Spokane Journal of Business

Falco’s morphs into the future

Falco’s Garden Center & Stove Shop

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Since the early 1920s, Falcos Garden Center & Stove Shop has served customers from the same Spokane Valley location. It has borne many names, including Joes Place, Falcos & Son, and Falcos Garden Center, and has sold everything from ice cream to power equipment to Christmas items as it has evolved from a simple fruit stand into a growing stove shop, nursery, and gift store.

Meanwhile, its stayed in the same family.

Louie Falco, who owns the business with his wife, Kristi, attributes the business success to its ability to change with the times, no matter what it is.

I made a big change a year and a half ago. I changed the power equipment (section) to a gift store, Falco says. About two and a half years earlier, Falcos had begun selling power equipment, such as lawn mowers and rototillers, to go along with its nursery business.

It did not do well at all, he says. The gift store is doing phenomenally.

Even though Falcos hardly advertised the gift shop when it opened, people almost immediately came in to buy gifts. That shows Falcos has a rapport with people in the Valley, Falco says.

The gift shop sells antique-looking furniture, such as hutches, tables, and chairs, and small items such as dishware and figurines. In December, Falcos sold $10,000 worth of furniture in a week. One customer came in, saw a table adorned with fancy place settings, and bought everything, including the table and chairs, table linens, and dishware, he says.

From fruit to foliage

Falcos grandfather, Joe Falco, who emigrated from Italy, opened a fruit stand at the businesss location at 9310 E. Sprague almost 80 years ago. He called it Joes Place.

In addition to fruit, the stand sold hamburgers and ice cream. Poles that helped support the roof of the fruit stand now are part of a fence that surrounds part of Falcos property. The home of Louie Falcos family long sat on the site where the businesss nursery now is located, Louie Falco says. He says he remembers growing up in the house there and throwing snowballs at cars passing by on Sprague.

When Louie Falcos father, Joe Falco Jr., became partners with the elder Falco in 1955, the business added a nursery.

I remember making cardboard boxes for fruit, says Falco, who began working in the business in about 1970 when he was 12.

Louie Falco praises his grandfathers and his fathers work ethic. Dad was one of the hardest workers Ive ever known, Falco says. He taught me how to sweat. I remember building greenhouses with my dad, having a nail apron, and pounding nails. Dad let us (him and his brother, Joe Falco III) go at it, he says.

After the brothers became partners in the business with their father around 1985, the threesome decided to expand the nursery and close the fruit stand. Louies brother later left the business.

Two families couldnt make a living with just a nursery, Louie Falco says, so the business began selling stoves about 14 years ago. The first year after Falcos went into the stove business, it sold just 30 wood stoves. Now, it sells about 700 a year, including gas and pellet stoves in addition to wood stoves, he says.

About nine years ago, the business began offering installation of the stoves it sells, and it currently installs about five stoves a day, Falco says.

We wanted to be able to service people from the time they buy to the installation, he says.

Though wood stove sales are strong, gas stoves are by far the leader because of the 1996 ice storm that struck Spokane, Falco says. Before the storm, pellet stove sales were brisk, but pellet stoves depend on electricity. After the ice storm, gas stove sales took off like a frenzy. Gas got real popular real quick, he says.

He says the success of the stove shop is due mainly to exposure the company gains by operating a booth at the Spokane Interstate Fair each year. In 1987, Falcos set up its first booth at the fair and was relegated to an old 200-square-foot chicken coop. We had to knock out walls and clean out feathers, he says.

Now, the company has a large, better-located booth that includes 45 operating stoves and takes four days to set up and three days to take down, Falco says. During the first year in which the company sold stoves, it sold only 10 in September, which is fair month. It didnt exhibit at the fair that year. When it opened a booth at the fair the next year, it sold more than 100 stoves in 10 days.

Louie Falco prepares bids for 90 percent of the stoves the company installs. I want the customer to see the owner of the business. I want to be the last person to talk to them before they have their stove installed, he says. Its the most honest way to treat people.

Falcos has installed stoves in communities as far-flung as Moses Lake and Ione, Wash., and Bonners Ferry and Lewiston, Idaho. It even has shipped stoves to customers in Nevada and California.

August through November is the busiest season for stove sales. The stove business slows down in December, so for several years, the company operated a Christmas store at its Valley site, but that didnt work out. Having the gift shop fills that void, Falco says.

Though Falco declines to disclose the businesss revenues, he says its sales have been growing by about 15 percent annually, and he expects that trend to continue this year.

When Falco bought out his fathers interest in the business five years ago, the business employed 10 people. Now it employs 29, including service people, salespeople, clerical staff, and installers. Falcos wife, Kristi, also is on staff and does the companys bookkeeping. Shes the person I lean on, he says. His mother, Florence, played the same role for his father. She had a role in making the business work, Falco says.

All four of his siblings have worked in the family business at one time or another, as have his two sons, who, he says, have talked about taking over the operation in the future.

Falco says that about 18 years ago, he and his father built the structure that houses the business. It originally was a 2,400-square-foot building, but Falco more than doubled its size five years ago when he bought out his father.

This coming April, Falcos plans to replace, with permanent walls and roofing, a greenhouse structure attached to the west side of its building. The structure, which used to house the businesss geraniums, also now houses the bulk of the gift shop. Falcos employees will build the new addition, which is expected to take about two months to complete.

In another change, the company launched a web site eight months ago to market its products.

  • Sandra Hosking

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