Employer looking for a successor so he can ‘stop and smell the roses’ – Leader Posts

Business owner looking for a successor so he can ‘stop and smell the roses’

Published at 1:58 PM Monday, September 18, 2023

NILES — East Main Gardens has been bringing flower arrangements and the joy that comes with them to Niles and the surrounding area for more than a century. Current owner Mike Peters is the third generation of his family to run the company.

In recent years, as his children moved on to their own endeavors, he began to think about retirement, hoping to find a new entrepreneur to start their own legacy. Although he wants to move on, he hopes to see East Main Gardens outlive him long after him. As he looked forward to the next season of his life, he thought about the history of the business.

In 1919, Peters’ grandfather, Milford, was a railroad worker in Sand Creek, Michigan. At the opportunity to join the railroad in Niles, he talked to his wife, Nellie, about moving.

“I’ll go, but you have to take all my plants with me,” she replied.

Nellie had a large greenhouse full of plants. She kept it as a hobby, but it was a passion, so Milford agreed. It took several trips along the dirt roads of the time, but he got the whole group from Sand Creek to Niles. On the rural property that was not yet part of the city, Milford built a house for his family to live in and a small flower building. He had no idea at the time that they were beginning a 103-year legacy.

On March 30, 1921, Mike’s father, Roy, was born. While in the hospital, Nellie’s concerns were also about her flowers at home. She asked Milford if he had watered all her plants, and after forgetting, he left to do so. While there, another man stopped at the gardens on his way to visit his wife in the hospital. He asked for a plant to take to her, and although he was unsure, Milford agreed. He returned to the hospital delivering the news, worried about the response. He didn’t need to worry, because she told him to go to another sale. Thus, on the same day Roy was born, the first plants for what later became the East Main Gardens were sold.

Peters’ grandparents had eleven children, all of whom spent their time working in the greenhouse and flower shop. Roy would take over the company when Milford went out of business, and ran it for a few more decades until his death at the age of 72. Other kids will take their knowledge to other locations and open their own businesses, such as Murphy’s Flowers in Dowagiac or Southern Michigan Wholesale. Or stay in business by working in other flower shops.

“It was in their blood to keep doing this,” Mike said.

A greenhouse and flower shop were part of the family’s life. Mike remembers the days when he was a child playing in the greenhouse with friends or tying bows for his mother. He would ride with his father to help with deliveries, drive them to doors when his father stopped, and get his paycheck in donuts and chocolate milk when work was done. At the age of fifteen, he began to give himself up. After his father’s death, Mike Peters took over, managing East Main Gardens for over fifty years. Just like his parents and grandparents, he has managed to raise his family, as well as serve generations of customers.

“It’s been good for us,” he said. “We have a good customer base and your best customer is a returning customer.”

These customers will continue to return over the years and pass the relationship on to their future generations. He recalled clients who were buying flowers for their own weddings and, years later, their children were buying flowers for their own weddings.

It has also seen changes over the decades. He remembers the salesman who brought the first push telephone to work to replace the rotary telephone. He saw the four old wooden greenhouses eventually replaced by newer, larger structures and was involved in adding the current showroom. He saw the way the Internet changed business and developed East Main Gardens to remain competitive.

“You can get flowers everywhere, but you can’t get the service we provide,” he said. “People know when they come here that we know what we’re doing.”

Peters noted that he could fill a book with colorful stories about his experiences growing up, working and managing East Main Gardens. Whether it was carrying a customer’s child while chasing her runaway dog, finding another dog sitting in the passenger seat of his delivery truck, or taking a snowmobile ride from a kind stranger to complete a delivery after a severe winter storm, there were adventures and satisfying experiences from the beginning.

“Overall, it’s been a great experience growing up in this field,” he said.

Often, when you take flowers to someone’s door, they receive a smile in response. Flowers has witnessed the comfort they bring to those mourning and the joy to those celebrating. He explained that flowers go with many places in life, each with different meanings, whether it’s “get well soon,” “happy anniversary or happy birthday,” “sorry for your loss,” or “just because.”

“This is what we do,” he said. “People don’t complain when you give them flowers.

The legacy of the East Main Gardens is important to Peters, and he believes it is important to Niles. When Peters was asked what it would take for the next owner to be successful, he spoke of his passion for taking care of people and satisfying customers.

“I really think there is someone out there,” he said. “The flower business requires an educational process, but anyone can learn it if they are dedicated to it.”

He hopes to find someone so he can retire and enjoy watching his grandchildren grow up. He also hopes to have time to travel and ride his motorcycle. He will also continue the holiday tradition, started by his father, of floating Santa Claus on the river in downtown Niles for the children at the hospital and the rest of the community to enjoy.

“It was a really good job,” Peters said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

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