Growing Green Passes the Reins To Long-Time Employees - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Growing Green Passes the Reins To Long-Time Employees

(Back row, left to right) Suzanne Alberter, Jodi Stumpf, Susan Esker (Front row, left to right) Joel Pesapane and Teri Pesapane
Photo: Growing Green, Inc.

Growing Green, Inc., based in St. Louis, Missouri, is celebrating their 50th anniversary and is also marking a change in leadership this year.

Founded by Teri Pesapane and her husband Joel in 1973, Growing Green got started after Teri was inspired by the plantscaping she noticed when visiting her family in Boston. She began selling plants at their retail store and the company soon started doing interior and exterior plantscapes.

While the company specializes in interior plantscaping, they also offer living and moss walls, holiday décor and plant rentals.

Photo: Growing Green, Inc.

The Pesapanes have grown the business to 42 employees and an annual revenue of over $5 million. Some of their keys to success include being patient, kind, forward-thinking and not being afraid to try something new.

When the couple started thinking about their succession plan around 10 years ago, they knew they wanted to still be involved with the company as they transitioned into retirement.

They identified Jodi Stumpf, director of operations, Susan Esker, director of sales/design & marketing and Suzanne Alberter, director of administration as the future leaders of the company.  

“Things just sort of moved into place and it was the next thing to do,” Esker says. “They really wanted to keep it Growing Green. They didn’t want to sell to somebody else and change the business and change what it was. It was important to them to keep the company what it was.”

Each of the women has longevity with the company and distinctively has their own divisions. Stumpf has been with the business for 25 years, Esker for 20 years and Alberter for 15 years. Alberter says they take the trust the Pesapanes have placed in them very seriously.

“This is a big deal to carry on the legacy of Growing Green for them,” Alberter says. “It feels pretty powerful.”

Esker says their goal is to continue to grow the company and stick to the Growing Green way of caring for their team and networking with others in the industry.

Photo: Growing Green, Inc.

“The way that we do things is very important to us,” Esker says. “The ultimate goal is really to just keep going and keep growing. Keep doing what we’re doing, keep improving. We can always do better.”

Alberter says they share the responsibility of running the company through a lot of communication and tough conversations. They know they will have conflict but are prepared to work together to come to an agreement.

“I would say now I think we all three are pretty much always on the same page,” Alberter says. “It’s just talking it through.”

Esker says they all three have very strong personalities and their own directions, so it is a challenge at times, but the end goal is the same.

“We all have our own ideas and directions,” Stumpf says. “We’re all doing our own thing, but we got to bring it back in to what’s best for Growing Green.”

Growing Green is always in hiring mode and Stumpf says they’ve made a conscious effort to connect with universities near them that have horticulture programs. They retain their team members by looking to keep them engaged.

They have conducted surveys to gauge where they’re at and what the staff feels about working for the company.

“We also try to do fun things internally and we have some things after hours where we’ll do some creative things,” Stumpf says. “We’ll just have employees stay after work and have some food, drinks and make moss walls.”

Photo: Growing Green, Inc.

Being involved with various associations is also important Growing Green as the Pesapanes have been very active in the industry from the very beginning of the business.

Esker says a lot of their work comes through their connections in the community and architects and designers. They have a reputation of doing what they say they’re going to do.

The company hired a marketing assistant a year and a half ago and Esker says she has been phenomenal at bringing their social media to life, including starting a TikTok account.

“We don’t really advertise so we use our social media a lot to drive business,” Esker says. “People contact us through the website, which we get a fair amount of, which is great.”

Alberter says they’ve learned a lot from Teri and they plan to keep moving forward with the trends.

“We’re just happy to be in the industry,” Alberter says. “I mean, for me, I can say it’s a dream job. I get to come to work and be surrounded by all these really cool things and creative people and educated people and plants. It doesn’t really get much better than this.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.