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.