Craig Hazelett grew up among the rows of tropical fruit trees, landscape palms and butterfly plants of Driftwood Garden Center. Mulch and fertilizer and heavy bags of topsoil are second nature to him. His parents launched the North Naples shop off U.S. 41 in 1984, and 14 years later they opened a second location in Estero. Hazelett worked at both Driftwoods as a teenager. “My parents were good role models,” he says. “They taught us what hard work gets you, and now we have a good system in place that’s been easy to build upon.”
Though the children of some entrepreneurs might chafe at the idea of returning home to run the family business, Hazelett looked forward to coming back after college.
“I always envisioned myself coming back and being a part of it,” he says. “It’s a great business to be in, with a lot of potential for growth.”
That continued growth has been the product of many factors, Hazelett said. The garden center’s long history is one of them. Many of Driftwood’s clients have been coming to the nursery for decades. “We have clients today that I first met when I was 14 or 15 years old, and we reminisce together,” he says. “In a business like this, it’s important to have those long-lasting relationships.”
Building relationships is essential to any entrepreneurial endeavor, especially one with an outward-facing business model. “Everything here is based on customer service,” Hazelett says.
At Driftwood, the key to ensuring great customer service over the years has been hiring outstanding employees. “Our employees are really knowledgeable. Whether it’s butterfly gardening or orchids or whatever they focus on, they become experts in that area. Our success is a testament to our employees and their desire to learn and take care of things.”
Over the lifespan of the garden center, Driftwood has gone from five employees to 110. Hazelett and his team make sure that they bring on people who are both customer-oriented and passionate about the products they’re selling.
In fact, passion is a word Hazelett uses often to describe Driftwood, and it’s a state of being he says is necessary for entrepreneurial success. “There’s a lot of passion involved in running a business,” he says. “My advice to other entrepreneurs: When you have something you’re passionate about, follow it. There will be a lot of ups and downs, but the rewards far exceed the challenges, for sure.”
Of course, any leap into entrepreneurship involves risk. And the risk of running a business that depends almost entirely on living things might seem daunting. But as with most aspects of running the business, Hazelett sees that potential pitfall through an optimistic lens. “We’re very fortunate to be dealing with living things,” he says. “Plants bring joy to people.”