I know a lot of people end up here at my blog because they would like to start a nursery and are looking for advice. Most recently Joe in Florida wants to know if starting a nursery is the right thing to do . He has received mostly negative feedback so needless to say he is confused. I would imagine the same thing holds for most small business. I for one can't imagine starting a restaurant. That must be an awful hard and difficult business to make profitable. The same could be said for opening a bookstore. The competition from the chains as well as peoples changing shopping habits make starting a new business in almost any field a difficult endeavor. The fact that its a difficult proposition explains why so few people own and run their own small business. There is no safety net. If things go wrong you can blame the economy, competition, the weather, you name it. Just because you can blame the competition for your woes won't cause the empty feeling in the pit of your stomach from going away. You must see, like I do business going in where you ask, "what are they thinking?" We have small business going in and out of business all the time in Placerville. Its like a revolving door.
I got involved in this trade right out of junior college in the late 70's. It was a time when the independent nursery ruled. The only chain competition was K-Mart, and they did a terrible job with the garden department. I remember the first Home Depots going in. The nursery I worked at, Christensen's nursery was located in Belmont, just south of San Francisco. It was a business that catered to the carriage trade and as such the Home Depot's didn't have much of an effect. It's gone now. The land became too valuable to operate a garden center on. It's now condominiums.
Where am I going with this? I don't know except that the business of garden centers has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Would I still get involved in the business now? I don't know. When I got into the business it was "cool" to be into gardening. You had the hippies moving out of the Haight and into the mountains where they could "get back to the earth". So times have changed, or is it myself that has changed. Both I suppose.
We are on vacation for two and a half weeks now. The nursery is closed until Jan. 12. This will be a good time to plan out what we want to do next year. I find that time away from work helps open your eyes to new ideas that might have been hidden when you are simply focused on work. That's one of the hard things to do when you work for yourself, finding time to get away. It's most important as I find the best ideas often come from "out of the blue", when you least expect it.
I love the outside world, and working in and owning a garden center has allowed me to enjoy that world. Whether or not I would start a nursery today is meaningless. I have one now, and we are committed to having the best one possible. To those of you contemplating opening a nursery don't get bogged down in the negativity. Search out successful business of all types, not just nurseries. See if some of the ideas they are using might work in your business. You cannot just sell plants anymore. You have to sell the whole experience. Gardening has been and will continue to be a source of joy for a large segment of the population. Why would those people want to come to your store? What are you offering that the competition isn't? What could you do better than the competition? How can you continually "wow" the consumer that walks through the door so as to turn them into and keep them as customers. Figure that out and you will be in business as long as you want. We're still working on it.
Here is an link to a garden forum at Garden Web discussing starting a nursery.
The Internet is a great resource that wasn't available when I started out. There are more and more websites you can use to find out more about horticultural business. I am thrilled to think that people would come here to seek advice. Thank you.