Landscaping business is rock solid for Hett’s Rock Shop

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Drive through almost any neighborhood and a common theme emerges-landscaping is big business.

A recent study by the Society of Real Estate Appraisers indicates nearly $15 billion was spent in the United States in 2004 to improve the aesthetic appeal and real value of residential property.

The study also estimated homes with “excellent” landscaping were valued at 8 to 10 percent higher than those without it. Homebuyers think landscaping adds nearly 15 percent to a home’s selling price.

Thanks to The Rock Shop and its owner, Neil Hett, residents of Marion County and surrounding counties can keep pace with the landscaping trend.

Located on Nighthawk Road-5 miles north of Peabody or 7 miles south of Canada-The Rock Shop is open on Saturday only, from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m.

“I think The Rock Shop is unique and it’s affordable to more people because it’s wholesale-I cut out the middle man,” Hett said. “My biggest asset is the prices I’m able to sell my materials for-and I really do have a lot of unique things.”

Hett described his business as “basically sales and service of decorative landscaping stone.”

And business is good, he said.

“If business keeps picking up like it has, I’ll be extending my hours,” Hett said. “My plans for the future-if things keep growing like they are-is to be able to hire someone who would be here during the week.

“But even if I do hire someone, I’ll keep trucking because I get a first-hand look at the product I’m buying and I don’t have to go through a broker.”

The Rock Shop has been open since 2001, but it only recently moved to its present location from its former site near Marion.

“Since I’ve moved out here, my business has been great,” Hett said with a smile. “My business area has really started to expand as far as where people are coming from. I’m getting the local people but also people from Wichita, Newton, McPherson and a lot of other places.”

Hett attributes part of his business surge to its more visible location.

“I’m getting a lot of people from the south who are headed to Marion Reservoir,” he said. “When I started in 2001, I didn’t see this being as big as it is, but it’s progressing a lot faster than I ever thought it would.

“At first it was just more of a hobby, but since I’ve moved out here I’m really trying to make it go as a business.”

That The Rock Shop is in business at all is a story in itself.

A professional over-the-road truck driver by trade, Hett said he had no intentions of being an entrepreneur.

“I started (the business) because I’ve been hauling and trucking since 1991 and rock is mostly what I haul,” he said. “I had someone ask me if I could get them some river rock, so I did-and one thing just led to another.

“Someone contacted that person and gave them my name. Before I knew it, I had enough orders that I brought back a full semi load.”

From those modest beginnings sprang The Rock Shop, which currently includes 12 types of ground cover, two types of wall stones, granite boulders, unique and antique stone items and much more.

“River rock and ground cover have been my best sellers so far,” Hett said. “I have three different sizes, plus boulders.

“It just depends on what a person’s personal opinion is as to what size they use. To me, the bigger stones look better and seem to bring out more color, but that’s just my opinion,” he added.

“I try to keep the same supplier, so if someone runs short, the color will be the same when they come back for more.”

Prices vary according to size, color and his transportation costs.

“It depends where the rocks come from because the freight determines what I have in them and also what the price is out of the quarry,” Hett said. “The gravel and river rock is sold by the skid loader scoop (about 1,200 pounds) and cost anywhere from $20 up to $58 per scoop.”

Hett supplies his business needs with trips primarily to Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

“I haul out to those places and bring loads back, so it works out pretty well,” he said.

But no destination is off limits or out of his range.

“I’d be glad to get, and I’m able to get, just about anything that’s available in the United States,” he said. “If someone needs a specific color (of rock), I have sources to find just about any color and I also have sources to find just about any size.”

Hett said his inventory will be dictated by what the public demands.

“I pretty much guess what to keep in stock right now, but for the most part I try to bring back some of the more affordable products,” he said. “I could get some things out of New York that cost $300 to $400 per ton and it looks nice, but I don’t think anybody around here would buy it.

“I guess you could say this just isn’t the neighborhood for that.”

Another big seller for Hett is the granite boulder.

“They range in a wide variety of colors, but right now I have five different colors,” Hett said. “Some of them have multiple colors in one rock.”

Boulders have been pre-weighed and prices are displayed on each one.

“The larger stones are kind of used to offset your ground cover, and lots of people use boulders in place of bushes or plants,” Hett said.

“They do have an advantage because the summer heat won’t affect them,” he said with a chuckle. “They aren’t going to die on you.”

Hett has one boulder that weighs 7,400 pounds and is for sale, but he doesn’t know how he’d load it.

“It came out of Colorado and it’s kind of just for show,” he said.

Generally speaking, boulders weigh between 400 and 1,800 pounds.

Another big seller for Hett is native limestone.

“It sells by the pound and cost from 6 cents up to about 14 cents per pound,” he said. “I also have some very unique limestone posts and natural rock benches made of antique stones.”

Another unusual but popular selling stone is what Hett calls his “holey rocks.”

“People like to get those holes cleaned out, lay them flat and use them as planters,” Hett said. “They fill the holes with a little dirt and potting soil and the plants look like they’re growing right out of the rock.”

Hett has predetermined prices for the holey rocks.

“The ones with more holes are really better looking but they don’t weigh as much, so I can’t sell them by the pound,” Hett said.

Another big seller for Hett are Kansas stepping stones.

“One of my best movers are the mossy-colored ones,” he said. “They’re kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but the more you work with them, the easier it becomes.”

In the future, Hett said The Rock Shop will feature an added line of landscaping-related products.

“I’m going to carry weed barrier that people can put under their rocks,” he said. “And I’m hoping to carry mulch, too.”

Also on the horizon is the addition of more colored rocks to the eight colors Hett already keeps in stock.

“I’m hoping to add about three new colors per year,” he said. “And I hope to carry a lot more flagstone in the future, which is great for patios and walkways.”

Hett’s policy is to offer bulk discounts of 20 percent for semi-loads of rock, which are “about 23 or 24 tons,” as well as discounts to landscape contractors.

Hett also recently added home delivery to his services.

“Charges are determined by how far away the customer lives,” Hett said.

For those who visit The Rock Shop, Hett can load vehicles with his skid loader, which lifts up to 2,000 pounds. Plans call for a larger loader in the near future.

As landscaping continues to flourish across the country, Hett plans to have his business keep pace.

“For the most part, my business is geared for the do-it-yourself landscaper,” Hett said. “I also occasionally have some displays set up, so people can get ideas so I hope people will come out and take a look at what I have to offer.

“I’ll be happy to get them whatever is necessary to fit their needs.”

Neil Hett can be reached by either leaving a message at his home
number (620-983-2556) or on his mobile phone (620-382-5426).

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