At the turn of the century, Edward Hicks patented the equipment to move massive trees to Gold Coast estates for impatient owners who didn't want to wait for saplings to grow. In the '30s, his grandson, William, began offering "cash and carry" plants in an early forerunner of the modern garden center. Hicks Nurseries Inc., started in 1853, continues to adapt to the shifting needs of Long Island consumers.
Stephen Hicks, 40, the sixth generation at the helm, became president of the Westbury-based company in 2004. Also involved in the business is his sister, Karen Hicks Courts. Among the innovations made on his watch: the Gardener's Cafe, in 2004; the commercial sales division in 2008; and a recycling program in 2010. Last year, Hicks Nurseries launched a landscape design service, and there are plans to expand it.
"You need to be constantly asking yourself what's changing in our industry," Hicks said. "Then, the challenge is finding what you want to do about it."
What is your first memory of the nurseries?
When I was about 3, my mom left me with my dad for the day. I remember holding his hand and walking through the greenhouses. I remember having trouble keeping up with him.
Did you always know that you would go into the family business?
My parents never said, "This is what you will do." But when I was in college, studying business, the idea of working in a small business where I could have a real impact had a real appeal, so this was a good fit.
What do you love most about the business?
The most enjoyable part is that there's always a new challenge, either internally or a new opportunity or initiative.
What's the biggest challenge in terms of the economy?
The biggest challenge is how to continue to offer the same quality of products and service in a difficult economic environment.
How do you compete with big box retailers?
You have to connect with what the customer is really looking for. We try to offer the highest quality product combined with having a staff that is knowledgeable and that can help our customers be successful.
Statistically, only 3 percent of family owned businesses make it to the fourth generation. Hicks is on its sixth and counting.
What's your secret?
We're very fortunate that we all have a similar outlook and philosophy for the business. We try to keep family issues out of the business, and I think each generation has been given the opportunity to take the business in the direction in which it saw fit.
And what's the outlook for a seventh generation?
My children are still very young. We'll have to wait and see.
Name. Stephen Hicks, president of Hicks Nurseries Inc., in Westbury
What it does. "A family tradition since 1853," selling plants, trees, garden supplies, outdoor furniture and landscaping expertise. The nursery also offers free classes in everything from pond maintenance to pickling.
Employees. 75 to 125, depending on season
Sales. $15 million