By Georgiana Marshen
Do you have a passion for flowers? Do you enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking? Have you thought about growing your favorites in a greenhouse? If you answered Yes to any of these questions, why not start a business based on a passion?
Many businesses are started based on a person's favorite hobby and, among other potentials it can be photography, homemade crafts and gardening. As a specific example, if gardening is your passion the following are essential things to consider when thinking about a backyard greenhouse business. First of all, who would you sell to, what will you grow, is there a market for your product, what equipment will be needed, how much should you charge, and what are the town ordinances and zoning laws. Let's look at each consideration and try to get a clearer picture of what is involved.
Deciding what to grow will take a bit of research. Read trade magazines to find out what the present consumer trends are and what they will be in the future. Look in your own backyard. What do you like to grow? Read women's magazines to see what colors and trends are being used in home decorating. Ask your friends what their favorite plants are or take a walk around the neighborhood and see what the front yards look like. The most popular plants to grow are annual bedding plants, which produce all of their flowers in one season, and are considered to be the gardener's favorite. With the majority of people being health conscience these days, herbs are also becoming best sellers.
Now that you have an idea of what to grow, to whom will you sell your products? Is there a market for your goods? As a starter look to your local schools. Many PTA's have holiday and spring fairs and may be receptive to the idea of selling bedding plants, especially at Mother's Day. Specialty restaurants may be interested in using fresh herbs grown and harvested from your garden. Organically grown tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers may be of interest to a health food restaurant chef.
I was fortunate enough to live on a busy street corner, so I could set up tables in my driveway every weekend and sell bedding plants I grew in my greenhouse from my driveway. You should always check with your local town hall to make sure you are not in violation of any town ordinances before attempting this. Send out letters, with an attached flyer listing what you are selling, to local florists, firehouse fundraiser committees, caterers, gourmet shops and landscapers. Don't forget to include contact information. Also, craft fairs are outlets not to be overlooked.
You can also try cold calling. One early Monday morning I harvested basil and put it into a Ziploc bag. Then I visited a local health food restaurant with my bag of basil and asked if they would be interested in freshly harvested basil every Monday morning. I was squeezing the partially opened bag for the aroma as I asked the question. The following Monday I was delivering. I cannot guarantee successes like this one always, but this experience proves there are markets out there for your products. Determination and the willingness to find them is the key.
Do you need a greenhouse? Not necessarily, but eventually you may find yourself leaning toward purchasing one. However, if right now you are growing vegetables and herbs on a seasonal basis only, all you will need are your garden beds. Once the first frost hits you will be closing up shop until next spring. Let those you are selling to know this.
If, on the other hand, you plan on selling potted plants, hanging baskets, tropical foliage or flats, a greenhouse becomes a necessity. Most flowering hanging baskets are started in late December or early January for sale in May and need the protection a greenhouse provides. You may decide to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers year round in which case a greenhouse is definitely needed.
Pricing your product is a task of uncertainty. Visit local retail and wholesale nurseries and garden centers and get their price lists. More importantly, come up with your own starting costs. Factor in the price of seed or starter plants, potting soil, the containers the plants will grow in, fertilizer and water. Heating costs will be added if you are growing in a greenhouse. Compare the selling prices, from the price list you got from the garden center, to your start up costs. Look at that number and decide, from there, how much you want to make on each plant and charge accordingly.
Every town has its own set of rules about running a business from a residence. Check with your town and see what permits are necessary. Find out what paperwork may be needed if you are erecting a greenhouse.
The Federal government requires you to file an SS-4 Application for Employer ID number with the IRS even if you are not hiring employees. The State requires you to collect sales tax on certain items. You will need to file a DR-1 Application for Certificate of Registration (sales tax number). The Small Business Administration has an excellent package for starting a business. It includes examples of the paperwork and a resource list of where you can go to receive additional help.
Sounds like a lot to ponder. But with any venture it is always best to plan things out. Starting a business based on a passion is an exciting adventure.
Georgiana Marshen is a Master Horticulturist and a garden writer. You can visit her at her website, www.yearoundgardener.com