John Seaver remembers mowing lawns in college for $14 each. One week, he ran over a sprinkler head and offered to come back and fix it.
He returned to learn the customer had paid a professional sprinkler company close to $60 for the work. It was then that he realized he might be in the wrong business.
But it wasn’t until after he graduated from The University of New Mexico — and got fired from his first job — when he decided to venture on his own and open Just Sprinklers 18 years ago.
Today, Seaver has four stores and 60 employees — more in the summer — and recently opened his first Santa Fe location inside the old Greyhound bus terminal, 858 St. Michael’s Drive.
The 2,000-square-foot space still has its bus depot look, but has been given a total makeover with the green Just Sprinklers logo just about everywhere. “I’m big on branding,” said Seaver, wearing a green shirt with his company logo.
Outside the property are pond equipment, pavers, flagstone, railroad ties, fountains, seed, bird feeders, fertilizer bags, tarps and sheeting, all stacked where Greyhound buses used to drop off and pick up passengers.
Seaver didn’t want to be on Cerrillos Road; he said it is too difficult for businesses to get exposure. So he made an offer on the old bus terminal, which has been vacant since the Greyhound stopped serving Santa Fe a decade ago, and it sold for $360,000, he said.
Just Sprinklers has provided irrigation and landscape service in the Santa Fe area for a decade, with crews coming from Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. He has some 500 customers, which is one reason he felt comfortable expanding here.
But like all business owners, he is cautious about moving too quickly and taking on debt. All the improvements in the Santa Fe store were done with his own cash and crew, a project that took four months and $50,000. Now his only debt is $1.8 million on the property he owns at the four locations.
He owns 50 trucks, and “I don’t owe a penny on any of them,” he said.
He is also cognizant of the competition and offers up respect for Gene and Mary Butler, who have owned and operated The Firebird, 1808 Espinacitas St., for almost 30 years. But his niche is not irrigation or stoves, it is a compendium of items all in one place without being a big box retailer, which Santa Fe values.
What other store sells both koi fish and railroad ties? He claims to be the largest reseller of drought-tolerant bluegrass, Reveille, which is grown near Estancia.
“Nobody that I’m aware of has the collection of products that we’ve put together,” he said.
As 80 percent of his revenue comes during the spring and summer, he has also learned to diversify: pumpkins in October; Christmas trees after Thanksgiving; sweet corn from Schwebach Farm near Moriarty in the summer and fall.
And of course, koi fish, which can live outside all year in Santa Fe if the pond is deep enough.
“I’ve never trusted the business to make enough from just one product,” Seaver said.
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 858 St. Michael’s Drive, Santa Fe
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, 12 to 5 p.m.
More information: www.JustSprinklers.com