Tammy Sons was born and raised into the nursery business: her father was a second generation nursery grower in Tennessee, starting with eight acres and expanding to 70. Sons didn’t follow in his footsteps immediately. She worked at the county courthouse for a few years and then went to cosmetology school and ran a successful beauty salon for eleven years. But as a side gig, she harvested seeds from trees and sold them to local nurseries. She bought imperfect plants (“number twos”), pruned and nursed them to health, and sold them as top quality plants, sometimes to her father.
“And then one day, I got a big break,” Sons recalls. A local nursery owner who knew and respected Sons was cleaning out his plant cooler. “You’re one of the best people we’ve ever dealt with and we want you to have all the plants out of our cooler,” the owner told Sons. She was given approximately $150,000 worth of plants. “We had just bought a 13-acre farm, and we planted that entire farm with those plants,” Sons says. “We were able to pay off our first mortgage and two vehicles the first year.”
As a grower in what Sons calls “the nursery capital of the world”, she had plenty of competition. Her business, Tn Nursery, could not rely on local sales because most retail nurseries also grow their own plants. She set her sights on out-of-state sales, using snail mail to contact wholesalers and state departments of agriculture for lists of certified nurseries. “I would print out 6,000 price lists per year while I was still a cosmetologist,” Sons says. “I addressed the envelopes by hand. I got a couple of really good customers and they were dedicated.”
When Sons’ father died, she took over his business. “My dad told me all through my years being a cosmetologist, ‘You can stand on your feet for eight hours, and make $130 to $150 a day, or you could make $5,000 a day if you work that hard growing trees and plants,’” Sons says. “And you know, his voice echoed in my ears for years.”
"The articles I write [through Newsweek Expert Forum] show credibility, knowledge, and give customers information on how to garden.”
So 19 years ago, Sons decided to leave her cosmetology career behind and go all in with her growing business. The 13-acre farm was sold to purchase a 56-acre property, then there was a 200-acre farm and another 100 acres on top of that. “That’s when we got really big into the mail order business,” recalls Sons. “Just by starting with small names and a donation from a local nursery that liked me.”
Sons took horticulture classes online through Texas State University, bought a computer from her nephew, and started advertising her plants online through third-party networks. But the business quickly evolved and Sons hired a developer to create a website and took several bootcamp marketing classes through Vanderbilt University. Now, says Sons, the company’s customers range from consumers who buy a single plant, to prominent clients such as former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, and star of The History Channel’s hit, “Swamp People,” Troy Landry. Sons’ plants have also found homes in Central Park, at The Washington Monument, The White House, and Arlington Cemetary.
During the pandemic, Tn Nursery benefitted the huge number of home-bound consumers who suddenly became enthusiastic about gardening. The company’s sales spiked from approximately $2.5 million to $6 million — a huge boon for Sons but one that came with its own set of challenges. “It enabled me to hire really elite professional companies to do our branding, design, and development,” she says. And she was able to build a $300,000 warehouse.
But finding stable and motivated employees was tough. She was able to hire several H-2A workers from Mexico but while that paperwork was being processed, Sons and her staff were working in the warehouse night and day, seven days a week to bridge the gap. Growth has since slowed down and the company is on a more steady trajectory. “My goal is to have a profitable, reputable business that I can pass down to my children,” says Sons. Her son, Tristan, is her warehouse manager and is the third generation to be in the company.
As a lifelong learner, Sons appreciates Newsweek Expert Forum because “it brings me to other business leaders’ ideas — things I’ve never thought of or tried. I gain knowledge to run my business better.” She says she initially joined the Expert Forum for branding purposes, but has received much more out of it than she expected. For instance, based on a recommendation from a fellow Expert Forum member, she started using an AI writing service to produce content for Tn Nurseries website, saving Sons hours of time on content creation, which she believes is crucial to her search ranking. She is a frequent contributor to Expert Forums and also pens long-form articles. “The articles I write show credibility, knowledge, and give customers information on how to garden.” Her content, she says, drives traffic to the company’s website.