- Jan 17, 2019
The Northbrook Business of the Year is honored for excellent business practices.
In 1968, Dundee Road was a quiet two-lane street and Reds Garden Center was a small family business selling nursery plants and firewood. Its current owners, sisters Cindy Ullrich and Terri Jones, remember how their father Wallace “Red” Poehls would stroll at dinnertime from the unattended store to their family home at the far edge of the property, and the girls would be assigned to watch out the front window just in case any customers pulled in. “Those were really simple times,” recalls Ullrich.
Fast forward 50 years, and Reds is a comprehensive source for an enormous range of trees, shrubs, flowers, garden essentials, gifts, and decor items. Even more comprehensive is the level of customer support provided by the sisters and their experienced team of landscape designers, plant experts, and sales personnel. In addition to the business’s well-established retail operations, Reds has seen significant growth in demand for their landscape design services. A passion for plants and commitment to a positive customer experience have sustained the business for five decades, and that milestone achievement made Reds a natural choice for Business of the Year.
The Reds we know today is the product of a long evolution, driven by both market trends and family priorities. When it first opened, Reds stood next to North Wheel Farm — a garden business specializing in flower and vegetables, owned by Red Poehl’s brother-in-law Al Karnatz. When Karnatz decided to retire in 2001, the Poehls family purchased the North Wheel Farm operations, leading to a dramatic expansion in greenhouse space and vastly increasing the variety of plant products offered by Reds. The garden center now offers over 450 types of evergreens, shade trees, grasses, and shrubs, as well as more than 100 varieties of annuals, perennials, roses, and other decorative plants. Plants are constantly rotating through the greenhouses, brought in seasonally from Reds’ proprietary farm acreage in Lake Zurich. They also grow vegetables for a farmers’ market in Northfield.
“Our customers tell us that one of the most important things about Reds is the installation service available for retail purchases of any size,” notes Jones. “We will send our staff to install even single trees or shrubs for a customer, or have a designer prepare a custom pot at a client’s home or business. We always hear from customers that they can’t get that type of service anywhere else. We care about the small jobs as much as the big ones.”
The wholesale and retail plant sales remains the central core of the business, but their landscape design/installation work is expanding rapidly. In the last ten years, the design practice has grown from 10% of their overall business to about 40% today. The popular year-round gift shop is another operation that has evolved over time in response to customer feedback, with an array of unique items appealing to gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
Ullrich and Jones credit their long-term employees for creating the uniquely welcoming atmosphere that brings customers back. Many have worked for Reds for years, and greet regular visitors by name with an enthusiastically helpful attitude. Their staff has grown over the last ten years from 20 to 50 peak-season employees, but the emphasis on customer service and a passion for plants has remained constant.
“Reds is so deserving of this award, because they are iconic in Northbrook,” says Holly Allgauer-Cir, Hilton Chicago/Northbrook. “I remember going there as a child with my mom and picking out our Christmas decorations, and they are still doing decorations for my mom 45 years later. With over 50 years in business they are the true essence of what Northbrook is all about.”
“We always knew that we wanted to continue the family business,” reflects Ullrich. “We felt embraced by the tradition and really wanted to make it work. And we have a love for living things that we want to share with people.”