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A Blooming Business

Software salesman Phil Bucking, BBA ’86, always wanted to own his own business, so when he spotted an opportunity in his hometown—the resort town of Sag Harbor, N.Y.—he jumped on it.

In 1996, the Sag Harbor Garden Center opened its doors in the town’s historic train depot. Sag Harbor’s Long Island Rail Road train depot had long been abandoned. The station once served as a major center for moving people and goods from this once popular whaling trade area. It hadn’t been used as a station in the eastern Long Island community since the 1930s. Someone else had tried to get a garden center going there prior to the Buckings' purchase, but it had failed. When Bucking saw that the property was for sale, he and his wife decided to try to make a go of it. Initially, “Many people would come by just to look at the building,” he says.

Open from March through Christmas, the old train depot found new life as a retail garden center, overflowing with a variety of plants, flowering annuals, trees, shrubs, and garden gifts. Its upscale Sag Harbor clientele found a new resource for home landscaping and decorating.

Not long before he bought the center, Bucking had married his wife, Diane, whom he met when they both were working for Egghead Software. They both quit their jobs and moved to Sag Harbor when they were expecting their first child.

“It was definitely a gamble,” he says. “But we felt that out there, the only way to really be happy would be to own our own business.” There certainly was no huge market in Sag Harbor for software salesmen. At that time, he says, “It was now or never.”

The Buckings barely got by for their first couple of years. But by last year, once the business was established, Bucking employed his computer expertise to get Sag Garden online and expand its business beyond the local community. At saggarden.com, customers near and far can consult a plant encyclopedia, obtain planting instruction and advice through the “garden school,” and purchase thousands of garden and planting products. The Web site allows them to sell many more products than would fit in the store. The Buckings’ software experience provided them with keen awareness of the importance of managing and succeeding online.

Bucking is a vice president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and he and his wife offer several community services through their store. They host a petting zoo for children each spring, a pumpkin decorating contest at Halloween, and educational field trips during the school year for children to learn about plants and planting.

Bucking recalls that a class at GW helped him prepare for his eventual business ownership. During an entrepreneurial class, he learned the importance of creating and executing a proper business plan. “Because I had hoped to start my own business, I had actually kept some of my notes about business plans. We spent a lot of time formulating a business plan for the garden center. It wasn’t until about a year ago, when it came time to get the Web site going, that we went back to look at it. I was really impressed because we had done everything we set out to do.”
—Heather O. Milke