Preferences often help you find your niche

score A visit to Cushman's Greenhouse in Belmont, Wisconsin, in November is like being in a beehive during the spring flowering time.

Everyone is moving at top speed to fill orders for poinsettias, and the stocks are dwindling fast.

Total plant shipments from the 12 green houses are expected to reach 18,000 poinsettia plants by the first of December. The greenhouses are wall-to-wall with a sea of vibrantly colored poinsettias, some red, pink, salmon, silver and several unique combinations.

By the end of the first week of December, they're completely sold out, and you'd think they'd take time off to catch their breath or concentrate on getting the plans settled for all the spring flowers.

But that's not what happens.

"We then begin marketing when everything is fresh in the customers' mind and in ours," Steve Cushman says. "It works out really well. If there were any problems, we can work them out while everything is fresh in everyone's mind.

"This method of marketing for the next season has been extremely successful for us. We have increased annual sales by 20 percent by instituting this method."

It's now, after the next year's poinsettias needs are determined, that they can concentrate on completing their spring and summer planting requirements, which is until mid-August - when the next year's poinsettia cuttings are started.

It takes about three months for a poinsettia to come to full color.

It's hard to believe, but all the success that Cushman's Greenhouse has enjoyed came about because Nick Cushman, Steve's father, couldn't find a decent slice of tomato for his BLT.

"I love BLT [bacon, lettuce & tomato] sandwiches, and I wanted to grow a tomato that would cover the whole sandwich," Nick said. "That's why I got started. So help me, that's the truth."

That was back in 1975, when the former meat cutter began "messing around" with plants. He added the flowers, which make up 85 percent of his business, at the request of his wife.

"My wife would ask me where the flowers were, and I didn't have any because I just like to eat," Nick said, chuckling. "So eventually, I added flowers."

The business has grown considerably from the modest tomato plants Nick started in a lean-to on his home property to a sprawling greenhouse operation covering more than three acres along Highway 151.

It remains a family-owned corporation. Steve, his son, is sales manager, wife Marilyn still handles the books, and Steve's wife, DelRae, also is an officer in the corporation.

Opportunities for business start-ups exist in all area of commerce. It just takes drive, determination and the ability to solve day-to-day problems to make it grow into a long-term successful operation.

What is it you like to do? Do you have any experience in an area that could be capitalized on? It doesn't need to be high-tech; of course, if you are a whiz in electronics, maybe that will be your niche.

Take the money you were saving for that new car, borrow some from Dad and Grandma and put it to work.

It can be done. Good luck.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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