Hanchett Family Greenhouse, whose Flathead roots date back five generations to 1936, is ushering in a new era with the opening of an expansive retail facility
Story by Myers Reece | Photography by Sally Finneran
Seeking direction after a self-described “misspent youth,” Jon Hanchett approached his parents about working in their greenhouse. They said they couldn’t pay him, since it was essentially a hobby operation, but he didn’t care. He just wanted dirt on his hands.
Then he discovered what generations of Hanchetts before him had: his thumb was green. And every time he dug it into the earth, he kept a family legacy alive.
“I didn’t realize I had a passion for it until I started doing it,” he says.
The Hanchett family’s green-thumb roots in the Flathead Valley reach back to 1932, when Jon’s great-grandfather William Jon Bond bought a greenhouse in Kalispell. His daughter and son-in-law, Lorraine and Earl Hanchett, took over in 1936 and opened one of the region’s first flower shops, Woodland Floral, in 1941 on Sixth Avenue East, where it still stands today.
Without access to affordable airfreight, running a flower shop in Montana meant growing your own flowers in an unforgiving climate. It required a delicate touch and skill, which Earl and Lorraine developed in spades through the years and passed down to their five children, who all worked in the family greenhouse.
One of those children, Scott, did a stint in the Army before returning to work for his parents in 1971. Scott and his wife Nancy left the business when Lorraine sold it in 1979, five years after Earl had passed away. It was in the 1970s that shipping flowers via airfreight became more viable in Montana, allowing grocery stores to begin selling them, which changed the landscape for local growers.
Scott and Nancy didn’t return to commercial growing until 1989, when their sons Jon and Chris were kids with a penchant for playing in the dirt, and even then it was a side operation. For primary income, Scott had parlayed his skills with plants into a career with the Kalispell Parks and Recreation Department.
It wasn’t until Jon was a young man that he decided to do more than root around in the soil. After he took over the family trade, his brother, Chris, noticed his enthusiasm, as well as the impact it had on the nursery’s success, and decided to join forces after completing his master’s degree in business from University of Montana.
Guided by Chris’ business acumen and Jon’s green thumb, Hanchett Family Greenhouse zeroed in on niche specialties, most notably annuals, including the wildly popular pansies. While the brothers maintained wholesale accounts in markets such as Spokane, retail sales of annuals at the Kalispell Farmers Market emerged as their bread-and-butter seven years ago.
Jon discovered an additional benefit of the new business model. Whereas other men buy flowers for their loved ones, he already had a supply at his fingertips, and he met his girlfriend, Mary Graham, selling them at the farmers market.
Over the years, the Hanchett brothers, along with Graham and Chris’ wife Lindsey, expanded Hanchett Family Greenhouse to the point that they could accommodate an onsite retail facility to complement the existing three production greenhouses. The demand for annuals in particular was skyrocketing.
“We could hardly take money quick enough,” Chris said.
The Hanchetts were also attracted to another aspect of direct retail over wholesale: getting to know customers.
“I came away with the firm belief that business is all about relationships,” Jon said.
On May 5, the Hanchetts opened a 4,600-square-foot retail greenhouse, with a 19-foot-tall ceiling, at their Trumble Creek Road property near Kalispell. It comes 85 years after “Great Grandpa Bond” purchased his first nursery in the Flathead, and 76 after Earl and Lorraine started Woodland Floral. It’s both a celebration of family history and a launching point for furthering that legacy into the future. And there are already kids from a fifth generation of Hanchetts chipping in, perhaps waiting for their own opportunity to one day carry on the tradition.
“Everything leading up to this point has been serendipitous over the last 10 years,” Jon said.
While Jon and Chris run the show, it’s not uncommon to bump into their father and mother in the middle of the action, even if they’re technically retired.
“I guess it’s in the blood, in our genes,” Scott says of growing and working with plants.
Marilyn Brady, a longtime family friend, works at the greenhouse, adding even more experience to an operation already brimming with it. Brady’s father, Pieter Drent, purchased Holland Nursery in Evergreen in 1963 and then, starting in 1968, ran Flowers by Hansen in Kalispell for 22 years. Between Flowers by Hansen and Woodland Floral, the Drent and Hanchett families at one time ran the two main flower shops in Northwest Montana, and now they’re working together.
Hanchett Family Greenhouse has an extensive selection of flowers and plants, including over 50 colors of petunias and a wide assortment of calibrachoas. Vegetables and herbs are also available. The Hanchetts pride themselves on high quality and distinctive offerings. There’s a good chance customers will bump into something they won’t see anywhere else.
“If it’s different, if it’s unique, I want to carry it,” Jon says. “Whatever everybody else is doing, we do the opposite.”
Jon, who never met Earl, found a sign at Woodland Floral inscribed with his grandparents’ names. He has it proudly displayed in the new retail facility.
“I feel like I want to pay respect to a man I never met,” he says, “but who had such an impact on me.”
Hanchett Family Greenhouse is open seven days a week. Visit www.hanchettfamilygreenhouse.com for more info.