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Reflecting on business after 35 years

Jennifer Ditlevson Published: July 1, 2010 4:47 PM
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His desk (an ornate, cement picnic table) sits just below an overgrown shade tree between the greenhouse and his home. Excited birds muffle the din of nearby fast-passing traffic, providing a pleasant alternative to generic corporate Muzak. A painted-purple dinosaur guards one side of his "office" while a few other random statues scattered between the roots of the tree behind the table mark the other edges.

"You're looking for an office door, but it's open air," Jim Kiko chuckled, pointing to the table.

Kiko, who owns Kiko's Greenhouse on Old Lincoln Highway just west of Dalton, said he started the business in the late 1970s -- right when the economy looked a lot like it does today. He'd been in the service station industry for five years, but Kiko said it wasn't going anywhere and he was looking for something to do instead of delivering eggs. After seeing a man he knew bring in a lot of money for geraniums, he thought he should learn something about the greenhouse trade.

With the help of a good friend, Kiko began buying and selling flowers. Although he never thought he could sell everything, Kiko's friend encouraged him to take flowers home by the truckload.

"He believed in me and said I could do it," Kiko said.

From a little lean-to he built behind his mobile home parked behind his in-law's house, Kiko started his business just yards away from where the store is

now located.

The project started small, but through the years, Kiko added additional greenhouse space whenever he could catch a deal at a local auction or a farmer who wanted to get rid of a spare building.

Soon the greenhouse offered concrete garden statues that ranged from benevolent kissing mermaids to menacing gargoyles. Customers can find folk-art-style cherubs, geese and several breeds of dogs as concrete statues along with classic replicas of ancient Greek gods. Kiko's also sells bird baths, gazing balls, plant markers, pots and other outdoor garden and yard decorations.

In 1986, Kiko and his first wife moved into the house adjacent to the business. Keeping his business close to home has allowed Kiko to manage caring for the plants and organizing knickknacks with minimal hired help.

Having a family business also has posed challenges for Kiko. When his first wife died of cancer, he not only lost a dear companion, but a great business partner as well. For a while, many of the jobs his wife took care of were left alone.

Two years ago, however, Kiko reunited with a sweetheart he had dated in the 1960s. The couple had dated for three years and then parted ways only to meet again more than 40 years later, after both of them had been widowed. Now they are married.

Business hasn't always been easy either. Kiko didn't pinpoint an exact reason why, but he marks 9/11 as the beginning of a dip in sales. Even though it has leveled out, business doesn't seem to spike as much as it used to.

In the next two years, Kiko plans to get out of the greenhouse business he started more than 35 years ago. Overall, Kiko has found something he enjoys doing, kept him busy for most of his life ... and has also given him the freedom to wear a T-shirt to work and smoke his Sonoma 100s whenever he wants.

"I like what I do here," Kiko said. "And I don't want to sit in a rocking chair and look at a computer all day either."

Despite Kiko's plans to retire, he still makes home deliveries and works with his seasonal employees. For now, Kiko isn't sure what will happen to the business after he retires, but he'd like to see it continue to thrive, whether he keeps it in the family or sells it to someone else.

Kiko's Greenhouse is located at 15579 Lincoln Way West in Dalton. Call 330-832-8698 for more information.


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