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Businesses I’ve Tried and What I’ve Learned - Part 6: Garden Planters

By: Steve Johnson

2/26/2010 - 73 Comments

In the spring of last year I started a new business providing gardening services to help people plant and grow their own gardens. 

This is Part 6 of an article series that tells the story of what I learned from several businesses that I’ve started.  

It’s been a few years since I started a new business and I was quickly reminded of how much time it takes to start a new business, especially when you are busy working full time, raising a family and running two other side businesses.

I was so busy last spring that I didn’t even have time to write this article about my new business that I was starting. 

Come to think of it, I started another business a few years ago that I didn’t include in this article series either Garage Floor Finishers. Someday I will have to extent this article series with an article about that business.

Garden Planters

This article is about my 'Garden Planters' business that was an idea that I had been kicking around for several years, but had to wait for the right timing - like a deepening recession, with hyperinflation just around the corner

Like with other businesses I’ve started, I leveraged my marketing system, vendors and website development business to create a website and get the word out about my new business.

One of the hardest parts was trying to figure out how much business I was going to get the first year and them finding the right amount of labor to match the work.  If I started hiring people and didn’t get much work, I would be out a lot of money.  But if I didn’t have enough people hired and got a lot of work, I would be out a lot of money.

What I did to solve this problem was to have a few contractors on standby to help out if I needed them.  It turned out that I didn’t need them and that was a good thing because they are expensive. 

I ended up planting only a handful of gardens, but was overwhelmed with the number of people that wanted to talk about gardening with me.  That was something that I couldn’t have my contracted labor do. 

But the relationships that I established in these discussions were priceless because without even knowing it, I was creating a network of interested customers that are at the top of my sales channel.  Sometime, you just have to try something and take what the market give you.

I guess that’s why I think the best financial advice I have is to go after business opportunities.

This year, I will be started with my repeat customers from last year and I expect to at least double my sales.  I have also doubled by marketing strategies, from 6 ways to 12 ways of educating and sharing my services with interested customers.  I was also able to secure a college intern to help me with my marketing efforts this year.

I’m working on my marketing plan now, even though our garden planting season in mid-MN is doesn't start until about May 15th. 

Business Model Advantages/Constraints

The primary concepts that I learned from this business were;

Seasonal Businesses Are Fun - In part 1 of this article series, in which I talk about a construction business I had many years ago.  In that article I mentioned how seasonal businesses are difficult to grow.  Garden Planters is very much a seasonal business, with perhaps a 6-week season for planting gardens. 

The other hand, seasonal businesses are a lot of fun in that you don’t have to do that same work all year round. 

This is important for a person like me with a high energy level that gets bored very quickly.  Seasonal businesses can also be very financial rewarding because there are fewer established competitors.  

Seasonal business can also be stretched with additional services. For example, I have already added garden irrigation which is primarily used in the middle of the summer versus the beginning planting season.  I could add garden cleanup at the end of the summer to stretch the season of business even further.

The Perception of Being an Expert – I have discovered that one of the keys to this business is the perception that I am an expert gardener.  Once I made this discovery, I used it to market my business by marketing myself as an expert with vase experience in gardening and planting.

Anyone can plant a garden, but few know how to do it effectively and efficiently that produces a large harvest.

Reaching expert status means that my customers are not paying for my ability to till a garden, but they are paying for my knowledge about gardening.  And that means they are willing to pay a higher price for the value of my knowledge then for the labor services that I provide.

Sometimes the perception of being an expert is primarily based on being first to the market, as with personal finance blogging.

Being First to Market - When starting a business, you have to have everything figured out and then you need to quickly find a way to position yourself with a competitive advantage so that your competitors cannot quickly duplicate your business and drive down the revenue that you need to remain high for at least a few years until you get established.

I have learned about this the hard way in several of my other business, and this business has no legal way for me to create a competitive advantage – accept I appear to be the first one to the market. This also allows me to market my business as the ONLY business in my area that offers garden planting services.  I’ve read several books that argue both for and against being first to market. 

In this case, when the perception of being an expert is very important, I believe being first to the market was very important.  But I think being first will only give me about 3-5 years to build a network of happy customers to carry the business into the future as the novelty of being first to the market wears thin and other experts become just as knowledgeable as me.

Conclusion

The deepening recession and the increase in the price of food are creating a lot of interest in gardening.  This interest is in turn causing a lot of interest in products and services relating to gardening.

Getting this business started last year, ahead of customer demand was a key initiative that takes experience and vision for the economy. 

My ongoing research in business trends and economic development gave me the insight I needed to see this trend coming.  When starting a new business, you either need to get lucky or have very good business trend research.

But now that my business is running, I have no way of protecting it from competition other than being first to market and building a local network of happy customers. 

That means anyone (including you) could start a gardening service in your area.  If you are struggling to find a job this summer, go for it, start your own gardening service.  I wish you well.

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