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Store manager Ezekiel Barrientos draws koi and goldfish to the surface of the pond near the front door. The pond and its inhabitants are a popular attraction for kids, who are allowed to feed them.

Diane Barrera takes pride in the following that Barrera’s Nursery and Landscape has built over nearly two decades, both in its longtime customer as well as its employees.

“We credit the growth of our business to our loyal customers,” Diane said. “We try to provide the best customer service that we can.”

Diane’s husband, Nick, ran a lawn service and landscape business that he began in the 1980s, but in 1998 they saw an opportunity that Diane felt they couldn’t ignore.

The Little Greenhouse, situated on Sun Valley Boulevard not far from Hewitt Drive had been closed about a year. And they started dreaming about expanding Nick’s business.

“This place was available,” she said. “The land and the building was here, but everything else like inventory was gone.

“We thought we would give it a go.”

Today, Barrera’s has home improvement items from bulk materials such as mulch and landscape rocks to trees, shrubs, plants and flowers of all types.

Their Own Niche

She admits it can be a challenge competing against big-box stores or online nursery sites that can make it easy for the shopper.

“We try to provide a different experience than the big-box store,” she explained, in part by providing that face-to-face knowledgeable help. “But I think we maintain our customers because of the quality and prices we offer.”

She said she has no problem sending back products that she considers aren’t of high-enough quality to have at the nursery.

Many customers like to tackle do-it-yourself yard projects, and Berrera’s is always willing to provide advice, she said, such as helping them determine the correct measurements for the materials needed, or they can step in and help once the home owner discovers that the job may have been a bit more involved than he realized.

Bulk materials, such as mulch and landscape rock, always seem to sell well, she said. Landscape rocks can help dress up a yard, but they can also eliminate areas that otherwise would have plants and grass requiring care.

Perennials are always popular she said, because they’ll come back in the spring after going dormant during the winter.

“You can never have everything a customer may want,” she said, “and we’re not perfect, but we try to do as good we can in customer service.”

If a customer really wants to try a plant that may not be well-suited for the climate or soil in Central Texas, Diane said she won’t talk them out of it completely, but instead will encourage a more moderate — and less expensive option — such as trying it out first in pot or a smaller growing area.

Longtime Employees

Diane is quick to add that another ingredient in their business’ success is their employees, many of whom have been with Berrera’s for 10 to 15 years, with store manager Ezekiel Barrientos there for nearly the entire time.

“Our employees are a big part of our success,” she said.

The nursery usually employs around 14 people, though seasonal staffing in the spring increases to around 20.

The business is a family affair. One son, Matthew, runs the Robinson Greenhouse in Robinson, while his brother Kevin was recently brought on as an office manager to assist his parents.

But ultimately, Diane said, her success comes from the returning customers. And that is especially satisfying, she said.

Some of those longtime customers came to Barrera’s initially as young married couples who had moved into their home. Now she’ll see those parents with kids tagging along who are now teenagers.

For 17 years the nursery has catered a lunch for its customers during the first weekend in May. A sale is held in conjunction with it that usually draws in some new faces, but it is really provided as a way to say “thank you” to its longtime customers.

“It feels good to have a lot of those same people keep coming back,” she said. “Apparently we’re doing something right.”

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Barrera’s Nursery and Landscape

201 Sun Valley Blvd. in Hewitt

254-666-9806

Mon-Sat, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

During spring (March to June), it is also open Sun, noon to 5 p.m.

Editor for Waco Today magazine and community editor at the Waco Tribune-Herald