Selling Only Michigan
Today, John and his partner—both professionally and personally—are dedicated to selling the best Michigan has to offer.
Decker’s job loss landed him at the Lansing City Market 15 years ago. “I started selling trees and shrubs and the business grew from there.” Three years later, another vendor—one with a seemingly familiar face—set up shop.
Pam Haddix’s store, Wild Rose, specialized in garden art and gifts. But, it wasn’t just the products that caught Decker’s eye. “I noticed Pam the minute she arrived at the market. It turned out, she and I went to the same elementary and middle schools in Bath.” The couple lost touch when Pam left to attend high school in another community, but talk of “old times” renewed the friendship. “One thing led to the next and we’ve been together ever since,” says Decker.
When the old Lansing City Market closed, the two decided to join forces and interests to invest in Michigan. They opened the newly created Hickory Corners Greenhouse and Nursery in the new Lansing City Market—an anchor store with indoor and outdoor space on the northwest corner of the facility.
From the original offering of only shrubs and trees to the current stock of perennials, annuals, garden art, fruits, vegetables and more, all of the products sold are either made or grown locally.
“We buy items from a 50-mile radius or we produce our own for sale,” says Decker. “We know and trust suppliers and they know us.” Only when products are not available in the state will they go outside of Michigan. “If produce is out of season or unavailable here, then we buy from other states.” But Decker stresses they never buy anything from outside of the United States. “We start in Michigan and stay in Michigan. When the season’s over here, that’s the only time we go elsewhere.”
Decker admits depending on Michigan weather for your livelihood can be nerve wracking. Late season frosts or too much rain are blamed for crop losses every year. Rain is more of a problem than cold temperatures since disease can quickly wipe out a harvest. While selling now homegrown strawberries and peaches, Decker is looking to a strong fall crop of squash and tomatoes. He says he can even offer year-round Michigan produce with some planning. “We’re still selling beets and carrots that were harvested last fall then stored for the winter.”
The switch to the new city market facility allowed for an even greater customer base. “The old building had slower traffic in the winter because of the cold. Now we’re a more appropriate business model by being able to be open five days a week.” He looks for even greater sales in the future through new construction and development in the downtown area. But Decker credits the majority of his success to his more established business contacts. He’s provided Christmas wreaths—up to six feet in diameter—and other greenery to decorate several of Lansing’s landmarks and festivities, including Cooley Law School Stadium, the Lansing Center and the Silver Bells in the City celebration.
Decker admits there are also concerns over the rising cost of rent for vendors, but he is reluctant to lay blame. “As a commissioner of the Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority, I’m the kind of person who’d rather be part of the solution than the problem.” Common Ground and Old Town Jazzfest and Bluesfest are normally the highlights of the summer months, and Decker thanks Lansing officials for their help in bringing in that business. He’s also in the process of putting up greenhouses to grow year-round organic plants and produce on his 10-acre farm in Bath.
He stresses, though, at least for now, the products would provide additional supplies for his booth at the Lansing City Market, not replace it. “The market has become too big of an opportunity to give up. We want to eventually offer specialty plants and produce—the real upscale, chef-quality cooking ingredients.”Decker says the change of going from working in big business to being his own boss was shocking. “In corporate America, at the end of the year you get a bonus check. When you work for yourself, the bonus you get is inventory you didn’t sell.” He has to stay mindful of his expenses now but loves the flexibility he gets with being self-employed. “You can make as much money as you want depending on how hard you want to work. I get to do pretty much what I want and there’s nothing like making a career of what you love to do!”
Hickory Corners Greenhouse and Nursery
John Decker and Pam Haddix, Owners
Lansing City Market
325 City Market Drive