April 1 2004 12:00 AM

Bissett Nurseries

Some people might say that Jim Bissett's blood must run green. He got into horticulture as a youngster, while still in school. His mom and dad were running a business behind their home, where they had a small yard (five acres) and grew some plant material to sell to garden centers.

With time, they expanded by buying stock and selling it from a truck. Bissett worked all through school, and upon completion of high school, started working full-time in the business. "I always enjoyed working with my dad," says Bissett, and credits him with teaching him the nursery business.

Today, Mom and Dad's company, Bissett Nurseries in Holtsville, New York, is the largest horticultural distribution center on the East Coast, with more than 200 employees. With the exception of irrigation, a landscape contractor can truly do one-stop shopping at Bissett Nurseries.

As you enter the main nursery, which covers thirty acres, you hand over your list of materials at the gate. If you need plant material, you will follow a skid steer loader that will stop at various areas in the nursery where the desired plant material will be loaded in your truck. It will then travel to the next area of plant material that you require and do the same thing. Plants, from shrubs to trees to color, are available at this one nursery.

Once you're finished with the plants, if you need mulch, sand, peat, paving stones, pebbles, rocks of all sizes, there is a wide variety from which to choose. Whatever your requirements are, it will be loaded in your truck. Should your shopping list require hand tools, shovels, wheel barrows, water gardening kits, all are available in the giant indoor store.

Bissett believes that service is the keystone of his business. "Some people look at our company and say that we are top heavy in sales and management. I have staff that specialize in certain products, and that's where we can compete with anybody, by providing superior service. All of these factors are designed to allow us to be of more value to our customers. It's a big expense (sales force) but it comes back to us."

Taking one-stop shopping one step further, Bissett also offers sales and service of lawn mowers and other power equipment. In addition to an indoor showroom floor, they also have a service department that even an automobile dealership would be proud of.

"We have a great staff and the number of 20-year employees we have is amazing," continues Bissett. "I was fortunate to have my father give me the opportunity, and I try to do that with our people. I believe in treating them right and giving them a lot of responsibility."

At 40 years of age, Bissett doesn't only dream in green. "My passion has always been water. I wanted to do something for the kids and families in the community." His dream was to build an aquarium on Long Island. A few years ago, he fulfilled this dream and built Atlantis Marine World. Highly involved in his community, Bissett, along with some other contractors and the municipality built a zoo that is free to the public, and had close to 100,000 visitors this past year.

In 1999, Bissett and his co-principles were recognized by several civic organizations: the local newspaper gave them the award of businesspersons of the year; the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce gave them its "Golden Key Award."

Councilman Phil Cardinale said about Bissett, "What impresses me about him is that if he says he's going to do something, just get out of the way, because he's going to do it."

Bissett lives on Long Island, New York. He has three children: Dominique is 19, goes to college and works at the aquarium; Danielle, 18, is a senior in high school, and James, 15, whose present career choice is motocross riding.

Bissett told his children he would pay for college if they took one business course and one sales course each semester. In this way, he feels that they will be prepared for the world of work, and he hopes they will come into the business.

"One of the things I'm trying to do is to find balance in my life," acknowledges Bissett. "For quite a few years, I was a workaholic, trying to do everything. I learned to hire good people, give them a goal, and let them run with it. My real job is to help them develop."

As for the future, Bissett sees a lot of growth potential, and more customer development. "I don't think beautiful landscapes will ever get old; people will be re-doing their landscapes for sometime in the future."

At the present time, Bissett Nurseries has two locations in Long Island, the one in Holtsville, and the second in Dix Hills. Bissett envisions opening others in order to get close to his customers. "If we can cut down our customers' drive time when they have to pick up material, they can use that time more effectively on the job site," said Bissett.

A full-service green industry company, a zoo, an aquarium, and next, a hotel . . . Jim Bissett is truly a man with vision; more importantly, he and his customers, as well as the community, reap the benefits.

April 2004