Stuart Leventhal’s Pomona-based garden center Down to Earth Living just passed its half-century mark in business. And what is the secret to its longevity?
“Good luck,” he quipped. “Luck plays an important role in life, my friend. Yes, we’ve been in business for 50 years and we’ve been blessed.”
Leventhal said he launched his business because “I always loved plants. I was very passionate about plants — their natural beauty, their symmetry, their color, their structure. And that’s what led me to landscape design because I love plants and to be able to bring structure and symmetry to my projects.”
Leventhal started solely as a landscape design business.
“Initially, it was myself and maybe one or two other men,” he continued. “And I dug every hole when I put every plant in the ground. I did everything that was necessary to make the project complete and attractive. And then, we added things as we went along: “We added retail to the operation, and then we subsequently added wholesale to the operation.”
Today, Down to Earth Living offers a garden center and nursery, an outdoor and patio furniture showroom, home décor and furnishings and during the tail end of each year Christmas trees and decorations. The company has approximately 40 people on its payroll and a customer base from across Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties, as well as New York City, Northern New Jersey and Fairfield County.
Regarding his tristate customer base, Leventhal stated he was able to “penetrate those markets on the basis of the product we delivered — and I use the word ‘product’ broadly, meaning that when we were a design build company our reputation carried us forward. As we evolved into a more of a retail-wholesale operation, our advertising program was used to penetrate those markets.”
The company recently wrapped up its Christmas retailing, with a section of the Pomona store transformed into what Leventhal dubbed his “Christmas Wonderland.”
“Around the first of October, it takes us approximately a month to build out the Christmas Wonderland,” he said. “It’s like creating a new store. And we then market the product and sell the product between November 1st and approximately New Year’s, and then we start to pack away, which generally take us two weeks.”
Although 50 years have passed, Leventhal still maintains his passion for plants and works to ensure everyone shares his passion — including those with self-diagnosed brown thumbs.
“We firmly believe that anyone can grow plants successfully if they follow the proper directions,” he said. “We do that with our warranty program for plants, which provides an instruction sheet that, if followed, will yield success. We believe that a successful customer will be a returning customer. And we’ve gone out of our way to encourage people to buy the proper amendments to their soil to assure their success.”
Leventhal also has tips for homeowners who find their lawns overrun with weeds and crabgrass.
“You have to provide an environment in which the grass plants will prosper,” he said. “The competition — the weeds, the crabgrass, etc. — will find themselves at a disadvantage. For a successful lawn, what you really need is a good watering program, good fertilization and some deterrence for those plants that would not please you. It’s really a pretty easy situation when it comes down to it. But it requires work because what you’re doing is you’re working against Mother Nature in some instances where the dryness of a lawn would favor the crabgrass — with sufficient moisture, the grass plants themselves would prosper more readily.”
As for the company’s next 50 years, Leventhal joked that he won’t be around for the centennial celebration — “I’m not old, according to me, but I’m not young” — but he was confident the next generation will keep the company prospering.
“The four things that are responsible for the survival of Down to Earth are good luck, which I mentioned to begin with, quality and service and an incredibly talented staff. Without that, we could not be where we are, nor could we have achieved what we achieved.”