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Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Posted by ironhat2 z8/MS (My Page) on
Thu, Oct 13, 05 at 19:12

Hey guys,

I have found 2 threads on backyard nurseries posted over the last few months. In both threads, I have found "gems" of information that I plan to follow up on. It was suggested I might post a new question, rather than follow up on the last one that didn't seem to go so well.

I am not a true professional like many of you. But I do have 10 acres of property that I had once considered putting a Christmas tree farm on long years back. I did all my research and tried to look for all the pitfalls in a business venture of that type. About the time I was going to gear up and go, the market fell out from under that type of tree farm, and I let the idea die a quite death.

Over the last few months I have again considered starting a home based business on my property, but this time as a small nursery for trees and shrubs. I have called myself doing a feasibility study of the nursery business in our area/state, and the chances of competeing with established nurseries. I have been all over the internet, gathering data from different universities across the country, on differnt aspects of growing plants in a nursery setting. I have also purchase a number of books, new and old, on subject matter of this nature to help me. But I am a newbee/novice to all this. I have taken in all this data, and while it was compiled by "learned" persons, I still would like to know if my conclusions are realistic.

If there is any intrest in continuing discussing "starting a backyard nursery" type thread, I would like to ask a few simple questions.

Dan


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by ilima Kihei, HI. Z11 (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 13, 05 at 19:58

Ask away and you will find out if there is still some interest in questions on that topic. I would be interested in reading the answers to good questions.

ilima


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Going in to any business, is a crap shoot at best. I have always heard said that small businesses are the back bone of our ecconomy. And I have also read that the greatest percentage of small business failures are because of poor business plans.

In my head, I can see it taking years to get even a backyard nursery up and going. I'm talking about a true small nursery operation. I already have set myself a time line to make this happen, if I truely persue it.

I also know the impotance of having a working knowledge, education of this area. I know some of you may have degrees, been in Master Gardener programs, lot's of OJT to get the knowledge you now have to make your businesses sucessful. An I know I will have to take what ever steps to increase my knowledge to make this dream a work reality.

Marketing is always the trickiest part of any business adventure. If you can't get a hurdle on that end of the business, might as well make it a great hobby, and just enjoy playing in the dirt.

With any small business starting up, controlling costs up front in conjunction with cash flow is always very important.

I have seen it suggested in more than one site that you should have selected types of base plants that you are sure will sell. And you propagate from these plants, layer, what ever, until you have ample stock plants to draw from each year to get your plants.

Is it easier to take the time to do this, and not buy bare root stock from large nurseries? I have seen it suggested that there is quite a bit of difference in the cost of a site propagated plant, as opposed to a nursery bare root plant in final costs. Has this been true in your experiences?

Dan


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RE: Researching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Hi Dan,
Your questions are very general, you need to be more specific....

Do you plan on field growing? If so, take a close look at your soil and sun exposure. If you plan on field growing you need to grow plants that will be compatible with your growing conditions.

Field growing new cultivars of pest and disease resistant plants can be very profitable. Good examples are Elm's and Chestnut's.

Plants that are quarantined that cannot be imported into your region can be very profitable. Hemlock's are quarantined in my area and would make a great field crop here. If a plant is quarantined to prevent a spread of a pest that is not present in your area and the plant has a huge demand I would suggest that you further research the plant.

In both of the examples above you would want to buy bare root stock.

Hybridizing offers many opportunities for a small nursery. You would want to study a specific plant and buy cultivars to hybridize and grow seedlings from.

Deep interest in horticulture with insight of the plant industry is a major key to success in this business.

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I woudln't say easier. Doing your would be less expensive than buying liners, plugs and bare root stock, but also more tim intesive for you. You'll have to examine your operation to find out whether your time could be spent more profitably than doing your own cuttings and divisions and or seeds.

I plan on doing my own, but may change if I discover it doesn't pay. One of the benefits of doing my own is I can offer things that may not be available through liners and plugs. My niche will be the specialty gardener so that will be important. Yours maybe landscapers making common shrubs and trees a better choice.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

My answers might be too general but I have been trying to launch a number of gardening based small business' these past few years and there are many pitfalls not covered in any of the books. How people buy things, what catches their eye or motivates them to part with their hard earned dollars is different in different areas of the country and it changes every so often. If the ink is dry on the pages of your books than some of the information is out of date - things can change that fast. But you won't know until you jump in with both feet. You can plan and re-plan all day long but you won't be earning any money until you start selling something. How you get the plants you plan on selling is a small part of the story. Many nurseries do their own propagation and many more buy in all their stock, some do a mixture of both. They all make money, they're all in business. Should they fail, it is hardly ever because of how they got their stock.

In my case, I work a full time job and do garden crafts and unusuall plants as a hobby. Placing my stuff in stores on consignment became a nightmare once the economy slowed down and people stopped spending money willy nilly. It became hard and time consuming to collect payments from each and every store. Everyone talked about it as if it was a great money making scheme - it wasn't once I did the math. Now I sell home grown plants and hand made crafts at the local (and huge) flea market. During the spring months it can generate as much money as I want - it all depends on how much effort I want to put into it and how good the weather is. But once June hits things slow down and once the weather gets hot nobody wants to even think about working in the yard - it becomes very hard to move product. I have to really sell, whereas in May things seem to sell themselves. Again when I do the math - it becomes a lucrative hobby but not a big money business.

One issue that I face that friends in other parts of the country doing the same thing don't have to deal with is that this area of the country is full of plant producing businesses - nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers, backyard growers. During that frenzied month of May you can buy just about anything for your yard from virtually any business in town. Even the gas stations sell bedding plants and every church group or neighborhood association has a plant sale. Kinda makes it hard to be special or stand out. It also makes it very hard to earn top dollar when everyone is competing so intensly. When I sought advice from others selling here or at the farmers market they all claimed huge revenues on certain weekends - so I tagged along and viewed from distance. They weren't doing the math. When they saw a complete sell out I saw a third of their stock go unsold. What they thought was a good day's profit wasn't enough to pay my bills. So you need to do the math and see how much money you NEED to make not just what you hope to make and then test the waters to see just how profitable your idea will be. My view is that you CAN make money growing and selling plants, but it is hard to make a lot of money growing on a small scale.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Thanks guys for the replies!

I plan on working with our county and state programs on such things as type soil. I also hope to get such information from them as to how deep a well I would need to dig for my area.

For spring 2006, my marketing plan included certain town celibration days in the spring, and a booth at the local farmers market.

I also had plans one week end to drive over to our neighboring state of LA., and talk with a number of nursery owners. Many of these growers have excelent plants at fair prices. After Katrina, I am not sure what is left.

Buying plants big enough now to have ready for spring 2006, would have me selling my plants near enough to prices being charged by the big box stores. So why would anybody buy my product at a slightly lower price? I agree that buying plants and having them ready for the spring is the way to go for next market season, but I need to see what is avalable closer to me and at what price.

I do plan on having a mix of plants in the ground, and in pots in hoophouses or green houses. Our winter on average have been mild here. I want to sell plants that have toughened up, and have a great chance of doing well for those who buy them.

I to have considered a niche market as well. Everybody has an idea of what will sell if you plant it. I enjoy meeting people, and I enjoy selling things they want at a fair price. I don't want to corner the market, but I do want to be successful in time with this venture. I know it is hard work, and mother nature doesn't always cooperate.

I have probally a zillion stupid questions, and most of them are "general" in nature. Marketing issues, type of plants, watering issues, watering systems. hoophouse construction............and the list goes on. But I don't want to cloud up this format with silly questions from another newbee. I suspect you guys see this all the time.
I suspect also that there are a number of folks out there just like me doing there research to see if they can make a "backyard nursery" work.

Thanks for the kind replies. I "truely" apreciate them.



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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Ironhat, ask away. I'm sure there are others with similar questions and ideas, and hopefully answers. The most important thing you can do is research. Check the local garden centers to see what people are buying. Check the growers to see what the landscapers and garden centers are buying. Most nursery people will share information with you if they are not busy. It is important you do you research regionally. What sells here, may be totally different than what sells in your locale.

Kirk


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RE: Researching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan, I agree with Kirk, ask away. Maybe one question at a time?

Working with the county and state programs would be a huge help as well as talking to local nursery owners.

Take it one step at a time, well prepare your soil's and site. Explore your water, drainage, PH, weed pest, animal pest and insect pest.

I would not recommend buying larger material, stick with propagation stock, seeds, rooted cuttings and small liners. Do not stretch yourself too thin financially and do not overwhelm yourself with too many different plants.

Plan your sales, what will you sell in April? What will you sell in May? What will you sell in June? What will you sell in July?.....well you get the idea. Cash flow, you will need to sell plants through the season. Each month you should have a specific nursery crop to sell. Plan your crop well, plant it, grow it and sell it, month to month plan. You have to have cash flow.

Keep things as simple as possible and watch your cash flow.

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Again guys, thanks for the replies and words of encouragement.

In my business plan, I have allowed myself 5 years to have a fully functiional nursery the size I want. While my intent is to be small, we will see how it goes by year 5.

Along the way, I am trying to set mile markers for each year. Type of plants, number and type of greenhouse(s), watering issues ......... I know where I want to end up, but I don't want to get in over my head to fast. As with any venture, cash flow and debt are issues that have to be dealt with on a day to day basis.

It seems to me that no matter how knowledgable you are, or how disciplined and hard you work, you have got to be able to market your plants. Common sense dictates the the prime selling period is the months of March, April and May. Has this been true in your experiences?

But what about the fall selling season? Until I was pilfering through a local box stores close outs on their summer stock recently, did I realize that they were waiting on their fall shipments of plants. I never realized that was that much of a market for fall planting.

I realize that I am asking questions in "what if" situations (in general terms). Asking in this manner makes it hard for some one to give specific opinions or advice. But is it your opinion that the largest percentage of gross revenue a small nursery would make is in the spring selling periods? Should a small starting nursery try to make the largest percentage of their revenue in the spring selling season, and then concentrate on growing their company and developing a better marketing plan the rest of the year? Then attempt to increase it's plant base and sales each year till it get to the size company the owner wants it to be and stay solvent?

Or should some one, as one list member suggested, jump in feet first? It is real safe to set on the sidelines and collect data and ask for opinions. It's another thing to get in the game. From what I have read on other threads of simular subjects on this site, I have gotten the underlining feeling that for a small nursery coming up with a good marketing plan that works, is kind of like shooting at a moving target blind folded. You got to be really good and know your stuff.

Sorry to be so "wordy". Any info would be appreciated.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan, the problem with a small operation in the spring is volume. You cannot handle enough plants to cover your yearly expense's. You would need a large crew and a number of delivery trucks.

If you are able to grow or install items you grow in the summer or fall months you will be further ahead. You have to sell a huge amount in the spring, creating a cash flow after the rush of spring is very important for a small grower.

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan,

Who do you want to sell to? Other nurseries, retail garden centers, landscapers or the public? Each group has different needs. Nurseries may want smaller plants that they can grow out, maybe unusual that only you have or common to fill in their inventory. Retail garden centers will have specefic needs according to sales history and will add "new" items each season and depending on their customers, size matters. Landscapers usually want finish product of size to make immediate impact to their clients. Depending on your landscapers or hopefully architects and designers, the plant list may be small and comfortable or widely varied. As far as selling directly to the public goes, good luck. They may want big or tiny, common and exotic, but one thing they will expect buying from a nursery is low price and selection. Get to know your potential customers and their needs, not just what everyone else is growing.

If you haven't already, check with the SBA, small business administration, for help with planning, financing, taxes and marketing. They offer courses that are inexpensive and very much to the point for your region. I'm sure they have a chapter in your area. http://sba.gov/ You can always take classes or attend seminars at local schools and through related associations. These events are also excellent places to network with others in the green industry.

Kirk


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan, just a comment on the fall season sales. I see customers coming in the fall, looking for different plants than the spring, so I plan my stock accordingly. My sales are larger in spring, but still good in fall. For example when customers see the ornamental grasses blooming in gardens around in the fall, they want those. For that reason, I order plugs of grasses for the spring and pot them up then to have salable size in the fall (they fill a gallon well). Keep up the questions, and good luck! Polly


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I have always heard that many small businesses depend on the sales that come in during the Christmas time frame to survive. I had assummed that this is also true of spring sales of plants by any nursery.

I don't think any small start up business can afford large numbers of bought plants, and the labor costs that would be needed to prepare these plants for the spring market in the first few years. Bruce makes an great point about labor and transportation costs.

In researching to this point, I have come to some conclusions. These are "my conclusions", and if I am way off out in left feild somewhere, please feel free to say so.

Some one wishing to start a small backyard nursery had better know where their market is from day one.

They need to know what plants are hot sellers for their region, and decide how many different variety of plants to start out with in the early years. Start out with sure sellers that the public will want.

For the plants you are going to sell, you should have the best tag labeling you can afford on each of these plants.

Knowledge of the plants you are going to be selling, and the ability to propagate them for new plants is a must for a small nursery. To be able to do this, you have to have base plants to pull these cuttings from. An intermittent misting system(s), a greenhouse/hoop house, affordable water source are just a few of the tools a grower would need to propagate more plants for their needs. Buying "large" numbers of bareroot stock, pulls, seems a risky capital exspense early on. But that is my opinion.

I had read some where that selling quality plants that are in demand, at a discount price, would be the way to go for a small company starting out. And try starting out selling directly to the public. By keeping larger quantites of a limited variety of popular plants, and selling them young at a lower price seemed like a good idea for the first few years. Or is that just foolish thinking on somebodies part?

I find it hard to believe that any one would go into a venture like this expecting to fail. But I also think that when a person says they want to start a backyard nursery, that they are not prepared to quit their day job on day one. And I doubt that many folks are prepared to mortgage the farm for finacing the gamble of starting up a backyard nursery at day one of this venture. So cash flow during the first few years could be tight.

The comments made on this thread have been truely helpful to me. It seems to me that the business side of any size nursery operation is as critical as the cost of producing plants. I appreciate any info.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

You have mentioned twice about selling low. Tony Avent has some good comments about pricing and he doesn't recommend selling low just to beat the competitions price. Going low to beat the box stores is a recipe for failure. I think you should be careful about under pricing. Grow quality and charge what you need to make a decent profit. If that price is too high and no one buys you'd be better off trying to reduce your costs.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Even before finding this site, I had done several searches on sites such as Amazon.com, for books dealing with the subject of nurseries and plants in general. Tony Avent's Book came up in all searches, and I put it near the top of a short list of new books I am purchasing to read on this subject. I have purchased several books, some used, some new already on this subject. I placed more a priority on subject matter dealing with subjects such as propagation and growing certain type of plants. There is a lot of good info out there in new and older publications for those that wish to persue it. But it sounds like I need to back up and find a copy of this book at one of the local libraries, or go ahead and order it on line now, rather than later.

I think the point you make on pricing is a valid one.

Thanks,

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Hey guys,

I have appreciated the replies to my inquiry on the backyard nursery topics that you long time members of this site see pop up from time to time. I have read most all posts on this subject made in the past by other members. As with my post, you guys keep telling everyone to get a copy of Tony Avent's book on starting a nursery.

I checked our metropolitan library system online in our area for this book, and it is not in their system. I went to amazon.com, and pulled up the book. In bumping around on the site, I was refered to another site telling a lot more about the subject matter of this book. If you truely want to see quality of the information avalable to the prospective nursery owner, check out the site startanursery.com. It gives you a good look at what type information you can get by getting hold of a copy of this book. From all apearances, it may (or may not) help you with growing plants, but it appears to offer much in the business side of running a nursery.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Yes, Tony Avents book is about how to "Run" a nursery not how to grow plants.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Even with the book you have to remain flexible and not afraid to crunch the numbers. Real data can be hard to come by while you are in the biz plan writing phase - industry profiles cost money to acquire and they ain't cheap. Things change. You could start your original plan focused on propagating some unusual plant and selling at your local farmers market only to have some disease make the news which shuts down shrub sales in your area or the farmers market could restructure which edges you out of the site because you no longer fit their guidelines. These sorts of things happen all the time. Be flexible and the first to adapt and you'll come out ahead everytime.

At my market I've learned that the public doesn't always follow the rules nor the trends. They don't always buy something just because its blooming. They don't always care that something is unusuall or rare. They do recognise quality but they don't always want to pay more for it. They do respond to your knowledge and salesmanship but that most often gives you a steady customer which is not the same thing as winning the lottery. I decided when I started out that I didn't want to turn my entire yard into a production field of nursery stock and that I only wanted to spend so much time each evening outside working with the plants. In that amount of time, with the tools I already have, using the skills I've mastered I can produce a decent amount of quality plant material and garden craft pieces. My sales at the local flea market are steady but no where near what I need to quit my day job and persue this full time. I enjoy it enough to keep doing it - its the best part time job for me.

PS - I make more money selling the crafts than I do selling plants.

And I have the book, autographed too! I used to work for Tony and live right down the street from PDN.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

As they say in football, I think it is time to back up and punt. You guys have been very pateint in humoring this newbee, and given me much to think on in many areas. I am going to have to sit back and think again about my original assumptions on issues such as plant selection, monthly sales versus seasonal sales, PRICING issues, and the list goes on. Tony Avents book will be here soon, and that should at least give me an idea of what to expect on the business side of things.

I have become a much more knowledgable person thanks to the many of you that replied to this thread. But I think I will leave here with more questions that need answering than when I actualy posted my first question. But in this case, I "think" this is a good thing. Better to have questions now than when later! This whole exercise has been very helpful to me.

Thanks again,

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan,

It sounds like you are now developing specific questions. Continue to ask away. We are all learning from your questions and the multitude of responses.

Do you have a background in the green industry or working at or with a growing operation? Many nurseries need temporary help, especially at this time of year when they need to cover houses or put plants to sleep for the winter. You may be able to find someone that can teach you in exchange for some hard work. I think the best way to understand an operation is to take part in one similar to what you'd like to do.

Kirk


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RE: Researching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I think there will always be some unanswered questions and eventually you have to just take the leap. I also think you are being smart to continue to investigate before sinking capital into the venture.

Just a little background on myself. I am not a professional and do not own, run or work in a nursery(I have in the past, the very distant past). My wife and I live on 5 acres and have, for the last 5 years, been developing the site as a nursery. Clearing some land, installing a well, running electrics, building a greenhouse and developing the gardens. We are doing this with earnings from our day jobs and a bit of savings which means it is a slower, but safer process. The soonest we can open will be spring of 2007. Originally I had hoped it would be my full time job, but after examining all the factors It will only be a part time job. Someday that may be enough to pay all the bills, but for now I have adjusted to the realities and try to enjoy the process as much as possible. I still have much to learn about what and how to grow and how to sell.

Good luck and keep asking those questions.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Kirk I have no specific professional training or education in any field of discussion that has appeared in this thread. You just have a "dummy" on this end asking the questions you guys have seen before Im sure.

I hope to become involved in the Master Gardener program this spring. I did not know this program existed until finding it doing research for this project. I have since found there is a format for that program on this site, so I will explore there as well for more info.

One of the responsibilities of my real world job is "product development". Manufacturing and the "Green Industry "can be said to be worlds apart in actuality. But in many ways there are similarities. Producing quality goods at an affordable price for sell to the customer is what it is all about in both worlds. Not to mention making a profit.

So many of the comments you guys have made have hit home with a vengeance. Comments about labor costs, time management, sales plans for a whole year, just to mention a few, all make perfect sense in my world. You guys could have just politely let this thread die a quite death. But you didnt, and it has been helpful to me, and I hope others as well.

I would love the opportunity to work with an established grower, and learn the business from the ground up. Comments like "putting the plants to bed for winter" just shows me there is a lot out there I need to know more about. There a few growers in this area. I have considered contacting them to see if . And your right, I am developing specific questions.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

JB, thanks for giving a little background on yourself. It sounds to me that I am few years behind you in the development of a nursery. I like the "pay as you go and grow" theory myself. I for one can respect your efforts over the last few years to make your dream a reality. I hope 2007 will be the year you see the rewards for you efforts.

How do you determine the amount of water you would need from a well to meet your needs? Is there a magic ratio of water to plant to so many times a week? Does anyone water from collected water say in a pond using a pump?

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by Cady 6b/Sunset34 MA (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 19, 05 at 22:50

You might want to look at plants that sell in spring AND fall, such as pansies (big sellers here in April and September). Also, small shrubs since they are planted in spring and fall. The marketing approach is slightly different when you pitch your plants in ads, focusing on the season (e.g. Fall:"Plant now for spring blooms" vs. Spring:"Plant now for fall color!")


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I wanted you to know my background so you could weigh what I say appropriately. I have done some reading and thinking and have been implimenting the infrastructure, but I don't have any experience actually running a nursery.

I don't have specifc numbers or formulas on water needs. Drilling a well is always a crap shoot. In our area 200 foot wells are not uncommon. We had enough money set aside to go that deep, but hoped we wouldn't. It ended up being 54ft deep with 15 gallons per minute. From that I can run one hose wide open or two half inch impact sprinklers 24/7 without running out of water. If I add a third sprinkler the system will spit air after about an hour. The recharge rate on the well is such that it just won't support more than that. Turn off the third sprinkler and within ten minutes the spitting stops.

With those two impact sprinklers I can water two 100 foot in diameter circles at a time. That will cover more plants than I can imagine growing...at least at this time.

The house is on city water which I will use as a back up if the well were to go down. It's expensive, but at least I won't lose my crop.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

A wise man once told me "You don't make money growing plants. You make money SELLING plants". These are two completly different things.

When I started my small scale weekend business I only paid half attention to the things other people were telling me. I wish I had a filter for the advice that is based totally on emotions vs the advice based on logic.

I assumed that if I grew it and made a pretty display at the market - I would sell it. I assumed that if other people (on the Market Garden forum) can sell a flat of basil at their market each weekend than I can sell at least that much also. I assumed that the public would pay whatever I asked, that I wouldn't have to haggle over the price. What I learned was that nowadays folks expect everything at wholesale prices but you can still get a good price for your product it just may not be a great price. What I learned is that when you sell your product yourself you develop a relationship with the audience at your market - not just those that buy from you, but those that walk by your booth each and every weekend. They may not buy from you the first time you show up but they will remember you and what kind of stuff you have for sale. It is still by far the cheapest form of advertising there is.

A backyard operation can make money. It will involve hard work and long hours. Selling will always be a problem - the plants rarely sell themselves regardless of how special they are. You can always out compete the big box stores in quality - but quality does not mean the same thing to the consumer that it once did. The true movers and shakers in this field of work do not follow the trends - they make the trends. They find the unusuall and they write them up in garden magazines and travel about the country giving lectures on their latest discoveries. They create the buz and they've learned how to time everything so that the the plant buying public's interest coincides with the crops availability (a difficult task to pull off).


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I once worked for a man that told me, "If your time is worth a dollar an hour to a man that will hire you, then your time should be worth twice that to yourself." This journey for me will be long, but I believe it will be worth the time I invest in it now, starting out right. The sharing of your experiences with your journey down similar roads, the many marketing suggestions, questioning statements that I had made, has all been a positive learning experience for me. You guys have made me back up and reexamine my thoughts and plans. That isnt a statement I take great pride in saying.

Reexamining plant selection choices. With possible change in plants, looking at what I would need to do to prepare soil for new plants. Started process of dealing with county and state officials on well issues/information. No working on any "marketing plan" until required reading arrives, and I read it cover to cover.

One question. Is there any rule of thumb on making an educated guess what a plant would have been sold to the BIG BOX STORE for from the grower. Does the retailer double, triple the price they paid the grower for the plant?. And is there any truth to what I read/heard some where that some "big stores" take plants in on consignment? How does that work?

Another question. As a grower, you try to capture your real cost of growing a plant from seed to the actual sell, right? ALL costs, all materials, as best you can determine. But as an owner grower, does the owner of a small start up nursery truly capture "ALL" labor costs? I have read where one self proclaimed successful small nursery owners claim to work 12 hour days, some times 7 days a week. Dont mind the work, but to capture all that labor.........................
Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by Vouts France Z8 (My Page) on
    Fri, Oct 21, 05 at 4:03

Hi Dan,

As a nurseryman of nearly 3 years with a similar background to yours I can give you a few pointers.

Retail markups are not fixed in stone but between 2x and 3x the wholsale price is a good guide. Of course what this means is that wholsale nurseries need to produce a lot more plants than a retail nursery to turnover the same amount, which in turn means that production has to be much more efficient.

You are on the right track in that your biggest cost by far will be your labor. I know all too well the 12hrs a day 7 days a week routine, although it is of course highly seasonal. I don't count the hours worked, just the result at the end of the year. If you can't afford to pay yourself a reasonable 'annual income' then you're not profitable its as simple as that. Many small buisness owners work for 'free' in the beginning as cashflow is extremely important in a growing business. Be prepared to have sufficient resources to live independently of the nursery business in the first few years, you'll probably need to reinvest any money that you do earn above the running costs.

A good calculation to do is to work out roughly how many plants you need to sell in a year to give the income that you desire. That will be the minimum amount of plants you need to be able to produce and have finished in any one year. You will need to produce in excess of that to account for losses and unsold stock. You may be surprised by the result!


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Vouts,

Thanks for the info. I guess the hardest part of this whole process (for me)is getting a handle on pricing the plants that you will produce. It is hard for me to get my arms around how this is done.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by ilima Kihei, HI. Z11 (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 23, 05 at 16:21

Pricing The Plants per 100 Produced

1. Cost of container/pot
2. Cost of soil mix
3. Cost of fertilizer/other herbicides and pesticides
4. Cost of labor if any other than yours
5. Cost of plant material

Figure out the amount and cost of the above to produce 100 plants. Then divide by 100 and this will tell you how must it costs to actually produce them on a per potted plant basis. Now you have to charge more than that to make a profit and be competative in price with others in your market. Plus you have to figure in from this profit the ability to pay the other business expenses like utilities, water and electric, insurance, rent if any, transportation, marketing ect. You and your labor is the last to get paid.

Now think can I generate more money coming in selling more in quantity at a smaller markup or selling less quantity at a larger markup of actual costs. That is generally a function of plant size and wholesale versus retail.

I can grow plants tied up and blindfolded but I am a lousy businessman. Marketing is my weakest point and I am learning as I go.

ilima


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

ilima, You forgot:
6. Cost of Water
7. Cost of electricity
8. Cost of Heating/Cooling

And as a startup:
9. Inital startup cost for g/h's, coldframes, Lanscaping, Parking, Signage, Irrigation systems, cash registers
(Most of which can be written off over time but count on $50k to $100k here)

Most importantly.
10. Mental cost on your family.

I could go on and on......


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by ilima Kihei, HI. Z11 (My Page) on
    Mon, Oct 24, 05 at 19:51

No I did not forget those items. I had them under other business expenses in a list that ended in ect, cause you most certainly can go on and on.

I was just trying to help him get actual unit cost per plant produced to help him get an idea of the markup he will need on his selling price to cover that list that goes on and on. From there he can see how many of them need to be sold to cover those other expenses and hopefully some leftover to pay himself.

ilima


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Thanks ilima and Mylu for your info.

Marketing, for me, is the scariest part of the whole venture. If we cant determine a true cost of our plants, based on "ALL" factors, we could be losing money from day one. Just my opinion.

Dont we need to know the total cost of all materials to pot this plant ilima spoke of above (plus shipping cost of these materials to get to our door). Material Costs.

Don't we know how much in labor cost we would pay if we had to hire help to do this task for us. Labor costs.

All those other costs that ilima and Mylu spoke of, wouldn't that be considered "overhead expenses"? The price we are going to pay to keep the lights on, labels on the pots, water to the plants...............

Shouldn't we know the total number of plants we want to produce in a given year? And with that information, and our projected "overhead expenses, can't we determine how much money we have to add to our single plant cost to offset our overhead?

Then can't we determine how much profit we need?

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by ilima Kihei, HI. Z11 (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 25, 05 at 0:57

How much you can add to the as close as you can get to actual cost to you to produce one plant is going to be determined by competition, wholesale or retail and plant size. You can only mark up from your cost to produce what the market will bear.

What may be just as important is to find out if you can produce plants at a low enough unit price to even be able to enter the market as a competitor.

Once you have your unit production price and the price you can mark it up to, then you calculate how many you NEED to sell at that price to cover your overhead and give you a profit for yourself.

Maybe you cannot meet the volume of sales required to make yourself a profit.

I guess my point is your price as determined above should determine volume of sales needed.

Volume of sales you want to do or can do should not be a major factor in determining your price. If that was true I would just sell one plant a year for $100,000 and be very very happy.

ilima


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Back to an earlier question: I don't think the big box retailers mark up products the way you think they do (or the way things were done before big box retailing hit the marketplace). Nowadays they only tack on 40% over the wholesale price which makes it hard to compete against. They also have special buying programs were they don't pay for merchandise they end up not selling - so its a win win situation all in their favor. It screws the producer big time unless you're some huge mega grower that also deals in such large volumes that you can play this game.

You can do the math backwards and see what the wholesale value of their products are. This does not always cause an ulcer, sometimes it provides a base or starting point as to what your crop should be selling for.

There are crops that are just too labor intensive or difficult to propagate or difficult to gather enough public attention for - all of which would make it hard to make good money on. But there are also crops that are easy to grow and sell at a profit. But each crop must be viewed from your perspective using your skills and your property.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

You guys called this this creature the "green industry". Well this industry seems to be multi layered, and a lot more complex than the average person on the street thinks. It seems that there are multiple varibles that one has to be constantly aware of to be sucessfull as a business person, much less grow a good crop.

Thanks TJ and ilima for the info.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Without the sell side in place forget it.

Box stores buy assortments. Which is huge because you get to sell out. The prices paid are not bad really. But getting on the shelves in a box store is the mountain to climb. WalMart has a local vendor program. Lowes and Home Depot are one vendor, pay on scan as a rule, but might be coaxed into having a local vendor. Start with the local store manager, not with the corporate headquarters.

As for the farming side :

Do you have enough water?

Don't hire local unknowns, as you might have to fire them. Ask yourself if you are really making a profit on an employee or the opposite is true.

Have a plan to control weeds. A weed catastrophe is always silently lurking.

Lay the nursery out based on the ease of winter covering.

Building hoop houses or green houses is a huge amount of work and expense.

The cost of a delivery truck can be nearly fatal.

Buying good starter plants is easier said than done.

If somebody says a plant was never in tissue culture, don't believe them. Avoid tissue cultured plants absolutely.

Try to have the whole farm in one compact area, not in distant fields.

Forget about getting a spray license. Too much hassle. Use Sevin on grasshoppers.

Earthworms make a mess.

Avoid peat moss except in propagating trays.

Remember that a good compost soil mix is too high ph and too low nitrogen at times. Will need acid reacting fertilizer.

To learn the plants, travel, talk, subscribe, experiment. The learning curve never stops.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by Cady 6b/Sunset34 MA (My Page) on
    Wed, Oct 26, 05 at 15:52

This looks like excellent advice from someone who learned from hard experience. Thanks superphosphate. Will you please explain why to avoid tissue culture? It seems to be the way so many growers are going now.


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RE: Researching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Well....I can not speak for super... but TC can be expensive. And it has spread HVX in Hosta, daylilies are unpredictable from TC...well TC can be great, if you wish to jump on the band wagon.

For a small grower I would not recommend TC.

There are many great points made in this thread. One point made is the pricing of plants. The price is set. Either you are able to produce a plant in the set price structure or you cannot.

Another good point is, labor cost, alot.

One point missed, that I enjoy allot...is that plants grow! If you know whats up, you plant it, watch it grow and then sell it! I love watching plants grow! It takes very little work to watch them grow.

Hybridize, specialize is the key to success with a small nursery. Get involved and learn and keep learning. Change and change again. As a small grower you can change fast, you can grow the best.

Well..just a few thoughts....

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

One thought about pricing. Some nurseries can charge more for a plant than others. Heronswood and Plant Delights charge more for some plants that you can get elsewhere for less. Obviously not everyone can do this and both of these nurseries have been heavily involved in introducing new cultivars which I am sure has lead to the position they both hold in the industry.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by Cady 6b/Sunset34 MA (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 27, 05 at 13:27

Thanks, Bruce.
I figured the cost would play a role.

Tissue culture for some plant types is the only way to go, for producing large enough quantities for mass-distribution. Ornamental bamboo is a good example. Bamboos are notorious for the amount of time it takes to propagate from divisions (most species seed sporadically, or once every 100 years or so, then die. So propagation by seed it not practical). TC for bamboo is a lot faster, and I'm guessing that it will make ornamental bamboos mainstream in American gardens (and garden centers) within 8-10 years.

But it looks like for most herbaceous plants, TC is slower than other types of propagation. Volume sure makes a difference in this business. I can't imagine being able to produce enough as a small grower to recover the initial cost outlay for TC or other high-tech processes.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Guys, I want to express my true appreciation for you guys providing me with the opportunity to ask so many elementary questions concerning starting up a backyard
nursery on this forum. The information you guys have shared has helped me to have a better understanding of the complexity of this industry.

I have received Tony Avents book about starting a nursery. I hope reading this book will help settle some of the lingering questions I still have on the business side of this industry. I still wonder about some of the posts on pricing of plants.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Cady,

It takes a trained eye to notice the difference, but tissue cultured plants are just not as vigorous. The worst in this respect is Hosta, followed by Daylilies.

In one tissue culture scenario, plants make more divisions but are smaller. The marketplace tends to promote these, so you see runty Hosta 'Gold Standard', and you can find great deals for Daylily 'Stella de Oro' in the classified ads.

In another tissue culture scenario, Hosta will have fewer, larger stems, or pathetic, wimpy flowers.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by Cady 6b/Sunset34 MA (My Page) on
    Fri, Oct 28, 05 at 9:20

Super,
Thank you.
That is fascinating. I'm doing research at this time with plans to start small-scale growing, and this is one area I need to spend some time on. I will do some comparisons and see if I can learn to see the differences in plant vigor.

I have seen hostas that match the tissue culture picture you gave, but didn't know that they were TC plants. Interesting.

Perhaps it is not unlike animal cloning, where scientists who cloned "Dolly" (the sheep) have discovered that the cloned ("tissue cultured") offspring of sheep are not as vigorous as the original, and are prone to genetic mutation.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

The Hosta market price is influenced by a few mega growers in New Jersey I hear.

A place like Weston Nurseries expects you to match those prices or they won't buy anything from you. I won't bite that hook.

In the lower [middle] class cities, like Worcester, Massachusetts, people have small green yards and only a few dollars. They won't go down the road to pay $17.95 for a one gallon Hosta at Weston Nurseries. But at Spag's (Spag's is owned by the Building 19 chain), they can buy a tissue culture mutated Hosta in a 1.2 gallon (sold as a "two gallon") for about $7.95. Places like Spag's are a dumping ground for the overstock of a large local grower. This sort of store can be a market for the small grower, if you can convince management.

As for the garden variety retail nursery, they will never buy assortments. They want to cherry pick, don't care whether you sink or swim.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Hi Dan
In all this discussion I never saw anybody offer you 2 things.

1) http://www.freeplants.com/
or http://www.freeplants.com/frame set.htm

2) I know a local woman who paid for her sons tuition at a private college by growing and selling Iris. That's all she did and had her whole side yard full of them. I personally don't get very excited by Iris but I found it fascinating that she was able to do so well by
a) differentiating her business and b) focusing on doing one thing well. She became an expert in that 1 plant. She didn't get lost in trying to do too many things. I've been in business for a long time and differentiation and focus on what you do well are 2 very very good lessons that many people learn the hard way.

Why not try something like propagating shrub cuttings as McGroarty's website describes. Try selling them and see where you go. You don't need a greenhouse for that, just raised beds. Don't know what works the best in your zone or area but surely you do. For example, I've been driving up to Bluestone Perennials once a year to buy shrubs to set out in my home nursery bed for a year before permanent planting. You can tell these are all cutting grown and are probably less than/or around one year old. If you go in person shrubs are $4 for a 4 inch pot, they retail for about twice that on the internet-catalog sales. This year I took cuttings of some of my rhododendrons, holly, boxwood, leucoethoe, hydrangea petiolaris, etc., got a cutting of pure white Hibiscus 'Diane' for my personal use. Of course you can't propagate patented stock but there are lots of things you can try first before you start paying for patents.

Even though Lake County, OH has something like 400 members in the wholesale nursery growers association, there are even more small growers up and down the main country roads who are almost doing what McGroarty describes. One guy who shows up at Holden Arboretum's annual plant sale as an invited vendor every year does only unusual Japanese Maples, rare Pieris and dwarf conifers. He's a strange ranger but I look forward every year to seeing his booth. This year I paid him $25 for a 2 gallon Pieris 'Valley Valentine' - a dark pink bloomer. All the other retail nurseries who buy in their shrubs only stock the common varieties. There's another wholesale nursery called Art Form - they might have a web site not sure. They do a lot of things but they've developed a local reputation among the landscapers and designers as the place to buy your herbs. This year they were the only place you could get the new variegated grn and white lavender. So they bring repeat customers back by having things nobody else has.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Mike McGroarty's website


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Super,
The problem with TC Hosta in the recent past has been HVX (Hosta Virus X). It is true that TC Hosta are small and can take years to grow out...but the many small offshoots can be a huge bonus. Once they have grown out you are able to divide many divisions from these TC Hosta. Quality control I believe has been a large negative factor in TC Hosta. Everyone should be very cautious with Hosta because of HVX.

Daylilies present a different problem, the flowers can vary from TC. If you want a certain daylily you probably should not buy TC plants.

This is a huge benefit for a Small grower, taking the time to divide clones that are disease and virus free that are true to their name. Buy originators stock and divide the stock. Yes, this takes time.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

bruceNH,

I have thousands of potential divisions just sitting there including Hosta that have never been in tissue culture not being divided, potted up, and sold because the Hosta market has been wrecked by the tissue culture guys, be it virus or mutation. Just about all the Hosta sold now are from tissue culture. A nursery in Ohio run by people named Ruh now sells Hosta by whether it was in tissue culture or not. As for Daylilies, I have noticed that the flowers are OK but the plant won't make new divisions. As for tissue cultured Echinacea 'Rubinstern', same thing, normal flowers, won't grow to any size.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Through out this thread, different members have suggested that the price of any given plant is "fixed", and that any one wishing to sell plants should be sure they can raise them and be able to sell them at a profit, based on this "fixed" price.

Who fixes this price? The mega nurseries, the retailer, or the cash paying customer?

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by ilima Kihei, HI. Z11 (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 30, 05 at 18:41

The price is "fixed" by all of the above and then some. It is fixed by the capitalist market system. It is fixed by region and location.

"Fixed" is not an absolute number. It is, "What is the average basic price that other growers in your area are selling the product or similar product for that you intend to produce?" What is that price? That is what you are competing against.

That is why Walmart can put other retailers out of business. They sell cheap crap to consumers who think they need a lot of cheap crap.

I am not saying you have to compete with Walmart. I am saying, Can you compete in price, what ever that is, in the market you want to enter? Capitalism 101.

ilima


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Quality is another part of the pricing puzzle that has either been overlooked or given short shrift. Big, healthy, well cared for plants usually will sell better and for more than wimpy, neglected junk. Service is another area where you can differentiate yourself from the WalmarDepotLowes crowd. The shopping experience is another place where you can go the extra mile and create an environment that speaks to quality. If you have pots strewn about and cast off flats and piles of dirt and trash visible next to weedy display gardens you are not going to attract that Lexus customer. There is a reason they sell for more than a Ford.

These types of amenities don't appeal to all customers. And you may be in an area where there are not enough of them to make a go of it. You do have to take your area and the market into consideration. I just wanted to point out that just because the guy down the road is selling 4 inch pots for 2.99 doesn't mean you have to just to compete.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I, myself, happen to be my largest competitor.

My limitations, lack of skill, inability to see what others see. Laziness? Opportunity exist, it takes experience, initiative and innovation to take advantage of the opportunity.

The market place decides the price, the market will take advantage of loss leader sales. In the present times we are seeing a battle of the giants for market share.

One point made by a grower many years ago is that we are in the plant business not the pot business. It is not the container size, but what is in the container that counts!

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I am not an economist nor a marketing wiz - but I have seen a shift in strategies just within the last 20 years or so.

It used to be that a business could offer a decent product at a fair price and enough people would buy it. No sales means the customers weren't impressed and spent money elsewhere. The attitude of the vendor was - I just gotta find that one thing that the customer will buy. With no concern over how much money the customer base really had to spend. Kinda a 'if my competitor won the sale this go around, I'll get it the next time' approach. Nowadays the shift is towards big box retailing and the view is 'the customer only has so much money. If we get it first, they won't have any to spend anywhere else. The other guy will go out of business leaving us the last vendor standing!' The levels a store will stoop to capture as much of the marketplace is outrageous. A big box retailer will sell anything if it makes a profit - no specialization - no boutique style - just buy it by the crateful and get it at a nickel above wholesale. Every dollar you spend with us is a dollar you can't spend down the street.

It has a profound impact on markets. It affects who sells what and for how much. It affects how people feel about shopping and what they think a fair price is or what fine quality is.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I'm surely not a marketing "guru". Was talking with a new guy at work today. In his former job, he worked in marketing and developing new items for sale.

The company he worked for set their yearly sales goal of growing their company by 4 million dollars, while holding to the same profit amount they had made the past year. Big Box mentality. All that extra work for the same money. But as TJ said above, maybe that is the metality of the market place right now.

I have been looking at plants for sale over the last few week ends at open air flea markets, local nurseries, even found a small backyard nursery. Prices are all over the spectrum. Just depends on where you shop. Higher quality, higher price. But it looked like the higher quality stuff wasn't sellling that well.

An in State nursery not to far away is supplying plants to a large chain grocery. Good looking plants, pricing varies with size of plant. Saw three different size containers of same plant, three different prices. The cheapest a $1 in a 4" pot, the highest price $6 with decortive clay pot.

Found the backyard growers by an add in local paper. They had roughly 150 plants out, and said they had more than that in the potting house. Their quality was also great. Their pricing was $1 for a 4" pot, to $5 for large hanging baskets. These same type plants were selling ealier this year for $17 at Wally World for the same size container.

Both growers had great plants. It is just a guess on my part, but I bet the BY grower will have to sit on his plants until spring, while the larger grower will continue to ship weekly.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Now your cooking Dan.

The green business is a very complex business. The market for plants has changed. Who will you sell to. People who know little about gardening or people who are very sophisticated gardeners. Both?

The plant business has grown huge, it is all about getting part of the sales. What you grow has to have a market and you have to make money growing what you grow.

Gardening has become an American lifestyle, it is a huge market.

Very good thread!

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

One final question. I know that each person must set goals and make decisions about what piece of the "green pie" they want. Type of plants, type of sells, size of business, primary or supplementary income, and the list goes on. Alyrics shared about a lady that"a) differentiating her business and b) focusing on doing one thing well. She became an expert in that 1 plant".

When you guys started out, did "you" focus all your energies in one type or family of plants? Or where you into multiple type of plants, and emerged into one group as you learned your market area?

While I wish you guys had a magic formula for pricing plants, and such, I guess I always knew that was not to be. You guys have said, know your region. Ask questions. Get out there and get involved. And you have made me sit back and re think what I had considered doing as far as when to sell plants. I am now having to come up with a plan to have plants in multiple stages of growth, as to sell on a month to month basis. And the marketing tips from different ones have not gone unnoticed!

While I am only about 2/3 ways through Tony Avents book on starting a nursery, I think it has been a "must read" for me. It has helped me gain a deeper understanding of the industry, and how it works.

Lists like this allows members to ask questions, and offer opinions. For my part, I agree with Bruce, this has been a "good" thread. I took a moment today, and read this thread from start to present. You guys have given some "awesome" advice. I hope the discussions have been beneficial to others that are considering a "Backyard Nursery" in their future. I caught myself hoping I wouldnt find a stack of bills from you guys in my mail box for "consultation fees".

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Hi Dan,
Good question.

I field grow hardy persistent perennials, they have to be hardy and dividable. I look for perennials that are persistent in the garden, low maintenance and easily propagated. I have to be able to divide the plant, plant it, water the plant in, weed the plant through the season and sell the plant in one year. I keep enough stock of each perennial to divide. If any of the above does not work, the plant is compost. If I cannot divide, line out, dig and sell, I'm not interested.

I sell to professional gardener's, landscapers, garden centers and farm stands. I sell wholesale only potted perennials that have been field grown and bare root plants. I have no business hours, it is call first or by chance.

I'm located on two acres that includes my home. One acre is in perennial beds, one third acre is graveled and covered with fabric with overhead water for potted material. My only structures are shade frames. I do not heat any structures. I winter my plants in the ground. I do not own a tiller, I do most everything by hand. I hire a few part timers.

What I grow and my attitude has not changed for 32 years. I acquire new material from Agway, Home Depot, Walmart and or any other retailer. I will buy one plant, plant the plant in a display border and evaluate the plant for three to five years before I place any effort into propagating. It has to be a hardy persistent perennial and be garden worthy. I do not fool around with trash! I also buy, beg, trade for seed. I winter sow most seed outside in the ground. I hybridize hellebore and hem's.

What I grow has not changed, I'm always looking at hardy plants, trying new plants. Basically though, I still grow the same type of plant.

The one thing that has changed is the market!

Bruce


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RE: Researching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Bruce,

It is interesting that you don't have a greenhouse. What is your method for protecting seedlings? with winter sowing, which I also have done and plant to do more of, you get seeds that sprout from early spring through summer. I get many small plants that, even in our more temperate climate, would have a difficult time surviving the winter out in the open. One of the main reasons I built a greenhouse is to over winter small seedlings in the hope of increasing survival rates. I plan to have a minimal heating system to keep the temp just over freezing. What is your method and what are your survival rates?

Thanks,
jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

jb,
The plants I grow from seed in beds will have remay fabric with a bit of straw for protection. Heating a greenhouse in my zone 5 is very costly. Daylily seed and hellebore seed winter just fine, they do much better and grow much faster in the ground.....plus I'm not tied down babying them. Early spring and summer emerging seedlings tend to die from the summer heat, they do just fine over the winter.

I garden the old ways and I garden with hardy persistent plants. I plant according to the weather and work with what nature provides. It is the best way, it is the most economical way....for USDA zone 5.

jb, if a plant has to be babied or does not fit into my program, I do not grow the plant. There are too many hardy persistent perennials to grow to fuss with a plant that I cannot make money growing.

a few last thoughts....the market place is very competitive. You have to grow it better and at less cost. You have to look for the competitions weakness and take advantage of their weakness. No time to whine, no placing blame. It is hard work, but with plant knowledge and luck it can pay. You have to sell allot of plants fast, at very little cost and with as little waste as possible.

If Dan showed up at my nursery and expressed interest in the business I would take interest. Turn him into a customer. Help him as much as possible and be able to sell him bare root stock at competitive price's, small amounts at a time.

I'm totally enthused about plants, gardening and love people who love to garden!

Well....lunch is over, time to work!

Bruce


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Bruce,

You seem to have a system that works well for you. I also do not want to have to baby plants, but I am hoping to increase the survival rate of the hardy plants so that I have more plants to sell. If I get 200 helebores to germinate I'd like to have 195 to sell when they are mature. In zone5 I can see it might be cost prohibitive to heat a structure. Heck I may find it's cost prohibitive in zone 8.

Thanks for the answers.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Focus huh?

Well we didnt focus into one type of plant but we focused on one type of customer. The retail customer. We already knew we could grow quality but what we didnt know is if we could capture a customers attention. Our focus was to get our name out and in the minds of gardeners. Over the last few years we slowly have moved our focus to the wholesale, landscaper market. But yet we never forgot the retail customer. We also now focus more on perennials but also sell a lot of annuals to golf courses.

Bruce has way more experience and knowledge then I and we both use totally different techniques to grow. We have 3 heated houses and one cold frame. We setup auto irrigation system in all our heated house so we wont have to "baby" the plants along. We only move a plant once from prop tray to selling container to save on labor cost.

Point is we learned most of this after we started the nursery. You should have seen the first year. Thinking back on it, it was funny some of our methods and how many times we touched each plant. Get the idea (business plan) down on paper then watch it modify itself through the years.

This year we will have over 400 varieties we are growing. We focus more on the customer then the plant. I can hear the gasp now! Seriously for the most part nature will take care of the plant for you.

You kind of sound like youre reconsidering.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Bruce,

Thanks for sharing how you started, and how your operation works. Been after it 32 years? Then you are focused on one type of plant, you have an established mode of operation/customer base. And you must be producing quality plants. Good Job!

Mylu,

Thanks for sharing your experience. Retail sales were always on the list for this wanna be "Backyard Nursery" owner. Call me crazy, call me stupid....................but for the first few years that is just the way I see it. Would I like to do "wholesale"? You betcha! But you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.

Am I reconsidering? Not in the way you are suggesting. I am questioning some of my earlier decisions about my business plan. This in year one, that in year two. I now think that both this and that should have been penciled in for year one. But that is my problem, and I will deal with it. But it does show a flaw in my thought process...........maybe a reason for concern?

I have read recently that a nursery owner should be focused on what he is about. Dont let customers, or anyone distract him from being focused on what his mission is in his business. That is why I asked this question.

As I said from the "get go", I wanted your advice. I am a novice, on a "Pros" forum. I came here to ask silly ass questions, so I could learn. I want to take what you guys are willing to share, and what I find in the written media, and try to sift through it all, to come up with hopefully "good decisions". You guys have been great, but dont ever back up from telling what you think.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan,
I started my small nursery kind of by accident. I started a fund raiser "Camp for Kids" in my communnity. The first yearI seeded about 700 annuals and 40 Perinnials. We maid over 2000.00 in four houres. Not a bad day. It has grown into a full scale nursery. The thing that I have learned most about my customers? There are two kinds. The first kind are busy persons and want it now and cheap. They want it done for them. To accomidate them, I have them bring their cantainers to my place and i build beautiful containers. They are Doctors, Morgage offices, Fruit stands, local Business that do not have the time to tend to a plant. I also have "Pot Parties." People bring their containers and we pot them up. it is a great way to meet your customers and find out what they like to grow,how they live....Do they have a yard?? I also hand out Or mail them a review of the plants they bought and how they like it and also how it grew. I want to know if they would consider it for next year. TC do not fair to well. Container plants are an easy sell. People are busy. I always have a card ready for the businesses I visit. If you go to church that is a great place to get customer info.

The other type of customer is the gardener. They Buy for the pleasure of a new veriety. I have learned so much from them and very much love to learn what works for them.
I too have a pashion for growing. I love to watch things grow. I do most of my growing outside and save the greenhouse for late winter seeding of annuals. If the packet says: Sew in fall, that tells me I need to grow outside. Also if it says it nees cold treatment then I plant it out side. I order trays,plugs and liners to be delivered in Jan. and Feb. Then I will Pot them up and do custom cantainers and hanging baskets. The January seeding of annuals are ready for potting in Febuary and will be growen on acording to their growing requirements. Some plants require different growing and lighting requirements. Waves need 14 Hrs of light and others do not. Some need 45 Degrees at night wile some need 72. I plan the growing season and group plants acording to their requirements. I do most of my plants from seed. I do this to cut costs and it allows me to get to know the plant growth and habits. This is how I started and seems to be the best for me. I would start slow and know the growing requirements. Especialy with PW and Ct. I have found that when I by a Callibracoa and bring it hame it take two to three weeks for it to catch up with my home Weekly watering(IF they are lucky) and by then the summer is almest over. My customers feel the same way about some plants that are all hype but no show. I have plant all over my growing area Depending on what they need. I like to grow outside because it cuts down on costs. As far a labor I do not have full time employees. I have part time in Jan and Feb. I did my business plan 5 Years ago. It did not go "AS Planned".I did stick to my goal dollar wise though. Things happen and I had to grow with it.
I do have a fall selling period just because I have built a good reputation as always having something native for my zone selling area which ranges 4 thru 7. The natives sell very well. I also set up containers and "Make This Container" displays. I do the same for perinnials. I too do not grow anything perennial that I can not propigate or performs poorly in my test area wich is my yard. I do special order for The designer plant for containers. I have not tried the farmers market. I just do not have the time. Do the research on plant growing requirements. you could spend lots of money just to lose them to overwatering, not cold enough, hot enough ect. I am now at the part of my business that I am not having to buy perinnals at all. Besides the soil and fertalizer it is profit. I am not making millions but I am not to the end of my Business plan yet.

So much luck to you. I hope you continue. It is very rewarding if you like hard work and people.

Susie


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Susie,

Thanks for the post. It is great to hear of some one who has taken the jump and made good at it.

I was very impressed at the ways you identified your customer base and offered to go the extra mile for them. There is a lesson there for the learning for some one just starting out.

Thanks again,

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

In a short time I noticed two main groups of customers at the market where I sell plants and garden decor. The main group are what I call Seasonal Gardeners - they only buy plants in the spring, they want it flashy and dirt cheap. They are also the primary focus of all the other plant vendors. The other group are what I call Real Gardeners - they want tried and true, they want unusuall, they recognize a bargain, they worship quality and here's the best part - THEY BUY PLANTS ALL YEAR LONG! These guys are the folks I market to. If I can't sell it in all four seasons than I am not interested in growing it. A small operation like mine cannot compete with all the other growers for bedding plants. The whole idea for my business was selling plants from my garden and not from a greenhouse in Florida. These are the plants that do well for me, these are the plants I eat, this is why I grow it, this is how I use it - you can't go wrong with this one... My approach won't work for most backyard growers and it will never pay off all my debts, but it works and suits me just fine.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

TJ,

I have watched over the last few years as some one has hauled in trailer loads of plants, trees and shrubs from out of state to sell in a parking lot to the public. A newspaper add, rent the parking lot for the week end, and your set. Their business seems to be growing every year. A few weekends in a row, and they are gone till next year.

I have considered doing something along this line myself, but would rather wait it out and raise plants I know would be good growers for the folks that buy them.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Hey Dan,
Have you talked to any brokers/wholesale nurseries? They can be very helpful to you as you start and plan for production They will guide you with the most popular plants to grow. Also don't forget to contact your local Master gardeners and ask for a native plant list for your growing zone. Herbs are good sellers and also vegetables too. Hanging baskets are easy and profitable. go to www.greenbeam.com www.growertalks.com You will find links and info.
Susie


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Dan - I call them Gypsy Garden Centers. They fill a need, but are not the kinda operation I want to run. The few I have observed end up dumping a lot of plants and not making a ton of money. Plenty of people are looking for a bargain so you can sell plenty but the hassle and work involved, and the rock bottom prices you have to charge in order to get the public's attention - it just doesn't always add up to being the gold mine that some people portray it to be.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

When I started thinking seriously about a nursery business some time in the future, there were a number of issues that were in the fore front of my mind. Type of plants, a green house, a water source, and of course cash flow to pay for it all.

I sat down and discussed my thoughts with a good freind. He has a freind that is in the landscaping business, and purchases truck loads of plants to use in their business directly from nurseries out of state. As we discussed the pro and cons of this type of business, the subject of cash flow came up.

For a few weeks, as I begin to sit down and lay out a so called "business plan", it was really tempting to consider having a "Gypsy Garden Center" for a few weeks in the spring of 2006. As you said, it is a ton of work, plants have to be dirt cheap, need a lot of help to service the expected crowds of folks looking for that bargain plant. The possible boost in cash flow sure made it look tempting. In the end, I decided I needed to do more research into this backyard nursery business. I would rather raise and sell my own plants, than to try to jump start a business by taking chances.

Last night the low was 66 F. Tonight it will be 25 F. Wish I hadn't put off a greenhouse until next year. Live and learn.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Do you already have plants that need protection? There is a thread on the Pro forumn about overwintering stock. Might be helpful.

jb


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Bruce,
Tell me more about Day lilly seed. I have some a customer gave me. Thanks Susie


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Jb,

Thanks for pointing me toward those articles. Lot of info there!

I finished Tony Avents book "So You Want to Start a Nursery". Between the info in there and all the info so many of you have offered, it has been an ton of info to digest.

Through it all, it has be satisfying to know that some of what I thought made sense to me, made sense to you guys as well. And when my beliefs and thoughts were not on the same page as you guys, there was reason for concern on my part. Back this up with what I read in Mr. Avents book, and it gave me reason to rethink this whole process.

Over the last week to 10 days I have had to do a lot of pondering on what I had planned to accomplish prior to this post, and reading Mr. Avents book. And have decided I need to go back to the huddle and come up with a better plan. The info you guys have offered, just makes to much sense to ignore.

Parts of my original plan is still in tact. Other parts will be refined. I will set my goals on planing my sales from one month to the next month and so on. I will buy in the spring, plant, and harvest plants for fall sales. And I will only deal with plants I can be competitive with in the market place. All of this I learned from you guys.

How many of you guys actually started out as a Backyard nursery? Or did you just plunge in and make it happen big in a few years?

How many of you actually started out with a business plan in hand, and a mission statement like Mr. Avent suggests?

I was just wondering.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

I did (the backyard nursery) What's "big" to you? Supporting your whole family and income? Not yet.

Started with a b-plan in hand? Yes. Is it still the same? No

Please only take this for what it is worth and nothing more.

You sound as if you want to start selling "widgets". Everything in its place and a place for everything.
Ideally that would be great. Sow 100 Dianthus, Sell 100 Dianthus.

I realize it is a big step and should be taken as such. You will not find everything fits into the "plan". Sorry people and Mother Nature will prove that fact.

You can make anything happen. It just depends if you can handle the ups and down till you get there.

My penny of advice. Build a small g/h grow a few plants, try to sell them and see how it feels when you ring the register. That will give you your answer.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Mylu,

Sounds like sage advice to me! Thanks taking the time to share your experience.

Guys,

I came seeking advise, and you supplied it freely. Thanks for your efforts. For my part, I think I have researched enough, its time to go to work.

Thanks again and take care,

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

hello Dan,

I'm in the same boat as you I have a 10 acre property that I would like to start a nursery with. I dont want to compete with the other nurseries. Im interested in native plants. Bird watching is the fastest growing north american hobby - birds prefer native plants - bird watchers eventually realize this. There is a growing trend in north america to discover natural heritage and utilize it in there own yards. Backyard habitat programs - community restorations - city parks they are all going native - it is coming - The city I live on the outskirts of is planting 500000 trees in the next couple years. I've had three conservation authorities and the that city I was referring to plus the local university tell me they would buy plants from me and I don't even have a business yet lol. The closest native plant nurseries are 80 minutes away. Im five minutes out of the city - that is my market. The native growers are helping me with trays they are retiring to me - 2 growers have given me 100s of trays. And now for the Zen - Do what you love - find an interest and develop it - be the wizard of that subject - what ever it is. Talk to people / Also end note "Know" your local and federal regulations regarding growing & taxes and - changing your property use may give you an unexpected tax hike.

Good luck & Cheers from the great white north

Jeff


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the reply. I have visited a small park that has nothing but native plants on display recently. I have never considered that avenue, but will take it under consideration. There is a lot of competition in our area.

Spring 2006 is here, and it is time to move forward. I have been talking with State officials on requirements for certification, licensing and well drilling. 2006 will be a busy year for me as I try to put all the pieces together.

I want to thank every one again for all the input and advice that was given in this thread. It was, and continues to be, a great learning experience. And I may need to ask some more advice as I move forward.

Dan


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

My original business plan was to publish a gardening newspaper for this immediate area. I spent years compiling all the data. I worked up samples and walked them around to local garden themed businesses. Plenty of people were impressed (I was shy of my goal, but close to half of those approached supported the idea of a newspaper). After a few months of investing heavily into it the interest from the businesses waned. They weren't making much money selling such a low priced item (and it featured ads from their competitors). Within two years I was shutting it down due to lack of distribution points, not intrest from the public. I had to have places to sell it to the public in order to stay in business and every month or so I would lose another distributor. I might add that I was doing all the work - so even if little money was being made, they weren't extending any effort (I stocked, delivered, collected, billed with a S.A.S.E., heck I even dusted the counter tops). Another disappointment was that the gardening publics interest was insatiable during the spring but non existant during the heat of summer. In addition to the newspaper I had printed up a gardening calendar with week by week advice on what to do in your garden. I had a truckload of them to get rid of and hated to just throw them away. So I got a "drop in" spot at the local flea market and tried selling them. They moved a little but my bigger success came from selling the plants I had brought along to decorate the booth! So my business name stayed the same but I shifted gears into plant sales instead of publishing.

In my fantasy world I would rather be the garden guy at the market with edible food crops for backyard farmers. Seedlings, rooted cuttings of herbs, fruit and veggies from around the world. But the market that is the most convenient for me to sell at doesn't have enough of those types of customers. The result is that I sell a lot of ornamentals and not many functional plants. I believe it will change and that it will only take time. The one component that no one told me when I started all this was the amount of time it takes to build up a clientele. You have to be patient, there are few overnight success stories.


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

  • Posted by mcbdz 8 Louisiana (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 29, 09 at 9:17

would like to here from everyone on this thread with an update on how you are doing as of now and what you have learned since.
Thanks
Pattie


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RE: Reserarching Backyard Nursery, need advice!

It's been a few years now. Anyone have updates on their ventures from this thread? Would love to hear how it's going and what the journey has been like.


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