I should be done planting baskets soon. Then I can get ready for the Begonias next week.
I should be done planting baskets soon. Then I can get ready for the Begonias next week.
Now that you have studied all the catalogs it’s time to decide what you want to grow and what your potential customers will want to buy.’ What’s your market? Do you plan to sell out of your driveway, maybe have your greenhouse with a self serve stand. Maybe grow for market or contract grow for someone else? My opinion is start small. Feel out the business and see if you are even going to like it. In the spring and summer this is a 7 days a week business. Even if you are closed on Sunday or Monday the plants still need water and hopefully your phone will still be ringing.
Selling out of your driveway is not a bad way to start. Selling some baskets to your neighbors and maybe selling a little something to your local grocery is an excellent way to get your name out there. Don’t be timid about asking your local grocery, they have managers that get offers to sell them stuff everyday. One thing I found that helps A LOT when offering to sell to them is to offer them guaranteed sales. They love this, it gives them inventory at no cost. Guaranteed sales means you are willing to bring them product at no cost to them. If they sell it you get your cut if they don’t you take it back to your nursery and put it on your bench to sell. One thing to consider and discuss with the grocer is who will maintain the plants, how often are they required to water and how much space do they have as well as what type of display the can offer. When I sold to a couple of small locals I used to only take in one flat each of my best primroses and pansies. I would call after a day and ask how the plants look, this is code for “did you sell them all yet?”. If they sound like they are selling offer to bring more. Once you get a regular employee of the store working with you it is easier to figure what their needs are. The next time you go in take a half flat of something different and mention you have extras and would like to see if they will sell them. Again whenever they get free stuff to dress up the front of their store they will agree to this new product too. I used to be able to stretch my sales with these stores for a few extra weeks after the primrose and pansies were all gone.
Once your neighbors friends or relatives see their baskets they will say can I get one or two. Guess what that first customer from outside the neighborhood is your first official customer. If their basket does well they will almost likely be back next year. The snowball effect begins.
The way we started ours was we planted our plugs at the right time of the year (ask your broker) kept the greenhouse looking neat and clean and put a sandwich board out front on our first day. It wasn’t a grand opening but we put “free coffee and doughnuts” on the reader board, that got a lot of people in. Not knowing a whole bunch about flowers, (that’s what we concentrated on the first few years)whenever someone asked a question we couldn’t answer we would pull out our Western Garden Book and look it up. For some reason folks seemed to like that. It’s like we took enough interest in their question to take the time while they were in front of us to find an answer. I think up until that point these folks got the stock answer at the other nurseries “water when it’s dry, but don’t over water”
Did I mention other nurseries? We didn’t spend 5 minuets doing research on the competition. Was that wrong? I was a damned machinist I didn’t know you had to do a market survey or check out the competition. If I had known and we had done our research we probably would have found out there was a well established nursery less than a mile from us on the main highway running the length of the Long Beach Peninsula. We were on the back road. It turns out though that in the spring and summer when the front road was packed the locals used the back road. Had I done my research we probably would have re-thought our nursery plan.(luck,or karma?)
Already had some interest in this subject so here we go. We had about two months before the layoff so we decided to pursue the nursery idea. Got lucky and sold our house within ten days, cash and get out in 30 days. That meant find a house for the property, find a contractor to put in runners for a mobile and get it moved and livable within that 30 days. In the mean time I started doing my research for the nursery plan. Back then (1988) there was no internet, at least not for us yet. This meant that research was done by actually getting off my butt and going to nurseries, big and small. I remember walking into a bunch of nurseries and politely asking the owner or manager how to plan for a nursery. This was the only way I could think of to get information at the time, ask someone who was in the business how you could compete with them. I would always tell them I was going to be 200 miles away and a few of them opened up. Folks in this industry seem to almost always be ready to help someone else in the business or at least willing to share some horror stories to prepare you for what you are going to experience. I will do a series on horror stories some time.
I finally ran across a fuchsia grower in Marysville Wa. (that’s where we lived too) who kind of felt sorry for us and started giving us tips on what we could expect and basically telling us how the industry worked. The first thing he did was give me the name of a plant broker, WEHOP. That one thing alone launched our nursery. Sure we could have moved down to the beach and planted some marigold seeds and some carnations but we would have been out of business in a year or two. With the name of a broker though we opened ourselves up to a business that had years of experience in the industry and was able to help keep us from making some of the costlier mistakes. They do make money from each plug you buy through them but you still pay them only what the grower would charge you. The broker makes most of their profit by getting volume discounts from the growers.
That same fuchsia grower mentioned a local nursery supply outfit. We went up to see what they had as far as pots and soil and chemicals and ended up leaving after buying a 20′x100′ greenhouse for delivery to the beach the day we were to move down there. The nursery supply house is another great resource. They have knowledge ranging from greenhouse structures and greenhouse coverings to potting soils and even the chemicals you will need for your everyday operation. If you think about it they sell everything needed to start and run a nursery. You can’t find a better resource than that. If you are serious about starting a nursery make the time to go and meet with one of the sales reps at your closest nursery supply place , even if it means a drive of a few hours. If you have a large supply house in your are they will send out a rep. Let this rep. know that you are in contact with another supply house, he or she may not be so quick to just sell sell sell you stuff. If they think you will turn into a long term customer they will treat you right. Do however check pricing with other supply houses from time to time just to keep your rep honest. I have dealt with a couple of different medium sized nursery suppliers and find that over time they keep nudging up prices on you, sometimes the bump up is not warranted but they feel they have you on a short leash. If you can form a good relationship though you will never have a better ally. They only make money if you make money, so you’re success is one of their goals.
Okay you have a broker and a nursery supplier now what?
Research Your broker has sent you 25 pounds catalogs from every grower they represent. Read them. Cover to cover. Look at what they have to offer,in what amounts and at what price. The quality of a grower kind of takes care of itself. If a grower has constant complaints a broker will drop them in a heartbeat.The better growers grow bigger and what you end up with is what we have today. There are probably 10 big nationwide growers that grow mostly the patented plants,like Proven Winners for example. Google proven winners, you will find 1,440,000 sites with information on them. If you deal with one of these growers through your broker you already have an established product line. One that almost every gardener already knows. This helps to move product. (yes even flowers and veggies are product, sorry to say)
After the big growers come the hundreds of local and regional wholesale and wholesale/retail growers. You probably have one or two around you. Ask your broker then go meet them. These folks grow stuff that is more suitable for your area. These folks sell to the public and local nurseries both so they really have their finger on the pulse of the local needs and requirements.
The greenhouse supplier also sent you some catalogs. Study them. Even the stuff you know you will never need. You just might.
Okay my typing finger is getting tired, more in a couple of days.
I’ve had a request to start the series on starting a small nursery so here it is. I plan to write this series with all of it’s warts just the way I got started in the nursery business. As you know by now I am not afraid to do just about anything as far as business goes. I didn’t used to be that way. As a machinist I was a very quiet 9 to 5 person that went along to get along. Boy has that changed. The nursery industry has changed my life completely. I used to wonder how to get some overtime so that we could take the next vacation. Seems like that’s all there was to work for. Raise our daughter,Amy and work toward a chance to get out of town for a few days.
Being a machinist I was used to getting laid off about once a year so there was never a real chance to get ahead. Then my former wife went to work in a huge wholesale nursery. She worked there part time a few days a week for about 5 months. After a few weeks she started bring home some of the plants they would throw out that weren’t good enough to ship to their customers (yes there was a time when you only shipped out your best,imagine that). This stuff started piling up and I went out to help move it from place to place every other day. Then I spotted some carnations she had brought home. That’s where it all started for me. I love the smell of a real carnation. I pampered these plants pruned the dead off of them fertilized them and smelled them,a lot. I got to the point that I couldn’t wait to get home to mess with all the plants in the back yard. Long story short, by the end of the first summer we had a flowering basket hanging from every rafter tail on our house, front and back both. We had scraped up enough for a small down payment on a 10 acre piece of property in Long Beach Wa. we though it would be a great place to go on weekends and there was a small old rental house on the property to make the payments. Well within 6 months I had gotten laid off again and we decided we would move to the beach and try our hands at a nursery. We had a combined total of about 7 months of plant experience how could this idea not work?
It did. More Tomorrow.