There’s a new “Rick” at Rick’s Garden Center, and his name is Dan.
Dan and Jeana Hopper of Monument bought the westside business in April, taking over from Mike and Gail Estes, who had owned and operated the Colorado Springs mainstay since 1985. The Esteses purchased the business from original owners Dwight Richner, his wife, Jackie, and son Ron, who founded it in 1948 at the same 1827 W. Uintah St. site where it stands today.
“We’re the third family to own it,” said Dan Hopper.
He doesn’t mind answering to “Rick” and sometimes does.
The business name, footprint and location have continued as usual with the Hoppers at the helm. Regular customers still might see Mike Estes from time to time, when he and Gail aren’t on the golf course. As part of the purchase agreement, the Esteses helped the new owners through the transition and continue to offer support.
“We had been looking to buy a business for the last six to eight years,” Jeana Hopper said. “This one was in our Top 3. We had confidence this was something we could be successful at.”
Before buying Rick’s, Jeana was an outpatient center nurse and worked part time in real estate, while Dan, a mechanical engineer, did HVAC design for a builder. The couple have been married 14 years and have an 8-year-old son, Gage.
They were looking at established businesses throughout the state through a business broker, doing due diligence to find the best fit for their investment. They investigated businesses for self-storage, wrought iron, pack-and-shipping and a greenhouse, but Rick’s Garden Center with its solid reputation, knowledgeable staff and loyal clientele won out.
“I hate to say we kissed a lot of frogs, but with Rick’s we thought it would be something we’d enjoy doing, and we like working together,” Jeana said. “We wanted a family business, primarily.”
Jeana learned customer service from her business-owner dad, the pharmacist in her small hometown in Oklahoma.
“I grew up my whole life working the counter, taking care of people and helping them. Rick’s appealed to us as a family business,” she said. “I like the idea of knowing most of your clients by name.”
Mike and Gail Estes bought Rick’s when son Scott was 1 year old. He grew up to be the manager but didn’t want to buy the business. Scott Estes stayed on for the Hoppers’ first eight months at Rick’s, leaving in early December to pursue a new career.
Some longtime customers were surprised that the Estes family sold the business, which they’d listed for sale confidentially through a broker, Dan said.
“People had no idea they’d sell. But both Mike and Gail wanted the business to keep going after they sold.”
“They’re helping us transition,” Jeana said. “It’s a combination of them being willing to stay on and the fact that we really enjoy having them around. They’ve been hugely helpful, and they’re just really fun. We feel they’re almost as invested in seeing this be successful as we are. We want to continue the legacy of the business they’ve cared for and crafted over the years.”
Most of the staff stayed through the ownership shift. The full-service garden center and retail shop employs 12 year-round employees, including Dan and Jeana. The staff swells to 36 at the height of the busy summer season, with seasonal workers rounding out the balance.
“Coming from the building industry, where everything is deadline-driven, this has been a refreshing change for me. This is definitely frenetic, but it’s a different feel from what I was doing before,” Dan said. “We’ve been learning the retail model, getting to know the supply chains and understanding the rhythms of the garden center.”
When the weather gets cold, business slows for those who sell annuals and perennials, trees and shrubs. December business has picked up a bit with the addition of Christmas trees and holiday decor for sale.
Rick’s typically shuts down for the first couple of weeks of January. This year will be a little different, as the business will shutter for at least three weeks as some indoor improvements are made.
“We’re looking to remodel the inside of the shop and update the space,” Jeana said.
They plan to refinish the floors, spruce up the paint and reorganize and optimize the retail space. There was no time to rearrange when the Hoppers took ownership last spring.
“We took over in the middle of April. We had a week’s grace period, and then it was just game on,” Jeana said. “We’d say in April, ‘Wow, this is really busy!’ And Mike and Gail would just chuckle. By May, it was so busy we’d get to 3 p.m. and realize we hadn’t had time to stop and eat all day. It’s fast-paced, and it’s a good energy. Any time we get a plant delivery, it’s a little high.”
The neighborhood around the busy intersection at Uintah and 19th streets has been welcoming, the longtime customers warm and friendly.
“People have been very sweet, wishing us luck. Our biggest gift has been our staff. They are incredibly knowledgeable. Rick’s is known for its quality products but also for the level of personal service you get here,” Jeana said. “The staff is why the business has been so successful over the years.”
The Hoppers have made some changes, such as discontinuing equipment rental and expanding the inventory of houseplants to include “more specialty plants than you’d find at a big box store,” she said.
Customers still will find the wide selection of annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, shrubs and grasses come spring. There still will be the proprietary custom blends of fertilizers and grass seeds developed by Mike Estes and tailored to the Pikes Peak region’s climate and soil. Soil testing still will be done at no charge, and employees will continue to diagnose what ails customers’ plants.
Also, “We are looking to expand our nursery operations,” Dan said. “And the fountain and statuary offerings.”
Some other small changes? Holiday decor, including custom wreath design, has returned after a several-year hiatus. And the shop now offers the popular Melissa & Doug toy line.
“People don’t realize we have 3 acres here, that we do a nursery business and sell things like river stone,” Jeana said. “We’re hoping to bring back some of the garden classes and establish an email marketing campaign. Anything we can do to help balance out the off-season.”
The Hoppers plan to maintain the business as a place where people seek solutions for garden issues.
“We want to keep it true to its original spirit, while at the same time modernizing it a bit with social media and an email subscription service,” Jeana said. “We want to keep it a fun destination, a family-run garden center, and also use the business as a platform to give back to the community.”
Contact the writer, 476-1602.