LEBANON, PA – Sometimes the âgreen geneâ in a farming family manifests itself in new and different ways. This is the case with the descendants of the late Harold and Ruth Frey, who purchased a 90-acre farm in North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County around 1950. Today, 26 of those acres are owned by their grandchildren. son, Jerel Frey, who now operates Frey’s Greenhouse. on this site, as well as at a location in Lancaster County.
As Harold and Ruth began raising chickens, beef cattle, and crops to feed them, in the 1960s they began to branch out. They converted an old chicken coop along the road into a small grocery store that sold limited inventory, including meat, milk, and candy bars. Over time, they switched to market gardening.
With their sons, Dennis and Les, reaching adulthood, the Frey family decided to build their first greenhouse. This was in the late 1970s and their business model began to include growing produce, vegetable plants, and annual flowers. Eventually Dennis Frey began to breed produce, while Les Frey became increasingly involved in greenhouse operations. In 1982, the company’s main greenhouse was built next to the old chicken coop, which then served as both an agricultural market for produce and a retail base of operations for vegetable and floral plants from the greenhouse.
In 2000, the two brothers decided to divide the business, with Dennis retaining the barn, farm, and fields south of Pennsylvania Highway 241, which crosses Frey Farm, and Les taking possession of the greenhouse, old chicken coop and 26 acres located north of the causeway. Dennis and his wife, Becky, continue to produce agriculture, with a seasonal farmer’s market located on the lower level of their barn.
In 2003, Les Frey undertook a significant expansion beyond the main greenhouse and its associated retail operation. The construction included an additional greenhouse and a garden store. After his son Jerel became part owner of the business with his parents in 2005, a further expansion of the greenhouse and gardening space was completed two years later.
Extend the season
By the time 2014, Jerel Frey had a “good problem”: the location of Frey’s Greenhouse in Lebanon was running out of space. Their business was growing, but its sales areas were becoming overcrowded. Fearing that their operation might be “maximum” in the Lebanese market area, Jerel, who lives with his wife, Leah, and their six children in Lancaster County, decided it might be time. to expand into new territory. Jerel had noticed a small garden center on Columbia Avenue in Lancaster that appeared to own it “didn’t want to invest in it anymore,” he said. One day he stopped to ask them if they would be interested in selling. This turned out to be the case, and soon Jerel gained an additional outlet to more fully utilize the capacity of his greenhouses in Lebanon.
Until 2015, Frey’s Greenhouse in Lebanon only operated from early March to late June or early July. That changed when Jerel opened the Lancaster and Lebanon stores for the holidays that same year, selling Christmas trees, wreaths, greens, poinsettias, seasonal plants and a selection of home decor items from vacation. The Lebanon location also adopted the Lancaster location practice of having a fall season, selling fall merchandise like mums, pumpkins and squash from early September through late October.
After October 31, a three-week hiatus at Frey’s Greenhouse allows preparations to reopen a few days before Thanksgiving with holiday merchandise. The sites in Lebanon and Lancaster now operate on the same seasonal schedules.
In the spring, Jerel spends most of his time in the Lebanon store, where he oversees the greenhouses. These greenhouses provide 80-90% of Frey’s annuals, which constitute the bulk of their business, as well as 50% of the perennials that Frey’s sells at their two sites. Some vegetables, herbs and annual bedding plants are also grown by Jerel’s uncle, Dennis Frey. The rest of their vegetable wares, especially for the fall and winter seasons, are purchased from several wholesalers in central Pennsylvania.
The two Frey’s Greenhouse sites employ up to 20 people in total during peak hours. Jerel, who is based primarily at the Lancaster site during fall and winter business hours, works at both stores, but employs a manager at each site to manage day-to-day operations. Virtually all of Frey’s sales come from retail to the general public, as opposed to wholesale to landscapers.
Overcome challenges through innovations
As in any business, there are always challenges to overcome. For example, torrential rains from Tropical Storm Ida in early September produced 6 inches or more of rain over a short period of time, causing the Columbia Avenue site to be flooded with water from a nearby stream.
The Lebanese establishment also experienced potential problems in 2021, when two highway projects on Route 241 caused new traffic patterns that affected access to Frey’s Greenhouse. Fortunately, Frey’s has a long established customer base and her many loyal customers have found a way to reach the garden resource center. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new operational uncertainties, but both Frey’s Greenhouse locations have been able to remain open with existing staff and have had good seasons. Difficulty in sourcing manufactured durable goods and imported items remains an ongoing problem.
Jerel said he didn’t have to worry about the potential challenges of large-scale companies like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart. He found that Frey’s Greenhouse is able to offer competitive prices which, combined with the quality of the plants and the combination of their various offerings, are enough to keep customers through the doors of both Frey’s Greenhouse operations.
When it comes to âpopular sellers,â Jerel reports that their biggest winners lately are succulents and other houseplants. Frey’s main profitable items are their small 4-inch pots of annuals, such as geraniums and petunias. He has discovered that an increasing number of customers want to assemble their own planters. For those who don’t, Frey’s has a selection of pre-planted containers and hanging baskets.
Frey’s tries to woo customers with creative displays designed to inspire shopping. For example, one of the fall favorites at the Lebanon store is a “pumpkin tower” of small pumpkins and squash inside a wire obelisk. Jerel’s wife gleaned this idea on a visit to Longwood Gardens and it garnered positive interest from customers, as did a simple setup of stacked wooden crates each containing a single pumpkin.
When it comes to advertising, Jerel reports that they have moved away from old-fashioned methods like billboards, as well as newspaper and radio advertising. They have found success with internal approaches that include a corporate website, Facebook, Instagram, and an email newsletter, all of which appeal to a new generation of consumers who complement their long-time clients.
And speaking of new generations, Jerel hopes to someday eventually operate a third site, perhaps incorporating some of his children who might be interested in continuing the family business. In doing so, he would pass on the encouragement he received from his own parents and grandparents, who he said demonstrated how hard work can bring a sense of satisfaction in growing and selling quality plants. .
Frey’s greenhouses are located at 1875 Colebrook Road, Lebanon (717-272-8447), and 1501 Columbia Ave., Lancaster (717-397-4424). For more information, visit freysgreenhouse.com.