Family run: Woodburn Nursery Mount Angel’s Business of the Year

February 2015 Posted in Business, Community
The Fessler family of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas: Tom, left, Karen (Jaeger), Sandy (Traeger), Jean and Bob, Jodi (Arritola) and Rick.

The Fessler family of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas: Tom, left, Karen (Jaeger), Sandy (Traeger), Jean and Bob, Jodi (Arritola) and Rick.

By Brenna Wiegand

Family run, forward-thinking Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas has been named Mount Angel’s 2014 Business of the Year.

Bob and Jean Fessler started out growing berries and raising mink when they married in 1961.

“We went into the nursery business about six years later,” Jean said. “Then we added three more and things just kept ballooning from there.”

They never dreamed that one day all five of their children would be at the helm of the country’s largest grower of florist quality azaleas with product shipped weekly across the United States and Canada. They oversee more than 200 employees and 400 acres of nursery production.

Tom Fessler is general manager; Rick Fessler, operations manager of the greenhouses; Sandy Traeger is a CPA; Karen Jaeger is bookkeeper and Jodi Arritola is human resources manager. About 10 grandkids work summers.

“Customers kept wanting more product and things went from there,” Tom said. “When I was growing up, my grandfather was progressive in his ideas, trying things nobody else had done.

“Then my dad had some ideas and we did them and now I’m doing that – finding ways to be more efficient and make it more fun and easier for everybody.”

Now 152 pots can be moved by forklift at one time instead of being loaded by hand.

“You’ve got to keep up with the times or you’re going to be out of business,” Bob said. Family members have been to Europe several times to learn from colleagues with less space to work with.

“We can mechanize but we always need people,” Tom said. “We’ve really surrounded ourselves with capable, talented people – several who’ve been here 30-40 years or more.”

“Our parents have always tried to put family first and we try to accommodate our employees when they need time off for difficult things in their life,” Jodi said.

They were one of the first to go from fiberglass to polyethylene sheeting on the greenhouses, reducing their use of natural gas by 25 percent. They’ve computerized the greenhouses and developed a “pot within a pot” system to produce container-grown plants in a field environment.

“That’s been huge for us,” Tom said. “It allowed us a bunch of expansion and diversification.”

Continually reinvesting in the business is an absolute must, Tom said. It has allowed them to make it through the tough times.

“We’ve had plenty of crises over the years but we just pull together and don’t let it get to us,” Tom said.

They stay involved in the agriculture industry and in their community.

“Mom and dad have always been willing to help and all that; they didn’t hold anything back,” Tom said. “Being named Business of the Year is very nice. We feel humbled to be honored by our peers, but that’s not why we go to work every day.”

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