Longtime nursery owner sets up shop at Fransee’s

Shane Kletzien and his family open a garden center at Town of Saukville business owned by his friend

FRANSEE’S GARDEN CENTER in the Town of Saukville is now being operated by the Kletzien family, although John Fransee still runs his landscaping business from the same site. Standing outside the garden center were (center) parents Nancy and Shane Kletzien, their son Kevin and daughter Cassandra Kerr. Photos by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Visitors to Fransee’s Garden Center in the Town of Saukville will find new and old faces there this year.

That’s because John Fransee is leasing the garden center to his longtime friend Shane Kletzien, the owner of Kletzien’s Nursery Inc. on Hawthorne Drive in the Town of Port Washington.

Fransee still operates his landscape business on the site at 3670 Hwy. W, and is helping Kletzien with the transition, along with center manager Barb Sparr.

“This is like a new adventure for me,” said Kletzien, who took over operating the garden center in March. “I’m excited. I always wanted to try a garden center.

“He (Fransee) is still here every day and he’s teaching me. It’s kind of an easy fit.”

Operating a wholesale nursery is completely different than running a garden center, Kletzien said.

“Wholesalers know what they want, they know how many they want,” he said.

“Here, you have to help the customers weed through the choices to find what they need. There’s more interaction with people.

“It’s kind of cool to me.”

Kletzien said he’s always liked the gardening business, noting he began working for a large wholesale nursery in Mequon when he was still in high school.

“I was always fascinated by plants,” he said.

He continued after high school, then decided to go out on his own at age 23.

“I knew the wholesale trade well enough,” Kletzien said.

His nursery is a niche nursery, he said, raising primarily shrubs and evergreens for large nurseries and landscapers on about 50 acres.

Over time, it’s become a family business. Kletzien has passed his love of gardening to his children.

“It started in the stroller,” his wife Nancy said. “I took them out in the field in the stroller. Then, they started hanging out with us.”

“They liked it from little on,” Kletzien said.

Their daughter Cassandra Kerr added, “We were never forced into it. We just liked it.”

Kerr is now the nursery manager who does much of the propagation work, and the couple’s son Kevin runs the landscaping crew and does much of the maintenance. Nancy helps Kerr a lot, runs the pruning crews and does bed maintenance.

Kletzien “analyzes a lot,” his wife said. “He does landscape sales. He gets up every morning and walks around, checking things.”

The family helps at the garden center, but their primary role is at the nursery, Kletzien noted.

Over time, Kletzien said, he started thinking about how to grow the business. That’s when the idea of opening a garden center sprouted again.

About three years ago, when Fransee first approached him with the idea of taking over his garden center, Kletzien said he let the concept germinate.

Fransee wasn’t quite ready to leave at that point, and he wasn’t ready to take over, either, Kletzien said, but it gave the men time to plan.

Bringing Sparr on the staff at the center last year was one of the first steps, he said.

“She’s got a skill set I don’t have,” Kletzien said.

“Plants are my big thing,” Sparr said, who’s into floral design and teaches a variety of monthly classes at the garden center.

“We want to go more in the direction of millennials,” she said. “It’s important for the younger generation to learn from us.”

Canning, one of the classes Sparr said she’d like to offer in the future, is becoming a lost art, she noted. And with the younger generation becoming increasingly aware of what’s in their food, gardening is an important art as well.

And while no one likes to fail, she said, part of gardening is making mistakes.

“You have to kill some things to learn,” Sparr said, laughing.

Right now, Sparr and Kletzien are working to get the word out about the garden center, using Facebook and traditional media as well.

“A lot of people don’t even know we sell annuals and perennials,” Sparr said.

Right now, Kletzien said, the biggest sellers tend to be hydrangeas and roses.

“They’re very showy,” he said. “Annuals are always big. People like their flowers.”

Kletzien said Fransee will remain the name of the garden center, although he plans to transition to Kletzien’s Garden Center at Gene Fransee & Son Nursery and Landscaping.

“I like the tradition of Fransee’s,” he said.

He plans to grow more of the stock sold at the garden center.

“That’s a huge thing,” he said, noting that someday they may add a greenhouse.

They also want to increase the number of types of plants offered for sale.

“We want to add variety down the road,” Sparr said. “We want to get feedback from the public — what don’t we have that you want? That’s a big emphasis for me this year.”

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