Neutral 3rd party opinions needed. Please be honest with me.

victorine72(7a)April 11, 2012

Since buying a house several years ago in a mostly wooded neighborhood, I've been in constant battle with underground critters destroying plants in my yard. I tried just about every repellant-type product on the market, but nothing really worked, and the never-ending cost and bother of re-application was getting to be a bummer. So, I finally conceded defeat and started making hardware cloth anti-critter planting cages. I don't plant everything in them, just the expensive or tasty plants like hostas and lilies. So far, I haven't lost anything I planted in a cage to a critter. Watering laziness is another story.....

On my last trip to one of the local garden centers I frequent (an affordable yet superb quality Mom-and-Pop operation) I was chatting with the owner, and the subject of voles/moles/chipmunks came up. I mentioned my critter cage strategy and she asked if I would be interested in making some to sell at their location. She said they have customers who are "begging for them". I hadn't given it much thought, but I know just from the number of critter cages I've made for myself (200 maybe?) and the success I've had with them, that there could be a market for some kind of pre-made critter barrier.

My quandary is this: Is it worth the time and effort to investigate this endeavor? I have zero business experience. I've done some preliminary cost accounting and I figure I would have to sell a hosta-sized cage (just for example) for around $4. Would any of you other gardeners out there buy such a product if they were available near you? I can't think of any other objective way to gauge the viability of my idea. Please let me know. I'm *not* trying to promote anything, just need some honest feedback from real-world gardeners who don't know me.

Aside from the aforementioned garden center, there are a plethora of farmer's markets near me. I live in the suburbs of a large Southern capitol city. My life is in a transition phase at the moment- no kids, plus a bit of expendable time and cash. I love the idea of working for myself, but I don't want to spend the next week making cages only to have them sit forever in my garage. Please advise.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if you sell them for 4 dollars.. i will take them all

and resell them for $20 ...

hows that for taking the varnish off.. lol

ken

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 3:46PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you might also make various sized display cages .. and take orders.. so you dont need to store volume

ken

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 6:49PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Your $4 may cover materials, but not your overhead nor your time: think about the cost of gasoline to pick up materials, electricity, even a percent of the mortgage! Your time is the most valuable portion for you to factor in.

Don't jump on Ken's $20 suggestion....he's CRAZY about his hostas, lololol! But be fair to yourself. The garden center needs to make a profit on your cages, too.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 10:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

he's CRAZY about his hostas, lololol!

==>> yeah?? and there are dozens of peeps over in the hosta forum who do just his thing ...

and there are a lot of peeps .. with more money than time.. who would probably pay for such .. [of course.. they may not be gardeners .. since they are yoked to the job]

my point was simply.. and i will yell..DO NOT UNDERVALUE YOUR TIME.. NOR YOUR PRODUCT ...

let me put it this way .. if it takes an hour .. to gather tools.. supplies.. cut.. fold.. and make it ... counting each individually ... is your time worth $10 an hour??? i should think so ...

then add $5 for supply cost.. and $5 for the nursery..

and bingo bango.. $20 ...

this was called the cost/benefit ratio in biz school ... and cost is not just material cost ..

ken

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 8:08AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Trying to make the selling of single items worthwhile is usually not possible beyond the scope of hobby, so you need to wholesale them to a store that is capable of reaching consumers in the amount necessary to buy enough of your items to make the whole endeavor worthwhile. Getting into the business of creating and wholesaling a tangible item is easy to start, and easier to fail. If you are doing well, you will soon reach a point where you need to hire help, which drives up your cost. You may then need a building from which to conduct business, more cost. If you do well enough to attract the attention of a larger manufacturer, they will make a mass-produced foreign knock-off of your product and market them at huge places like WM. You may have a few good years, but it will be stolen. There are exceptions, and longer-range success is possible, but it's rare.

I'm sorry to sound negative because your idea sounds fantastic but I was in the wholesale trade for decades and saw this happen to so many good items and entire companies. The Chinese don't invent all of the stuff they sell at WM, WE do! And you did ask for unvarnished opinions. I would absolutely cheer for you to succeed, but want to make sure you know what you are getting into if you have even vague notions about being able to support yourself with this. Here's some food for thought...

You will want to consider representation. If you are spending all of your time making things, you don't have time to market them. It is unlikely that a few stores near your home will be able to sell enough of these to make your business viable. Who is going to go to owners of stores to show them your product and convince them to buy some to display in their stores? The going rate for someone to do this on your behalf is 15%. They assume all costs of traveling, you supply them with "samples" to show, order forms, whatever is needed. You pay them monthly on the sales for which you have received payment, and give them a 1099 at the end of the year. Ideally, you would want someone who already represents other companies to the genre of stores you want to reach.

Another consideration is packaging. Even if your item does not need to be in a package, it will need some kind of tag or label. Would it be best displayed on a shelf or hanging on a peg? You need a name for it, preferably one that conveys the purpose of the product. If people can't tell at a glance what it is/does, they will not sell. This sounds like the kind of item that would do well on a free-standing cardboard display with a few good, colorful pictures that convey the purpose at a glance. The corrugated "plastic cardboard" would be preferable if I were doing this, stuff gets wet often at garden centers. The expense of this and the labeling/packaging will need to be covered in the cost of the item to make a profit.

You will need to accept credit cards. Not being able to use a CC to pay for things is a...

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 11:12AM
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garf_gw

Purple, you are off base. You approach this like big business. This will be more like a cottage industry. Make a few and see if they sell. The retailer is the salesman. Don't invest much until you see if the items sell. Set the price at a level that makes you enough to insure you won't lose money. Let the retailer set the final selling price. See what the retailer sells them for and adjust your price to the retailer accordingly.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 12:48PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Ken, I hope you didn't think that I was making fun of your love of hosta...but I was just warning victorine to be watchful of how he/she priced the cages. It might be that $20 retail for a small cage is a good price! I DO visit the Hosta forum sometimes...just to drool.

There are plenty of commercially manufactured plant and bulb cages on the market...victorine needs to keep this project simple and fun and local. If Victorine ends up with a real home-run in this garden center, then some decisions need to be made. For now, he/she needs to be sure that a cute name isn't already registered and being used!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 1:17PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

rhiz .. i know you well enough .. to never be concerned about your comments ...

i took it only as a poke at my forum hosta insanity... which is on the approved list ...

if you go too far.. i will email you directly .. and again.. i doubt that will ever happen for that reason ..

ken

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 1:21PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

garf, you are describing the hobby phase. There's no way a single store could sell enough of these to go beyond that. My points were in consideration to starting a serious business that sells products in a wider geographical area, not just a store or two down the street. You hit the nail on the head, though - the balancing act between enough exposure to gauge popularity vs. spending money on something that might not have viability.

I've watched businesses go from some guy making something in his garage to being mentioned in trade magazines with several million dollars' worth of sales per year. It can and does happen. One needs to have at least some knowledge of the wider/long-term picture to even get started, to know if they are interested enough to deal with facets of business they may not have considered, may not be prepared to handle, or just don't like. If you don't approach business from a business perspective, you will not succeed past the hobby phase.

I didn't even mention taxes. Or how one would want to form a corporation at a fairly early phase to protect their personal finances, and for other reasons such as being able to buy materials at wholesale instead of retail.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 2:25PM
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victorine72(7a)

Thanks everyone. This is all very pre-lim, so I'm quite aware that there are larger issues that will be need to be dealt with in future. Right now, my main concern is just as I mentioned-- trying to figure out if other gardeners would find such a product useful and if it would sell *locally* for the amount I would have to get to make it worth my time. Also just as Garf said-- "Make a few and see if they sell".

I have no expectations of making this my sole means of income. Even if this endeavor was very successful at a local level, I don't think I would take it much beyond that. I don't have the equipment to mass-produce the numbers for large scale distribution. I'm a realist. Any business venture is a gamble, and the odds of even a modest return aren't great. But.... I was presented with an opportunity, and it seemed like it would be worth a look.

Luckily, dear Hubby is a lawyer, as are my parents, so I have excellent legal representation. Dear Hubby and I have already discussed some of the pitfalls. We both agree that some "due diligence" is necessary before anyone gets too far into this.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 6:26PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

It would be fun, though, to make some to sell at that garden center you spoke of.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 11:10PM
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victorine72(7a)

***Update***

OK, so the aforementioned garden center owners bought all of the critter cages I had on hand. They seemed excited, and pleased with the cages' construction. Purchase vs. consignment was discussed-- neither she nor I had any real preference. I think she just paid me for them outright because she needed some for her own use in their display gardens. But, it was my understanding that future critter cage orders, be it purchase or consignment, would be sold to customers without a markup. My guess is that they believe they will sell more plants if they have some sort of critter protection to offer to wary customers. They sell something like 200+ varieties of hostas...... and we all know how much voles love them.

No idea yet on how well they are selling. It's still a bit early in our gardening season-- Apr 15 is our "safe" planting date. If I ever get another order for more cages, I think I'll need to attach some sort of pre-printed tag. Something with the product name, price, the garden center's info, and maybe a slogan. The only name I can think to call them is "anti-critter planting cage", which seems like a mouthful. The only slogan I could come up with was something along the lines of "Protect your plants, time, and sanity". Any ideas? I know there are some creative people out there who would like to channel their inner Don Draper.

Despite this first sale, I'm still on the fence about the whole endeavor. Just for sh**s and giggles, I contacted one of the local farmer's markets that was recommended to me. The manager liked the critter cage idea and thought they would "dovetail" with their other vendors. She said their M.O. is to provide organic/sustainable/Eco-minded local farmers and businesses a place to sell their goods. She also said they have a few veggie and garden plant vendors, as well as a bulb grower. It sounded promising, so I looked up some photos of the market online. A lot of their vendors look like super-serious operations. Tents, signage, huge displays, staff, logo-ed packaging....... it's all very intimidating. Anybody out there with farmer's market experience? If it's anything like holding a garage sale, I'm *out*.

To quote "Mythbusters", this starting to feel like a bad idea. But I'm still oddly drawn to it. Dear Hubby hasn't been much help-- he's been trained to temper his opinions:) Please help me make an informed decision. I promise I won't keep pestering you all.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:24PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

no .... wrong mythbusters quote ...

it should be:

i reject your reality.. and substitute my own..

ken

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:44PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Awesome results so far! Nobody reads anything they don't want to around here, so I doubt anyone has felt pestered. Love Mythbusters, too!

Brainstorming name ideas (having not seen these things...) More generic: (Yeah, I'm a fan of alliteration in names.)
Fiend foiler
Varmint barrier
Plant pest protectors
Root refuge
Dig defenders
Critter confuser
Critter chaperon
Garden guardian
I can't believe it's not eaten! (If you won't get sued - LOL!)

More specific:
Vole valet
Hosta helper
Squirrel shield

Slogan:
Protect those tender, tasty roots from critters.
Foil those feisty fiends.
Foil (not feed) those feisty fiends.
Plant with protection.
Get it right the first time.
Less expensive than buying new plants.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 3:30PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Alliteration is good. I like "Root Refuge" myself.
I wouldn't name it too specific (Hosta, vole, squirrel)
as it might limit the consumer's imagination.

Slogan? Hmmm, simple is good. Like "Keeps Critters Out".

tj

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 6:52PM
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jbclem(z9b Topanga, Ca)

I've been making hardware cloth cages for plants in my vegetable gardens for the past 3 years. If you've found a user friendly way to make them, could you share it. For me they are a royal PIA to construct, and I always end up bleeding from multiple wire point pricks. I've tried sniping off the wire points that stick out, but that takes a lot of time and isn't a perfect solution.

Also, hardware cloth is expensive and the plastic version won't keep a squirrel out if he/she really wants whats inside. Chicken wire/aviary wire cages are easier to make, but they require some kind of frame so that takes more time to make. Hardware cloth is great because it can be bent into rectangular shapes, but I always end up with blood dripping from my arms when I'm working with it.

I hope you're still watching this thread, victorine72, you didn't mention any difficulty in making these cages and I'll really like to know how you do it.

John

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 3:14AM
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jbclem(z9b Topanga, Ca)

Hi victorine72,

I'm still curious to know how you made your hardware cloth cages. I'm mostly using stucco wire for mine, it's a higher quality chicken wire that's made in the USA and cheaper than the chinese version found at Home Depots..

John

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:21PM
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Need2SeeGreen(10 (SoCal))

I can't add to the cages discussion, but I gotta say, I had never heard the phrase "Just for sh**s and giggles..." and it's quite nifty!

Also, never heard of mythbusters either and I love that line.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 4:05PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I don't think you have to go crazy with signage and all the other stuff you listed. If it is a good, appealing product someone will buy it. Paying taxes, keeping records of sales and having a business license would be necessary.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 6:21PM
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ronalawn82(z9FL)

victorine72, this link teaches some things.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2013 at 3:15PM
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