Rethinking hydroponics

hydro-02.jpgThe business climate out here in northern California is a bit stormy. Talking to a number of other business owners, from fast food chains to insurance brokerage we find ourselves wondering what's next. From what I read California and Florida got hit the worst with the decline in home prices. Considering our shrub and tree sales are down for the year it's now obvious that people we're using the equity in their homes for financing much of their home improvement. Meanwhile vegetable sales we're through the roof along with fertilizers. This would indicate a desire to maintain what's already in the ground rather than a lot of new landscaping.

I took the day off yesterday and visited two hydroponic shops in our area. Both said their business was flat or down. As a nursery person when is the last time you visited a hydroponic business? That's why I went, the need to get out of our business and see what some of the more unconventional players in the garden businesses are up to. Let me tell you I would love to have some of the sales that I watched being made. Fertilizers and soils we're the main things I saw going out the door. Fertilizers you don't generally see in nurseries. Why?

The times they are a changing when it comes to the nursery business. It's important right now that we get out and re-evaluate what we are all about. Why am I letting all those sales go to the hydroponic store? I am sure it's different in various regions but here I was quite impressed in the dollars I saw being made at one of the stores. In the hour I was there the phone never stopped ringing and one person after the other walked in and walked out with expensive fertilizer.

My take on the hydroponic business. It has a reputation that is probably deserved. If you had wanted to get in on the ground floor of that trend you should have started 10 years ago. What I did find out was the competition between these business is thick. These two stores I visited are within two blocks of each other. They are in the midst of a price war on soil amendments. Not good for the bottom line.

I believe that a new era for hydroponics is starting. The time is right for us to delve into this aspect of gardening. First, buying this stuff in a garden center is a much different experience than the hydro stores. I also believe that vegetable gardening is going to become much more a part of this indoor hobby. What could be more self-sufficient than growing your vegetables outside during summer, and then growing fresh, healthy vegetables inside during winter. Sure the electricity for the lights will cost, but with the price of gas reaching close to $5 and the interest in growing and buying local what could be more local than vegetables and herbs grown in your basement? Think about it.

During rough times people look for ways to feel more self-sufficient and not at the mercy of outside forces like the government that declared tomatoes unsafe, and now are backtracking. When you grow you own you have control. This is why I believe that our garden center can utilize this fun way of growing in our effort to help people become more self-sufficient in their garden pursuits.

This year and next are going to watershed years for the nursery businesses in my neck of the woods (northern California). With drought looming, housing crises, gas prices, and government regulations, we cannot afford to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. Great opportunity exists for those who don't let fear and "we have always done it that way" stand in the way. What other aspects of gardening or home improvement are we missing out on because of pre-conceived notions? I'm looking.