Growing in Christiansburg

CHRISTIANSBURG – David and Liane Peirson, owners and operators of David’s Greenhouses for 53 years, have retired and transferred ownership of the business to Brian and Casey Wente.

David, born and raised in Christiansburg, has been in the greenhouse business since age 15; in 1968, he purchased his first business license to operate, working in greenhouses behind what is now First Central National Bank of Christiansburg.

David then met his wife Liane while both were majoring in horticulture at Ohio State University (David also added a second major in accounting and business). The pair graduated in 1975.

In 1978, David purchased new land, and he and Liane were married. The Peirsons renewed their business license in 1979 to include their new address and the home of David’s Greenhouses for the next five decades: 12184 Christiansburg-Jackson Road.

In its early years, David’s Greenhouses sold primarily bedding plants, vegetable plants and seeds. With the help of 14 employees, David also tended two acres of baby’s breath and other cut flowers. After relocating, David and Liane shifted their focus to nursing plants in greenhouses rather than taxing field work.

Despite David’s vast offering of products, he says his sole focus is service, offering his knowledge and advice to customers.

“We both like people most of the time,” David said.

Over the years, the business has largely remained the same, with an increase in cut florals.

Both Peirsons look back fondly on their decades in the business, remembering the characters of Christiansburg. David mentions a woman who asked for one pound of beet seed for her small garden, though the business only stocked 2 pounds of beet seed for the entirety of Champaign County.

“I’m sure they had seed for several years,” David said.

As expansion was never the goal, the Peirsons were content with their small business.

Liane remembers wisdom that the couple gleaned from an OSU professor who helped build their success.

“His favorite saying was ‘Funnel vision, not tunnel vision’ … look at the big picture,” she said.

They have one son, Jonathan, who showed little interest in the business, so they elected not to invest in technological advancements or grow beyond a certain number of seasonal employees. David spoke of his desire to remain involved in all facets of the business, rather than only function as an owner.

“I never wanted to be real big, because I was a manager and hands-on,” David said. “If you have a big payroll, it takes the fun out of it, because you have to worry about cash flow.”

Thus, David’s Greenhouses primarily functioned through the lifelong partnership of David and Liane.

“We worked as a team,” David said. “We were young, and we just did the work.”

The Peirsons named their biggest difficulty as business owners to be keeping up with the fuel bill, though the COVID-19 pandemic also presented challenges, such as labor shortages, supply chain interruptions and the inability to sell stock. For example, churches are large customers during Easter for lilies, and during the shutdown, the greenhouse lost a significant portion of its business.

However, the community stepped up with ample support, and for that the Peirsons and Wentes express their thanks.

“People planted more gardens and more flowers, and we got through it all right,” David said.

Despite the many struggles that came with the work, the Peirsons agree that the rewards have been well worth it. Liane claimed her favorite part of her job was “watching things grow,” and David concurred, saying, “It’s self-satisfying to watch things do well. Not everything will grow, but most of the time, if you watch it and take care of it, it will give you a living — or a backache.”

The Peirsons took only three vacations in their business’s 53 years, so as they look forward to retirement, they are ready for some relaxation.

“We think that we deserve to look at something besides work,” David said.

The couple plans to move to Westchester, Ohio to be closer to their son, a self-employed financial advisor. The Peirsons also hope to travel, setting their sights on New England, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

David and Liane advise young entrepreneurs of the importance of self-motivation and enjoyment.

“Plan on working,” Liane said. “Nobody is going to do it for you. In this business, you’re on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Both David and Liane are confident that the Wentes will continue what they started.

“He’s very capable,” David said of Brian. “He and his wife, some days they’ll be in separate greenhouses, and other days they’ll be working side by side, just like we did. That’s just part of marriage.”

New chapter: Wente family

Brian and Casey Wente, originally from Troy, Ohio, married in 2016 and combined their families, sharing four children aged 11, 12, 13 and 17. After 20 years in the culinary industry, Brian began looking for a change. He had no formal training in horticulture but had a passion for gardening and houseplants, so he started working at a flower shop.

Through that position, Brian connected with David and began his apprenticeship in the spring of 2019.

Though Brian himself had no experience with agricultural work, his father and grandfather farmed. As the Wentes considered taking over David’s business, both Brian’s father and David posed the same question: “Are you sure you want to work that hard?”

Over the past two years, David has taught Brian how to raise key products such as poinsettias and mums, how to build custom pots, how to order inventory and more. However, Brian recognizes that building relationships with David’s lifelong customers has been his biggest challenge, because the community is accustomed to the exceptional service, quality and consistency that the Peirsons have provided.

“The relationships that I get to experience with these people are a direct testament to the relationships that David and Liane have with them,” Brian said.

Brian envisions his business to be oriented around service, much like the Peirsons have provided.

“It’s about the people. People first,” Wente said. “You don’t fix what’s not broken.”

The Wentes plan to model David’s business plan as best they can while incorporating a larger online presence for floral ordering. Additionally, the Wentes hope to maintain the accounts that David opened with churches, schools, fundraisers and private organizations.

For example, for many years, David’s Greenhouses have provided poinsettias for students to sell as a fundraiser for the yearly Washington, D.C. field trip.

The Wentes will rename the business Green and Growing Gardens. Though the transition will not be marked with a hard opening, the Wentes are already operating under the new name.

Brian claims that the most valuable facet of business that he has learned from David is patience.

“He’s been a very generous teacher with his knowledge, and I hope that I’m able to do that for people in conversation,” Wente said. “Compassion and service are key notes that have to carry over for this to succeed.”