Second-generation owner grows tree business

Since purchasing his grandparents’ rural Belgium nursery, Brian Strauss has expanded the operation to include more varieties among the 5,000 trees he raises

OWNER BRIAN STRAUSS of Turfsavers Tree Farm stood in the middle of a grove of evergreens on his 40-acre nursery in the Town of Belgium, where his grandparents operated Blue Spruce Farm for more than 20 years. Photos by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

Second-generation nursery owner Brian Strauss has had a lifelong passion for cultivating trees on his grandparents’ farm since he was a child.

For the past 10 years, Strauss has been the owner of Turfsavers Tree Farm at 5835 Lake Church Rd. in the Town of Belgium where his grandparents George and Mary Klein still reside.

“It’s a family business and the tree industry has always interested me,” he said. “Since I took over in 2008, I’ve expanded the nursery with a larger variety of trees.”

His grandparents operated Blue Spruce Farm for more than 20 years and sold the business to Strauss when he was 20 years old. Since then, Strauss changed the name of the company and grew its operations to approximately 5,000 trees on 40 acres.

He said he sells and plants approximately 1,000 trees per year for customers throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

According to Strauss, the summer months are a busy time in the nursery business as customers seek to spruce up their yards. That hasn’t always been the case, however. When he first started his business, the economy was going through a dry spell.

“It was tough starting out because right when I got into the business was during the downturn of the economy,” Strauss said. “Things are definitely improving now.”

Strauss initially counteracted the waning demand for trees by providing landscaping and excavating services — one reason for the company’s name change.

While he kept busy constructing retaining walls and walkways, he nurtured the trees in his nursery. It usually takes five years before trees are ready for sale, he said.

“It’s a long process, and a lot of people don’t realize how long it takes,” Strauss said.

He said it can be a challenge to determine five years down the road what types of trees will be trending in the market.

“It’s a big investment. The seedling trees that I planted this spring will not be harvested for five or more years from now,” he said. “The challenge in the nursery business is knowing what to plant and what’s going to be popular five years from now.”

The majority of trees he grows at the nursery are ornamentals, evergreens and shades, which range in price from $500 to $1,000 to transport and plant.

“Usually the larger shade trees, like a 25-foot maple tree, can cost $1,000,” he said. “It’s probably a 15-year-old tree.”

Before Strauss plants a tree, he usually assesses the property to see what type of tree meets the customer’s needs and will fit the footprint of the property.

“Sometimes the customers know what they want in advance but more often than not, we’ll go out to the property and recommend certain plants that would do better based on the soil and certain areas on the property depending on what they’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

“For something that is going to be a landmark on a person’s property for decades to come, you want to make sure it’s going to survive and look nice.”

Over the past few years, while residents dealt with the emerald ash borer decimating ash trees across the county, Strauss found his business booming to replace the dying foliage.

“The ash tree problem has been actually pretty good for business,” he said. “As a lot of the ash trees are dying, more people are wanting to replace them.”

The business is mostly a one-man operation with Strauss at the helm, but he has a couple of part-time employees, depending on the season’s demand. For equipment, he primarily uses a truck and trailer to transport the trees and a tree spade to help with installation. Depending on the size and number of trees, a project could take from a few hours to a couple of days.

He said 60% of his business is comprised of residential properties and the remainder of sales is from landscaping companies.

The best time to plant trees, Strauss said, is in the fall and spring because the weather is cooler and trees are dormant.

During the winter, the business resorts to selling firewood to customers mostly in Ozaukee County.

“We basically split it and sell it to about 200 customers throughout the county,” he said, noting the firewood is purchased from logging companies. “It really keeps me busy through the winter.”

Strauss added that most people in the industry traditionally take up snowplowing during the winter, but he was hesitant to pursue that path because the business is dependent on the sporadic weather.

“That’s not my type of work because there could be a lot of long hours at night and it can sometimes be dangerous working in severe weather,” he said.

Today, Strauss said, the majority of his work is with trees and firewood, but he continues to do some landscaping.

“I mostly do trees when it’s nice out and firewood in the winter, but I still do some miscellaneous projects when it comes to lawns and some light excavating,” he said.

He said he is proud that his company has grown over the past decade and he hopes business will remain strong like the trees he raises.

“I’ve been in Belgium my whole life, and my business means the world to me because it is has been part of my family for years,” he said.  

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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