MUNCIE, Ind. — A clipboard and a ruler with the company name on it. Two simple items that Dan Wasson Sr. almost always has by his side at work.
He’s carried the same brown clipboard, now worn and battered, for almost 40 years. Perhaps it’s by habit, but these two work essentials symbolically speak to Wasson’s drive to be organized and to get it right, whether it’s straightening a row of potted plants or a pile of invoices. It’s worked, as his small nursery in Union City, Indiana has grown to be the Wasson Nursery it is today — a leader in the nursery, garden and residential landscaping business in east central Indiana.
But he hasn’t done it alone.
For as long as they can remember, his sons, Bob Wasson, ’05 MBA ’09, and Danny Wasson, ’03, have been by his side. They grew up helping their dad and learning the ins and outs of a family business. Now, Bob Wasson, president of operations, and Danny Wasson, president of landscape services, manage a team that can fluctuate from around 50 people to as many as 100 during the peak season.
“These guys have the same passion that I’ve got … maybe even more,” Dan Wasson Sr. said. “For a second-generation business to succeed, it must have the same passion as the first generation, or it will fail.”
It’s clear that Bob and Danny are dedicated to continuing the business.
“Our business is pretty easy to be passionate about,” said Bob Wasson. “We get to go out and … see the improvement that you make every day. People refer to this place as their ‘happy place.’ ”
Early years: 2 employees, an office cot
In 1977, when Dan Wasson Sr. started the nursery, the landscaping business was only beginning to bud.
“When I was growing up, people didn’t think as much about landscaping. … Then it became a symbol of success.”
The residential jobs started out small but got larger over time as outdoor living spaces became more popular, adding on areas such as brick retainer walls and patios, plus water features such as fountains and ponds.
Dan Wasson Sr. didn’t have the crew he has now.
“I started with two employees — my mom as my secretary and my best friend as my helper. That was our crew … me and him.”
He worked long work hours. He recalls often staying the night at work, sleeping in his office on a small cot. But the reward was that he knew he was on to something great.
“I think from the very beginning I knew it was going to be a huge success because I lived it and ate it 24 hours a day for many years.”
His sons not only watched him work hard, but they heartily pitched in.
“They spent Saturdays at the nursery as their dad was building it,” said Danielle Wasson, a 2008 Ball State graduate and the wife of Danny Wasson. “It’s neat to see how much of it is engrained in them.”
Son’s Ball State degree buoys expansion
Danny Wasson knew he wanted to go into the family business. He was naturally gifted with a good eye for design and photography and was knowledgeable about landscaping. So instead of going into landscape architecture, he decided to major in business at Ball State.
“He can envision something in his head, put it on paper for a client, then tangibly put it in the ground for them and then come back and showcase it in a different form of art,” said Danielle Wasson.
This prepared Danny Wasson with the sales, management and entrepreneurial mindset that blossomed after graduation.
“You get a vision of how you could add and what you can implement to bring it to more of an enterprise level.”
Bob Wasson majored in finance and put it to use right away when the family expanded the business in 2006, buying a small Muncie greenhouse and 10 surrounding acres. During that winter, Bob and two of his college friends built a new garden center on the land. The business opened later in 2007, and a national economic downturn soon followed. Still, Dan Wasson Sr. said the expansion was the smartest decision they’ve made.
After helping establish the enlarged business, Bob got his MBA and decided to try the corporate world. After a few years, he felt the family business was a better fit. Since returning in 2011, he’s taken on the overall big picture, focusing on the retail centers; Danny is outside, running the residential/commercial areas. Those tasks play to each brother’s strengths, which have helped them gain even more customers.
“It’s a perfect split,” said their father.
Being around the three Wasson men all the time but from a different vantage point, Danielle Wasson sees their collaboration.
“They very much do rely on each other as each other’s sounding board, even though they can make decisions on their own,” she said. “They always team up on it. I think it helps them unintentionally focus on their key goals as opposed to making decisions on their own that helps their own departments.”
A new location to bloom in Fishers
Together, they’re expanding to a third retail center, which will open in Fishers in spring 2017. Partnering with Jon Pardieck, ’89, a former client who became a family friend, will share in the ownership and operational duties. This location will reach a new market.
“It will be geared more toward outdoor living … furniture and grills … more than just plants,” Bob Wasson said.
With this substantial growth, they are constantly tweaking and adapting. Danny Wasson may not carry a clipboard like his father, but he has a business book called “Winning with Accountability: The Secret Language of High-Performing Organizations” near him.
He said they are using more of a corporate model while keeping the family feel. The sons have recently been passing on their expertise and the company’s values to team leaders so they can help employees. And they’ve stepped up their marketing efforts, too.
It’s noticeable. All the employees wear the same green company shirt, and everything from their trucks and equipment to their billboards display their logo.
“We really overhauled our whole image about four or five years ago. We updated our logo, and from then on we’ve had a clear commitment to this,” said Danny Wasson.
They have found that hiring Ball State interns and graduates has helped, too.
“It allows us to give back to Ball State in an effort to help students gain more experience. And at the same time, it provides us with students who have fresh ideas and insight and are tech-savvy,” said Danielle Wasson, who helps with projects.
Everyone’s hard work has helped annual sales increase every year, and they expect that to continue this year.
“Every year is our best year ever,” Dan Wasson Sr. said. “Demand has skyrocketed. We were fortunate that we got in on the beginning of the landscape boom, and we’ve ridden it all the way.”