Wausau Pilot & Review
Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing email@example.com.
This week’s featured business is a locally-owned and operated greenhouse that also offers custom landscaping services. Through the years, the business grew from simple seed packets on a dining room table to an expansive operation with a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse. Visitors at Down to Earth Greenhouse find themselves immersed in natural beauty – from delightful, tiny fairy gardens, to a delicious array of vegetables and herbs, to a variety of trees that can add luscious shade and color to any yard. Managing member Micki Luebbe, who operates the business with her husband Cris, said each plant variety is carefully chosen to ensure gardens will thrive in Wisconsin’s cooler climate. Here, Micki shares the story of how Down to Earth began and grew, how the business overcame challenges like the catastrophic collapse of two greenhouses, and her hopes for the future of this Wausau-area jewel.
Q: When was your business established, and what prompted you to start?
A: Down to Earth Greenhouse was actually started by our friend Steve Laufenberg about 20 years ago with his wife. We watched Down to Earth grow from seed packets on their dining room table to the large nursery it is today. About five years ago, Steve was looking to sell his business and move closer to family. We were looking to find a business that would be a good fit for us and our personalities. We met with Steve and reviewed the ins and outs of the business and decided to take the plunge and buy it. Steve stayed on the first season and got us off to a good start. We have continued to learn and grow so much these past five years.
Q: How did you choose the name of your business? What are you trying to convey?
A: We did not choose the name of the business; however we did choose to keep it because it represents us so well. We love the name as it conveys what the business is and who we are. Planting and growing is such an important part of our relationship with Earth as well.
Q: Tell us about your business. What products or services do you offer?
A: We are a locally owned and operated family run business. We both grew up in the area and we are proud to be members of this vibrant community! We have four large greenhouses for exploring. We carry annuals in two of the greenhouses along with hanging baskets. We have another greenhouse devoted to perennials that we restock throughout the season. Our fourth greenhouse is entirely devoted to fruit, herb, and vegetable plants. We also have a large selection of trees and shrubs, along with garden art, concrete statues, fountains, and fairy gardens.
Q: What makes your business unique?
A: For one thing, we are very particular about our plants. We want to ensure that our customers get the best quality plants with strong root systems so they have a great planting experience. When plants are at our nursery they are attended to and cared for by experienced greenhouse staff. We are also particular about sourcing plants that are fit for our zone. We do not carry plants that will not be able to survive in Wisconsin winter, and we purchase our stock only from suppliers who have grown plants in the Midwest to assure they are cold-hardy. A plant that is grown in a warm or tropical environment is at risk from cold shock if it is exposed to a frost or freeze. With our unpredictable spring weather, it is important to have plants that can handle the temperature change!
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing?
A: To be honest, making it through five years in business! I heard the statistic that most businesses fail within the first five years. Our banker reassured us that if we could make it past the five-year mark and see positive improvements on our bottom line our chances of surviving in business would improve greatly. We have learned so much and have grown in our understanding of how to run the business and face challenges and recognize opportunities when they arise.
Q: How have you changed and evolved over time? What’s different now from when you first started?
A: I don’t think much has changed dramatically since we first bought the business. The greenhouse was well established and there wasn’t much to change or improve on. We are slowly making incremental improvements to the property and have a few new things planned for the next five years.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome? Basically, if you had it to do all over again, would you do anything differently?
A: Our biggest challenge to date was losing greenhouses at the end of 2019. They collapsed under a snow/ice load that took down two of our 180-foot greenhouses. I cried when I saw them flatten to the ground. We were so fortunate to have knowledgeable, supportive individuals to help us manage the construction in a timely manner. Spring of 2020 was so unpredictable we didn’t know what to expect! We just kept moving forward and started planting not knowing if we would have greenhouses finished in time for the flowers or when we would be able to open due to COVID. We adjusted expectations, set up precautions and social distancing, and we had new greenhouses by the time we opened in May. I don’t know that we would do anything differently. It isn’t always easy owning a business with your spouse, but we have learned not to allow temporary situations interfere with our relationship. This has drawn us closer and we have learned how much we complement each other’s strengths as business partners.
Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
A: We take each day one step at a time and are blessed to have a business that brings people joy. When people visit our greenhouse they are smiling and happy, which makes us happy. I don’t know what you could want beyond that! This business has deepened our faith and we trust in God to bring us to and through whatever happens in the next 5, 10, or 20 years.
Location and contact information
Down to Earth Greenhouse and Landscaping
6104 N. 52nd Ave. – Wausau, WI 54401