small business help (greenhouse)

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by marvella, May 19, 2005.

  1. marvella

    marvella Well-Known Member

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    i mentioned a while back that i was looking into a small local greenhouse that is for sale. after looking into it thoroughly, i decided to not go forward with it, mainly because i realized i was in over my head, didn't understand enough about business, or greenhouses in general. plan A has always been to start small, and learn as i grow, so i'm back there.

    so, what i am hoping y'all can tell me...

    where do i start? can you recommend any resources? i've had a garden for 20+ years, can do some basic propagation, including woody perrenials and shrubs. i have ample land, with electricity and water at hand. i have a young man who has agreed to help, and who grew up working in the family greenhouse business. my plan is to grow unique flowers for cutting, and have them delivered weekly to local restaurants and inns and such, for a weekly fee. another part of it would be truck farming, vending in local neighborhoods ( i remember this from my childhood, how they guy would come around and my mom would buy stuff from him. nothing has tasted as good since.) we have a national and state park as well as a national forest in our boundaries, so there are lots of campgrounds and outdoor oriented activity. we want to cruise these campgrounds just before everyone lights the dinner campfire, and have fresh tomatoes, melons, etc. and probably more cut flowers, for sale. i see this as being the goal for the first few years at least.

    so please? point me in the right direction. where can i go to learn more about what is involved in the operation of a greenhouse? where do i go to learn about starting a small business, and all that entails as far as taxes, structure, incorporation, all that stuff.

    as always, your help is always appreciated.
     
  2. Beeman

    Beeman Well-Known Member

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    Where to start? That's a BIG question! It sounds like you have a great dream but little knowledge of running a business. A business is a business and what you do or sell isn't as important as learning business basics. Business basics will help you have a clear head and make business decisions instaead of making your decisions with your heart which is usualyy what allows a business to fail.
    I would recommend steering clear of gov't for help and start with business books. There are some basic books about small business operation that will get you on the right path. The next step might be business courses at a local community college. Once you get the basics then you can start with all the rules and regs and how they apply to what business you might be interested in. Then you can start learning about what it is you think will be a profitable business.
    First thing to always remember is a business should be a money making enterprise. You can always get a hobby or do volunteer work to satisfy your heart. Doing something that you enjoy or are good at can be a plus in a business but successful businesses are usually owned by people that enjoy making money.
     

  3. luvrulz

    luvrulz Well-Known Member Supporter

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    There are calsses held here in Ky about small businesses and how to start, what you need and things to watch for. Have you check out their website? They also have mentors that can help you and maybe there's someone with a planting and greenhouse background.

    We also have a cost share program to help you get started - in fact, they reimburse up to 50% of your costs if you qualify (very easy to do....) If you belong to a church, find if there are any church member that can help you with the basics of business too! Check with your local ag agency too - they can recommend someone to mentor you. Free advice is everwhere...LOL!!

    Finally, in Mother Earth News or Countryside, there were some plans for a homemade greenhouse using recycled stuff, ie old pallets, cow panels, etc. You might search one of the those sites for their help too. They might have start up ideas for businesses from home.

    Keep good records of your start up costs too and good notes! Good luck! :p
     
  4. wizzard

    wizzard future nomad

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    i have very little insight on this topic, but i can tell you my similar plan. i also intend to start small. this summer/fall, i plan on erecting a 20 x 25 greenhouse. around december im going to start tomato and brocoli plants at 1 week intervals. when spring comes im going to have a roadside stand to sell them. whatever is left i will plant in my garden, and sell tomatoes at a roadside stand :)

    after this i will try other plants as well, my goal is to eventualy sell plants in spring, and have a "u pick" garden in the summer and fall. i think this is not quite what you are looking for, but it might help you get sum ideas together
     
  5. Nax

    Nax Well-Known Member

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    This isn't so much a point, as some things to consider.

    My family and I just sold our family greenhouses and florist a year ago May 13th and I am very happy to be out of it. We had about 35,000 sq. feet under "glass"--also plastic and fiberglass--and it was a good life, but for up here in the North, it was getting so expensive to heat, and competition was so great from the box stores, we sold it before it went to pieces.

    Starting small and learning is a very good idea. And remember, it isn't a good plan unless you can change it.

    First off, restaurants--if they want to do you a favor, they would buy from you, otherwise, they could easily work out a deal with any florist (the other half of the business which we sold), at 50% the cost of what you would have to charge to grow and deliver them. I'm even wondering if they couldn't even just get them from their food delivery companies anymore at probably 25% the cost? Growing cutting flowers in a greenhouse is not cost effective, unless you're a major grower like in Denver with millions of feet under glass. Most small to large scale greenhouses grow potted plants, like poinsettias and lilies, and then annual summer flowers. Considering your climate, that would be much more economical for you than it was for us. [We could grow them, but Kmart and Walmart could sell them for 1/3rd of the cost--they sold them at the prices we would pay wholesale for.)

    The campground--check before you start because unless it's privately owned, they won't let you in to peddle, and even then, they may not. The state, federal, and private campgrounds surrounding us do not. The problem is that if they let you in, the campgound roads would be clogged full of entrepreneurs selling used sleeping bags to kleenex. I know some firewood people sometimes get a contract to sit in a certain section at a certain time, but that seems to have stopped. If you could have a sign directing people to your place, that would work well. Or maybe just as good, work to supply the local beverage store--the one where the campers get their soda and ice, and kids get their candy--with your produce. I don't know if the no peddling policy is universal or not, but I would sure check first.

    I have found that the best thing to do is find a local market or two. That's what we do now. We set up, and are sold out four hours later twice a week. Even if you have to travel 50 miles, it's generally worth it (at least for us).

    Having a knowledgable greenhouse person is a blessing, but be aware, expertise is usually limited. I could tell you how to propagate annuals and keep perennials, but wouldn't have a clue how to grow orchids or keep cedar trees looking good from year to year in a 12" pot. What exactly does your young man know how to do? Plus, the devil is in the details of the maintenance. Another reason we sold is that my father is 71 and he did all the electrical, heating, plumbing, refrigeration, etc., which we could no way afford to pay if we had to hire it done outside the family.

    Since you seem to already be familiar with trees and shrubs, perhaps starting with a nursery would be best, with a greenhouse to propagate seedlings in a controlled environment? (Again, I would know nothing about that.) One local tree farm almost bought our place with that in mind.

    But yes, start small, learn that very well, and move up from there. Just my 25 cents worth. :)
     
  6. Running Arrow

    Running Arrow Member

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    Back in the 1980's and 1990's I owned and operated several "green industry" operations: Nursery stock growing, bedding plants, foliage plants, landscape & irrigation, etc. Made some money; however a lot of work. My "best" profit maker was growing nursery stock (trees & shrubs & perennials) from bareroot materials, re-potted yearly into larger sizes. Made own potting mixes. The "profit" area was buying a bareroot shrub or tree wholesale for $1.00 to 10.00 each, growing them for 2-3 years, selling as finished 5 to 45 gal size container plants for 10 to 20 times the original cost.

    The other profit center was in installing the plant materials (landscaping business). Most people don't like to get their hands dirty...so, sell plants & install them they are willing to pay good $$ for.

    Bedding plants (annuals & vegetables) was essentially a loss leader. Even buying plants wholesale, the "big box" chains often sold THEIRS as loss leaders and, their volume wholesale costs were well below MY wholesale costs. Also, a lot of waste with bedding plants that grew too fast, too big, and no longer profitable to keep in "six packs", etc. Threw as many away as we sold.

    The Denver, CO cut flower market. I worked in several greenhouses there years ago. The "carnation factories" produced hundreds of thousands of cut flowers, often selling to the co-op warehouse markets at 10 to 20 cents each (1970-1980 prices). The FOREIGN cut flower market with cheap labor put several of those "factories" out of business, selling for less. There were also several "rose factories" and other types.

    Heating & cooling & electricity & labor are often the nemesis of many greenhouse operations. You can't pay your help $7.00 to 15.00 an hour in today's market and make money with bedding plants and cut flowers. Thanks to foreign markets with VERY cheap labor + the BIG BOX discounters that thrive on running the smaller businesses "out of business".

    IMO, the best way to go is with a specialized operation EXCELLENT customer service & information...something the big boxes can't bother with!
     
  7. deberosa

    deberosa SW Virginia Gourd Farmer!

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    I did exactly the same thing this year - almost bought a complete greenhouse business with 4 commercial glass houses complete even with automatic potting machine and delivery truck! I decided it was too much with no experience also. And decided to grow my business slower with less risk.

    I joined www.freeplants.com - you can get a weekly e-mail newsletter free but I also bought the first set of materials and have found it very useful. He doesn't even use a greenhouse for a nursery business! I am busy with infrastructure to implement his system. Taylored to me of course but he gives you all of the nuts and bolts, especially about strategies and marketting but also about the different propogation and growing methods.

    Another great source for information is www.davesgarden.com I keep my journal database at this site. Haven't finalized how to organize it yet.

    I want to establish an e-mail list of clientelle that I can send a newletter to advertising what I have available and they can place orders - all local oriented. This is because at first I will have a little bit of lots of stock, but not enough volume, variety to have on site sales. Also have still not finalized on a direction for my efforts yet. (herbs, trees, perenials, etc.)

    Good Luck,
    Debbie
     
  8. marvella

    marvella Well-Known Member

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    thanks all! keep it coming!! this is just what i need, to hear from those that have been there and got the t-shirts.

    bee- i'm hoping to learn these things as i go, without having to pursue a formal degree. i already do TONS of volunteer work.:) why do you think i should keep the government out of it? they want to give me money to start a business. i think i'd be follish to not take it.

    luvrulz- do you have a link to info on that cost share program?

    wizzard- yep, that's close to what i have in mind. my helper has the frame of the greenhouse, and i expect that is about what we will be able to accomplish in one year.

    nax- i agree completely. every good plan has room for change. we discussed how to compete against the big box stores, which at this point, are still about 25 miles away. one answer is to be unique, and to provide exceptional quality. i see that as a major goal. i appreciate your thoughts on cut flowers. somehow, it seems like a nice homestead sideline, some easy bucks to have long side other products. yes, the people i hoped to approach first about supplying their restuarants, etc. are friends. i hope to have a least a few cut flowers and run a test market this fall. we will certainly have to ask permission at the campgrounds, but as near as i can tell, most of them are glad to have extras they can offer their customers. no, there is no vending allowed in NP's or NF's, but stuff can be sold on their perimeters. all i can do is try it and see how it goes.

    running arrow- your comments are exactly the concerns told to me by the seller of the nursery/ greenhouse business. i can hire local labor, but like everyone else, find health insurance prohibitive. ideally, i hope to be able to be in a position to offer a decent living wage, as well as insurance. i do understand how difficult this might be. he said it costs him roughly $500/ month to keep the place heated through the winter months, when he is only heating the one he propagates in.

    deb- that is exactly what i am looking for. do you have any other info you can share? articles? magazines? i just took a quick look around, but didn't see the "first set of materials" that you bought.

    i know there are obstacles here, but i also see a huge potential market. keep the advice coming!!
     
  9. Hoop

    Hoop Well-Known Member

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    China Mart is no doubt the biggest seller of flowers/vegetables in the world. Going into a business venture where you are competing against the 600# gorilla ....well lets just say you should proceed with caution.
     
  10. Beeman

    Beeman Well-Known Member

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    bee- i'm hoping to learn these things as i go, without having to pursue a formal degree. i already do TONS of volunteer work.:) why do you think i should keep the government out of it? they want to give me money to start a business. i think i'd be follish to not take it.



    Learning about business as you go is a major reason for the large percentage number of failed small businesses. What you do is not as important as how you do it.
    There is no free lunch or free money in America.
     
  11. marvella

    marvella Well-Known Member

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    hoop- i don't intend to compete with walmart. no one hates them more than i do. all they do is sell garbage to poor people. i intend to sell to a far different market, and to have a far better quality product. even tightwad homesteaders are willing to pay premium prices for premium products. almost any fruit or vegetable grown locally beats what you can find at the grocery store.

    bee- i do get what you are saying. but really, i already work full time and keep this place functioning sorta smoothly, most of the time.:). i need something i can do in my down time, that i can read and learn about in my spare time. no way i can commute to the community college 30 miles away for a class. the thing that got this all started was getting this place listed as a farm for tax purposes. the goal now is to actually get a revenue stream flowing. at least a potential one. i think the pendulum is beginning to swing away from massive industrial farms, to smaller, locally owned and operated farms. there is a demand for good tasting food, fresh and locally grown. there is a niche market here, and no one is into it. i hope to be first. and best.:)
     
  12. Alice In TX/MO

    Alice In TX/MO More dharma, less drama. Supporter

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    Marvella, from the business side....do you keep your checkbook balanced at all times? Do you log your mileage for all your vehicles, every trip? Do you have health insurance and liability insurance?

    If the answers to any of these is no, wait a bit and do more research.
     
  13. Cindy in PA

    Cindy in PA Well-Known Member

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    If you want a good book on growing cut flowers, try The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski. She also has a great monthly publication called Growing for Market that covers everything from fruit, vegetables and flowers to running your business. It is pricey, I think it's $30 for 12 issues, but it has a wealth of info for market gardeners. For a start on greenhouse growing try Greenhouse Gardener's Companion by Shane Smith. This book gives you alot of info on growing all kinds of stuff in a greenhouse like when to start and harvest etc. I have grown bedding plants and hanging baskets for about 8 years. My father grew bedding plants for 25 years and owned a flower shop for the same. He was small and did very well, but others are correct, things have changed. I did cut flowers for about 6 years until I lost my ground to a construction project last year!! Hope to get back to it soon. I did not make lots of money, but I did not push!! I only sold to my brother & sister who own flower shops. If you have good ground you could start cut flowers this year on a small scale and see how you like it. There is still time to plant seeds in the ground for zinnias and such or even to order plugs wholesale for cuts. Your cost will be your time, seeds and fertilizer. There are many varieties you can plant in succession all summer and cut. While it is true that greenhouse production of cuts is costly, outdoors it is a different story. While many cuts are flown in from South America, they are not necessarily cheap, especially with the price of oil. They are also doing better, but you can keep your flowers in water constantly, where many varieties are boxed at the wholesaler and out of water for some time. You have to market your differences and sell quality. I have never made much on bedding, because with a 14 by24 greenhouse, I am unable to offer a whole lot of selection or sell the volume of the big guys. I do make money on 10 inch hanging baskets. I start them in January and sell for $10 or $12 retail at my unattended stand or sell $8-$10 wholesale to brother & sister. My cost is about $3-4 and I do all the work myself. I sell 75 or so most years. Must say the last two years have been slower!! Definitely don't make a big wage, but I enjoy growing. Potted plants and baskets are more profitable and forgiving than 6-packs. The cost of oil is cutting in to the bottom line. Lynn's book or newsletter is great to get started outside. I believe the website is www. Growingformarket.com. Have been thinking of getting back in to herbs also. You can sell cut herbs or potted and they don't go to waste like bedding plants. Good luck and I agree, start small.
     
  14. Beeman

    Beeman Well-Known Member

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    the thing that got this all started was getting this place listed as a farm for tax purposes. the goal now is to actually get a revenue stream flowing. at least a potential one.

    I guess you've already gotten the gov't involved, good luck.
     
  15. Nax

    Nax Well-Known Member

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    You're getting lots of good advice here and things to think about.

    I can back up Cindy in PA. If you want to sell cut flowers, grow them outside on your land in season. Where I specialize in growing veggies for market, my folks do a pretty good turn selling cut flowers at market, and they make more money than I do with less product. But they start their own product, grow it, and cut it, and bunch it themselves. They only use their little-ish greenhouse from March until now. It's a lot of labor, and barely profitable once you figure in the electric, heat, and most of all, labor, but it's a nice little source of income. But, they also are both on medicare now (or whichever the one is for retirees), and have their house, land, and vehicles paid for.

    As Cindy pointed out, her basket business is good for her, keeping in mind that she does ALL the work, and that's what makes it profitable for her (and my folks). The minute you have to hire somebody to help you in any type of greenhouse or farming business, especially legally, any profits go out the door. Now, maybe that is to your advantage if you're looking for a write-off.

    But yes, cut flowers grown outside in season, or some seasonal stuff in the greenhouse where you do all the work (but not cut flowers), can get you a little bit of money, but be sure you add it all up honestly to see if it is worth it for you. If you're doing it as a hobby (as essentially my folks are), more power to you. If you honestly expect to help yourself eat off it, proceed with caution.

    Walmart plants aren't that bad, quality-wise, just be sure to get them when they're being loaded off the truck. they become junk because they don't train employees, or give them the time, to properly care for them, so the longer they sit around improperly watered and fertilized (or essentially lack thereof), the more stressed they become.

    And finally--excellent quality and excellent customer service. I have to admit I'm a bit burnt out on retail, and smiling at market a few hours a week is about all I can handle anymore. I love the take it or leave it attitude at market, having them come to me, and not having to lick so much. Niche markets are great, but they come with niche people who expect to be treated nichely. :haha:
     
  16. marvella

    marvella Well-Known Member

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    jeez bee- what do you expect me to do- not pay taxes? i'm getting too old for that kind of crap. i just wanna mess around with flowers, be outside, and allow my friends and myself to make a little extra money. i already make enough to live on, and i pay taxes on that too. also hold a drivers license, social security card, and professional license. guess it's WAY too late for me. :rolleyes:

    good luck to you too.:)
     
  17. marvella

    marvella Well-Known Member

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    please don't be offended if i don't answer each reply individually. it is all great advice, and i am taking notes.

    but this from rose, i have been thinking about off and on all day. it may be the nutshell advice i am looking for.

    i balance my checkbook roughly every 3 days, mainly because i need to know how much money i have on hand. i assume you mentioned this to point out that i need to track income and outgo daily?

    i don't log mileage, but i do keep all gas receipts. i itemized my taxes last year, and anticipate doing the same this coming year, with the addition of taking an obvious loss on farming. not a lot of farm income at this point, except eggs. do you mean i should log what each errand is for? today i drove 2 hours one way, 90 miles, for some volunteer work. does that count? or should i only log farm related miles? aren't the gas reciepts enough? should i estimate the rest separate from my farm revenue? am i missing something here? ideally i hoped i could take my reciepts in to the tax preparer and they would figure them out for me. i do have health insurance through my job as an employee of the state of tn. i do have liability insurance on the farm as well. will i need more if it is a business? what if i only grow here and sell elsewhere?

    right now, i have asters from seed and will soon have zinnias, and maybe phlox, growing in their own raised bed. they are native, (not the zinnias) make good cut flowers and are relatively long lasting. i'll let you know how it goes.:) hope to also sell the excess veggies from the garden, just to see what happens.

    i think i understand the basics of business. you track income and outgo, pay taxes on the profit and hope it is all worth it. right? i bought and have read business plans for dummies, figuring that would get me started, but i think that may be my problem. it made it seem so very complex... and i ended up very confused about what i am doing and where i am going.

    the expertise and experience of you all is invaluable. i'm going to look into all of it. thanks!