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Seeing Green

The Magnolia Co.
From left: Matt Roth, Mary Waugh and Vann Underhill [Photo: Brook Pifer]

Matt RothThe Magnolia Co. • President / Volusia County

One of the most basic questions in customer service — what else can we do for you? — led Matt Roth into a new business and, eventually, to seeing his product displayed at the White House for Christmas.

Working as a sales manager in his in-laws’ business selling ferns and other greenery used in floral arrangements, Roth one day asked a wholesale customer in Canada what else the company could do for her. Her request for magnolia cuttings led to the creation of The Magnolia Co., founded in 2001 and owned by Roth’s in-laws, Frank and Jean Underhill.

The Magnolia Co. sells wreaths, garlands and décor. Roughly 60% of sales come through gift and garden stores. The rest comes through Williams-Sonoma and other catalogs, wholesalers, sales to resorts and hotels and the company website. Corporate gifts are a big revenue driver. The company’s wreaths have been in Southern Living and other lifestyle magazines and have been displayed at the U.S. Botanic Garden and, last year, at the White House.

Wreaths in the most popular sizes run $75 to $165. The gift business now includes Seeds of Life — trees for births and other special occasions — along with 14 college team-themed wreaths made under license. There are even collegiate-licensed trees grown from tree material gathered from the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Alabama and Louisiana State University campuses. “We continue to push that gift market in new directions,” Roth says. Revenue this year will reach $2 million.

The Underhills also still have their 74-year-old fernery, managed by son Frank, and an estate tree business, managed by son Vann. Daughter Mary Waugh has been a product design expert through the years.

“We’re really fortunate to have committed people dedicated to their work,” Roth says. “It’s definitely a family business.”

Olive Love

Don MuellerGreen Gate Olive Grove • Owner / Jackson County
[Photo: Ray Stanyard]

During his eight years in natural gas consulting in sometimes dreary England and Ireland, Don Mueller would vacation in sunny Italy, where he was enchanted by the country’s olive groves. When he retired to Florida in 1992 — for the sun, of course — he decided to grow olives. “A modest endeavor,” he calls it.

Mueller says he was told it couldn’t be done here. But he started in 1999 and had his first real harvest in 2004. He has 320 trees on five acres, another 200 not yet producing and an award for his olive oil from a food festival where the competition came from Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, Peru, California and Spain. He produces as much as two tons of olives in an “on” year. He sells his olives in bulk, cured or pressed into olive oil. People accustomed to being limited to the grocery stores’ standard manzanilla variety drive to his grove to buy hard-to-come by ascolanas. He also grows missions, arbequinas and other varieties. The ascolanas prove so popular that he limits customers to five pounds.

“I’m totally in love with growing olives.”