How did a hydrogeologist from Plattsburgh and an environmental well driller from Cazenovia end up owning a landscape company and a flower farm in Keeseville New York? It’s an interesting story! Keep reading.
Jackie and Jim Wheelin met on the job in Central New York in the early 2000s. As the work progressed the two got to know each other professionally and personally and when the project was complete, they moved to the North Country. They married in 2007 and started Mossbrook Landscaping the same year on six acres belonging to her parents. “And we’ve been squatters ever since,” Jim said with a laugh. In the beginning Jackie managed a dental office and Jim worked for the Department of Transportation. They bought a truck and found time in the evenings and on weekends to take small jobs. At first the couple would do almost anything to generate income — including cutting grass and cleaning gutters. “In those days we didn’t know how to say ‘No’,” Jim recalled. They cleared a spot on what had been a horse farm on the Mace Chasm Road and built a 12’ x 16’ shed. “It had no power and no water, but we made it work,” he observed.
Jim left his day job and devoted himself to the business full time in 2011. Jackie followed his lead in 2014. The Wheelins worked together, without a single employee until 2015. By then the business was taking off. Their reputation for quality work spread by word of mouth and through recommendations from area contractors. Their first jobs were primarily in the Plattsburgh area, but soon they were taking on projects from Westport to Lake Placid to Rouses Point. “This has turned out to be a great location for us,” Jim said. “It makes it easy to travel to jobs in Clinton and northern Essex County.” Today Mossbrook operates primarily on the original six acres, but was able to acquire the neighboring 115 acres and converted a barn to a year-round landscape shop.
Jackie and Jim’s education and experience helped to jump start their fledgling business. During high school, and while he attended college in Morrisville, Jim worked for a landscaper. Jackie raised flowers with her mother as she was growing up. Her father was a computer science/math teacher. She double majored in engineering and geology in college and took landscape architecture classes at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. All of that made her transition to CAD design seamless. “All of our design work is completed in house,” she explained proudly.
Continuing education is important in their business and both Jackie and Jim are diligent about staying abreast of new trends and products and earning important certifications.
Asked what element of the business they find most rewarding, the couple agreed it is full design and build projects. “From our site visit with a customer, to the development of a 2D or 3D design and its execution, we are fully involved,” Jackie emphasized. “We bring professionalism, artistry and quality to each of our projects, whether it is landscape installation, hardscape installation or maintenance. We pay special attention to the details. Our goal is to enhance the exterior of a home, raise a property’s value and beautify the whole neighborhood.”
The Wheelins built their reputation on service and a commitment to educate customers about what can be done to make their spaces more inviting. “We are very good at creating new outdoor living areas that are an extension of the interior of a home,” Jackie offered. “Our designs can enhance the curb appeal of a home and landscape lighting can transform a space. We also do rehab work when a property needs a facelift.”
Jackie proudly described a recent job that offered all the elements Mossbrook does best. “Our client was a repeat customer and this time we created an outdoor oasis that included building retaining walls, massive raised beds, a fire pit, a hot tub area, and a screened room. It took a great deal of hardscape work – utilities, power and water — to complete, but it is one of our most gratifying projects.”
Increased business required an expansion of Mossbrook’s staff from three in 2015 to 20 currently. Staff addition, Karisa Hermany, is a Pennsylvania native whose degree in horticulture provides her the knowledge and experience to take on the role of landscape manager. She also develops estimates, creates designs, manages customer service and accounting, and occasionally can be found outside working on projects. “She has been a critical addition to our team,” Jackie emphasized.
While many of the company’s projects are complicated and can take six to eight weeks to complete, there are also a significant number that are simple, in and out jobs that can be done in a couple of days. Specialized crews are dispatched to keep the work moving quickly. “It is rewarding, but challenging work,” Jim acknowledged.
The Wheelins partner with other service providers such as electricians, plumbers, builders, and arborists to make a project seamless for the homeowner. “These relationships help us do more of the work we excel at,” Jim observed.
Jackie and Jim acknowledge their business acumen was limited in the early years of the business. “We knew landscaping, but we needed to learn all the other things that come with running a business,” Jim observed. “We had a heck of a learning curve, but we weathered the problems and are comfortable with where we are today.”
Four years ago, the Wheelins branched out, creating Mossbrook Roots Flower Farm that offers field-grown cut flowers. The flowers are wholesaled to local florists, used to produce arrangements for special occasions like weddings and to support the Farmers Market circuit. Brides are invited to walk the rows in the garden to choose flowers for their special day. A farm store offers gifts and décor and serves as a location for workshops and music events which is one more reason why the Mace Chasm Road in Keeseville has become a popular venue for food and entertainment.
The Wheelins most recent venture is Mossbrook Roots Florist in Plattsburgh which opened in March of this year. At a time when several Plattsburgh florist shops were closing, their operation was growing and Jackie and Jim saw an opportunity. The new location is designed with a different feel than the Farm Store. “A customer described what we have here as ‘upscale mid-town meets farm to table’,” Jackie offered. “While our focus is on flowers, arrangements for all occasions and botanicals, we also present design elements to upgrade your home.”
As our conversation wound down, I asked the Wheelins what will happen in the months ahead. “We will work as long as the North Country weather will let us,” Jackie said. “Planting typically stops in mid-October and then we transition to fall work — lawn clean ups and other site work. Our hardscape crew will install until frost is present in the ground.” Jackie, Jim and Karisa will work on designs and present to clients during the winter months. Their crews run commercial snow removal routes and attend trade shows, seminars, workshops, and conferences to maintain their certifications and obtain the necessary continuing education credits.
My interview with the Wheelins took place in the loft office of their landscape building on a particularly busy day in late summer. Given everything that was going on, it would have been reasonable to expect them to be stressed and rushed, but instead I found the couple laughing and relaxed. “Even when we are the busiest, we still enjoy coming to work,” Jim emphasized.
After a decade of their hard work and entrepreneurial drive, the Wheelins’ efforts have paid off for them and for North Country homeowners.