employees. "As business warrants, we may add new people," Sullens said, "but we'll need to build up our customer base a little first."

Reflecting on three decades in the nursery business, Uber cited outside competition in the local market as the main factor that drove him to sell the retail portion of his business a market he believes will become even more competitive with the addition of a second Lowe's location on the north side.

"At one time, they didn't affect us that much. They didn't have as much knowledge or as good a product," Uber said. "But they continued to get better and were selling a lot of products at or below our costs."

Meanwhile, Uber said, he's glad to see Jenco entering the local market.

"They are a very strong organization," he said. "I believe they are going to be an asset to our industry and our neighborhood."

"I don't know that it's going to get much more competitive than it's already been," Sullens said. "I think everybody finds their own niche. There's probably enough room to go around."

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