Sargent’s on 2nd – A Look Back

      In the early 1980s, the greenhouse growing enterprise at Sargent’s North (on an off-the-beaten-path location) was easily producing more than could be sold. So, Forrest began looking for another more visible outlet. A property at 1811 Second Street Southwest, the former site of Jim’s Ranch Market, had been vacant for several years. Jim’s had a long tradition of selling annual flowers and produce, so it seemed to be a good fit, at least from the flowers standpoint. That high-traffic location, just five blocks west of St. Marys Hospital, was a landmark, strategic decision, and Sargent’s woody plant and flower business there boomed. A significant but unintended consequence was that the new higher level of exposure in the community accelerated the landscape business; it doubled in the next few years. Tom Lahmers (the architect for the Sargent family’s new home on the Sargent’s North property) and his father’s carpenter crew went right from finishing the home in December 1984 to remodeling the Ranch Market building so Sargent’s on 2ND could open for business on April 1, 1985.

       Current Sargent’s on 2ND manager, Scott Moon, has been the store manager from the very beginning. He had interned for Sargent’s in the spring and summer of 1980 following his freshman year at the University of Minnesota and again during the summer of 1981. He worked on the landscape crew his first internship and in both landscape and retail for his second. He recalls, “In 1984 when finishing schooling (his degree was in horticulture), I contacted Forrest to ask if there were any positions available.” Forrest’s reply was, ‘As a matter of fact, we do. We’re looking to open a property we just bought on Second Street, and I feel you would be a good fit to be its manager. Let’s talk.’”

       Forrest told Scott he could hire him as a landscape designer when he finished his studies. He could work out of Sargent’s North, help with the Second Street store plans (its layout and inventory), and then they could open it together. Scott was only twenty-two years old and about to manage something he didn’t know too much about. He liked retail, but his only experience in that area came from his Sargent’s internship and working for another Twin Cities company during his junior and senior years at the U of M. His training at the U was as a landscape designer. Ultimately, he thought, what a cool opportunity, and he accepted Forrest’s offer.

       Though Forrest did most of the planning for the opening, he let Scott make many decisions. Faye Sargent, bookkeeper for Sargent’s North, was also involved in the venture. She taught Scott about the business office side of things, including inventory management. He says, “Both Forrest and Faye were great mentors for me.”    

       From the start, Forrest and Scott talked business regularly, and they met for breakfast at Perkins Restaurant almost every Saturday morning year round. Scott would share information about Sargent’s on 2ND; Forrest would fill him in on Sargent’s North and the landscape department. Many times, after breakfast, they would drive to various Sargent’s landscape projects underway to check out their progress.

       Sargent’s on 2ND opened with an excellent nucleus of workers. Scott hired an assistant manager and an additional dozen employees. Both he and Forrest believe in putting people in place to manage different sectors of the business and let each be successful without micromanaging them. Several long-time employees remain: Cathy Hanson (thirty plus years), Tami Smith (more than twenty-five years), and Collette Bucholtz (more than twenty years).

       For their first holiday season, Sargent’s on 2ND ordered more Christmas trees than were sold. They grew poinsettias at Sargent’s North and ended up with a surplus of those, too. As a gesture of good will, they gave trees and poinsettias to nursing homes and churches all over town. The following years, as business steadily grew, they fine-tuned their forecasting. Flocked Christmas trees, which capture a winter feeling via a generous dusting of artificial snow, were popular at the time, especially for display at businesses. When Scott said he didn’t know the process, Forrest said, “I’ll teach you.” (Forrest had been flocking trees in Red Wing for several years.) He came to the store, rolled up his sleeves and worked with the team. They prepped the trees during the day and then, after close, Forrest and Scott would flock a dozen or more trees before going home so that they could dry overnight. Several florists in Rochester had Sargent’s flock trees for them to sell rather than doing the messy job themselves.

Growth and Remodels

     Forrest was passionate about growing plants and annual flowers. He was confident that Sargent’s on 2ND could market them well, and he foresaw the store’s business increasing from year to year, which it did from the start. Sargent’s North has annual and perennial flowers but also caters to landscape projects, nursery stock, trees, shrubs, and evergreens. Sargent’s on 2ND has woody plants and garden accessories but especially caters to annual color, tropicals, perennials, and houseplants. Business consultants advise that to be relevant and remain up to date, a major building renovation should occur every ten years. Forrest firmly believed this. Five lots came with the original purchase of the store, and five more were added on the north side of the block as they became available, which provided room for growth. To minimize inconvenience to shoppers and maximize Sargent’s off-season crew, much of the indoor remodeling took place in the winter months, and the outdoor work was done late fall, winter, or early spring.

       Their first major remodel began in the fall of 1995 and completed in 1997. To obtain input for their renovation, Forrest, Faye, and Scott, visited many garden centers across the United States, and, with Scott’s wife, Wendy, several garden centres in England, which are quite different from those in the United States in that they are year-round leisure destinations for families. Forrest hired the architecture firm of Kane and Johnson to develop plans and lead the project through the complicated city-approval process. The facelift included a heated and ventilated greenhouse to the north end of the store, considerable covered outside shopping space, and paved walkways with brick and concrete. To Sargent’s surprise, the fire code required a sprinkler system for the store, the covered shopping areas, and the greenhouse. This required running a large 6-inch water line from the side street water main to the store. Because the areas were unheated outside the covered space, they needed to purchase an expensive “dry system.” Meeting the energy code for a greenhouse was a challenge, as well. These hurdles, plus the zoning and parking requirements, made the project an expensive and challenging one, but Sargent’s prevailed with plenty of assistance from professional consultants.

       In 2005, Sargent’s purchased the aging Professional Skater’s Association office building just to the west of the store from Carol and Dave Shulman. Workers demolished it, sealed off the well that they discovered during demolition, and Sargent’s incorporated the acquisition into their outdoor sales space. They now owned what had been eleven small city lots. In 2006, they hired Paul Armon as architect and Kreofsky Building Systems (with Bob Kreofsky as the team lead) to remodel the store once again. The remodeling added an automatic door to the west to access the newly acquired property, moved two bathrooms from the south end of the building to the north end, added an employee break room, remodeled the floral work area, added new checkout kiosks, expanded the interior store shopping area, added a large garage for product storage, and involved some interior redecorating. The new lot to the west was paved with brick, and an overhead shade structure was added.

       Sargent’s began planning another major remodeling project in the summer of 2020, again with Paul Armon as architect. They purchased the Hicks Electric property along Second Street Southwest to make room for growth. The goal for the project, which is planned to complete in 2022, is to make the store more urban-like to attract younger clientele (for example, the growing number of city apartment dwellers) while maintaining an appeal to all ages. The inside of the store will have a 14’ wide by 48’ long skylight that will give the front of the store an atrium feel. A coffee shop will be added to provide a year-round spot for customers to frequent, especially winter months when people can enjoy a greenhouse setting surrounded by beautiful plants. Another major part of the remodel, planned to complete in the fall of 2021, is to triple the size of their greenhouse space.  

A Company One Doesn’t Want to Leave

     Scott Moon thought he would work for Sargent’s from five to ten years and then venture out to open his own business. But his love for his work and his respect for Forrest, Faye, and his co-workers soon changed that plan. “From the beginning,” Scott recalls, “Forrest has been like a second father. He’s such a teacher and so even keeled. He was willing to gamble on me to do the job well, he trusted me, and he gave me full control of buying and making many business decisions on my own. When I made a mistake, I would learn from it, and continue on. Sargent’s became a company I did not want to leave.”