Family Business

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From a little seed to hundreds of plants, Matkins Greenhouse & Flowers has developed strong family roots in downtown Bentonville. Jim and Linda Matkins are third-generation owners of the business that was begun by his grandparents as a sideline.

“As near as I can place it, the actual business started in the late 1920s,” Matkins says. “After my grandmother Margaret died, we were cleaning out her house and found several sales receipts from the early ’20s. The funny thing is, there are not many pictures or items saved from the business in that era.”

Henry Lenny Matkins Sr., Jim’s grandfather, was a carpenter and furniture maker by trade. He says his grandparents continued to do upholstery work until the the mid-1960s.

“They started the greenhouse on the side,” Matkins says. “They were growing tomatoes and various vegetables for local farmers and for some of the larger gardens on the bigger farms up to the 1940s and ’50s. Back then, there were a lot of field gardens because of the canning factories around.

“As a kid, I remember pulling sweet potatoes. I wasn’t old enough to count, but I do remember pulling.”

Matkins says his grandfather started the greenhouse business, then called the Bentonville Plant Co., with a former Bentonville postmaster.

“I couldn’t tell you when the name changed to Matkins Greenhouse and Flowers. It was probably some time in the 1940s, after my grandfather bought out the postmaster,” he says.

The Matkinses eventually transformed their homes off Third Street into the garden shops. He says his father, Henry L. Matkins Jr., bought the business from his parents and built the first greenhouse of glass. The construction changed to Fiberglas and plastic during the 1970s.

Easy Decision

Matkins says he remembers telling his parents while in his late teens that he planned to stay with the family business.

“In all my years, this is about all I’ve done,” he says. “I’ve worked in the greenhouse since I was old enough to do anything. At the age of seven, I got my first ‘real’ money working in the greenhouse.”

Matkins says his 18-year-old son Jeff plans to stay with the business.

He’s been doing this since he’s been able to work, just like me,” Matkins says. “He wants to stay and try it. If he does, he’ll be the fourth generation.

“I’ve been told after a business passes through the second and third generations, it gets a lot better. And it has been difficult.”

Matkins’ mother Hazel, 78, retired from the business in January after having two strokes. He says his wife, Linda, has been “injected” into the role of office manager.

Daily Struggles

Matkins says the toughest things to overcome are staffing and making ends meet during the off-season.

“It has been, personally, a hard road to hoe,” Matkins says. “Being a small business and a seasonal business is a bad thing. Also, as a family business, you run into a little friction.

“It’s a difficult business to put people in the places you need them. I’ve got good help now. I mean, it’s not all me. But it’s what I’ve done all my life and what I’ll keep on doing.”

Matkins says the busiest months are between January and May. He says the company has taken on more commercial business, selling to landscape companies, nurseries and “whoever wants to use them.” Matkins grows all the flowers and plants from seeds or bulbs, but he does not grow shrubs, bushes or trees.

After the fall plants go out of season, Matkins’ shop is covered with poinsettias, which are usually started in July.

This is the first full season for Matkins’ computerized transplanter, which will help with staffing ? only 10 people will be needed to operate the entire 60,000-SF greenhouse.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of money,” Matkins says. “We take in a lot of money. But at the end of the year you think, ‘where did it all go?’ But I love it so much. It’s the reason I do it.”

Doing What It Takes

Matkins also followed a family tradition of working a second job, joining the Bentonville Fire Department in 1972. He retired as assistant fire chief and an emergency medical techniciation after 19 years with the department. His father was a bus driver for the Bentonville School District and a substitute mail carrier on rural route No. 4.

But despite the hard times, second jobs and slow seasons, Matkins says the family has always managed to survive.

“The only money my family actually borrowed was for the purchase of the actual property,” Matkins says. “Everything else, we built or got as we could.

“It’s a real different business. A greenhouse business is a lot like a dairy farm. These plants don’t know when it’s a weekend or a holiday. They still need water and care every day.”

Matkins says sometimes the location, the corner of Third and “B” streets in an older residential neighborhood, makes it difficult to attract new customers.

“A lot of people are just discovering us,” Matkins says. “But we do have a good following of retail customers. I think people are always going to come here because they know the quality of our plant and they know it’s all grown here.”