An Interview with Chris Pesche from Pesche’s Flowers in Des Plaines, IL
Who taught you about hard work?
I learned about hard work first from my parents, and second, from my first boss when I worked at a prominent Chicagoland garden center.
Watch this interview with my first boss, Chris Pesche, to see how to grow a thriving 3+ generation family-owned business + how to increase profits with technology, inventory management, and customer service.
A Reflection On My First Job
Read on for a bit more context and good-natured memories of my first job at a prominent Chicagoland garden center…
My mother was a real estate agent, and my father traded stocks and bonds. They were up early, dressed, making breakfast for the family, getting everyone out the door on time, working hard all day, and something I have grown to appreciate now as a working parent — home for dinner.
I learned how to stand up, smile, and talk on the telephone to a customer from my mother. I learned the value of smiling and remembering peoples’ names at the networking events she took me to.
This also made it really easy for me to get in trouble as a young boy riding my bike around town wreaking havoc with my friends -- lighting off firecrackers and what not. I couldn’t go anywhere without people recognizing me as my mother’s son and reporting me back to her when I was out of line.
From my father, I learned persistence and loyalty. He worked at Allstate in the investment department for 28 years.
I also learned a lot about logic, persuasion, and strategy from my father. I’ll never forget the time he introduced me to a decision tree, where we mapped out possible outcomes of each decision for something I was facing. That way of thinking is a part of my daily life: from how I will answer a sales objection, to creating the next step in the marketing automation campaign, to nearly everything I plan out on a family vacation.
In high school I worked at a garden center. It was there that I learned the value of arriving early and kicking ass right away first thing in the morning. Work starts the instant you step onto the parking lot at Pesche’s. There will be no lollygagging and tom foolery of any kind.
I’ll never forget the time Frank Pesche scolded me when I wasn’t assembling a display table the way he wanted. And then, in a strict, fierce yet nurturing, grandfatherly way he taught me how to use the second setting on a pair of adjustable pliers.
Frank was maybe 5’ 6”. He drove a wood-paneled station wagon, always wore a Pesche’s cap, had tan, weathered skin, and pale, Luxembourgian blue eyes that lit up with the sky and reflected the bright sun and pierced your soul when he looked at you. That glare could also soften at times and he would pull you aside and tell you about why he priced things the way he did -- just like his son Chris shares in the interview. I remember him telling me about Profit Margins… and sensing I was confused, he explained. “Remember this,” he said. “Maybe you’ll run a garden center some day.”
And that idea -- of running my own business someday -- had never really occurred to me until then. Not that I can remember anyway.
Pesche Family History
The Pesche family opened up the business in 1923 in Des Plaines, IL. Watch the interview for more of their rich history, and see the Pesche history page for more.
I started out doing whatever they asked. Clean the toilets. Sweep the isles. Mop. And later, helping customers put plants in their car… the difference between mushroom compost and chicken manure… what else besides horticultural vermiculite was in the Pesche’s secret recipe of their branded potting soil…
Many of my coworkers spoke limited English. The Spanish I learned in high school was a bit formal. But we tried. “Sweep mop” Jose would tell me and he’d point. And I knew that meant to sweep the aisle inside the garden center and mop it and I’d do it. But by the end of the summer, we were buddies and could have a full conversation and joke with each other. I learned about as much Spanish as he learned English, which was later helpful in other jobs working in kitchens.
One day at lunch, in front of the ladies from the flower shop, Jose offered me a jalapeno. He held it out and nodded “take it.” It was clear that I MUST eat the jalapeno if I were to ever be half the man as Jose. And they LAUGHED when my mouth was on fire and I tried to drink water. But I could hang and eat two after a while.
In the Chicago area, there is a prominent Polish community that would shop at the garden center. Polish grandmothers were my favorite. They were the most generous tippers.
There was the cute blonde girl at the checkout counter. At the end of the summer one year I finally mustered up the guts to ask her out. She said yes. But later, when we were trying to coordinate things by texting on the cell phone that belonged to my dad that he shared with me (did you ever share a cell phone back in the day with someone?) -- my dad asked something like “who is this?” and I lost the deal. I was heartbroken. Drove home from work in my parent’s station wagon all alone.
Years later… now running a marketing company focused on serving the green industry… I think back to how much I gained from that experience working for the Pesche family.
I recently went on vacation back to Illinois to visit my family. For the first time in ten years, I didn’t work on the vacation trip to Chicago. Ok, I did some work -- I went and interviewed my first boss at the garden center that my family loves. I’ve been wanting to do this for years and am excited to share this interview with you.
Could you imagine building a business
that lasted over 100 years
and was kept in your family?
Could you imagine working at the same place from the time you were only eight years old, and still loving it decades later when you’re still getting to work three hours before dawn?
I’m excited to share an interview with a man whose family deeply instilled a strong work ethic, a passion for plants, and an appreciation for How To Present Your Product In A Way Your Customers Want.
Watch to see the exciting history of one of Chicagoland’s most respected entrepreneurial families and you will learn:
- How to keep loyal customers coming back for decades WITHOUT letting them expect your specials and discounts
- How to add a second stream of income with an e-commerce shop to add a cool $300K to help level out the slower seasonal times of year
- The technology and software that gives Chris Pesche more control over his business by managing his inventory faster than the previous paper + human system they used for years
- How Pesche’s actively listen to their customers -- through both online reviews and in person -- to keep their product current and exciting
P.S. did you know that it was working at this garden center that helped me realize that serving the landscape industry was part of where I wanted to lead Ramblin Jackson?
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