How to Start a Greenhouse Business

Extra money could be waiting for you among the rows of your garden. Greenhouse gardening for profit is a bit more demanding than simply growing vegetables for yourself. You'll need to consider customer needs and expectations of quality, and you might find yourself having to try new crops or growing techniques. With a little persistence and know-how, your garden could pay for itself or even put some extra money in your pocket.

Raising a Garden for Profit
You don't have to think big in order to make money from your garden. For example, if you are already growing vegetables, you probably can't eat all that you grow. Instead of giving vegetables away, why not charge a little? Your neighbors will be getting handpicked vegetables that are fresher than anything that they could buy at the store. If you sell your vegetables at prices lower than they would pay at the supermarket, you all win.

Herbs can be grown in small containers and sold in the containers for your customers to take home, or they can be cut and sold in bunches. You can also dry the herbs and sell them to artisans and crafters as well as your normal customers.

You can also grow small plants in flats and then transplant them to containers for sale. Look around your local nursery to see how many small plants it has for sale. You could even choose to specialize in local plants or exotics. If you have a greenhouse, this can be a year round endeavor. Forced bulbs are popular throughout the year, or you can grow flowers for bouquets or to dry for crafting.

Chances are you're already growing something that other people want. The key to gardening for profit is to find your customers and figure out what they need and what they're willing to pay. Start small, with friends and neighbors. Look for the crops that you can grow easily and that attract interest. Maybe you've got the best tomatoes in town or rose bushes that produce terrific blooms. Let your friends and neighbors be your focus group for market research. Ask them what they think your crops are worth. Ask them what they like and dislike about the things from your garden. Get suggestions on how to improve and what to grow.

It may take a season or two to get a sense of how much you can grow and what you can expect to charge. Remember that when you're growing for profit, you're dealing with items that have a very short shelf life. Turning your yard into a tomato field isn't the best idea, unless you know there's a large and willing market ready at harvest time. As you learn what's profitable and how much you can sell, you'll want to focus your gardening on those crops and expand your garden as needed.

Venues for Sales
As your garden grows, so will your need for selling space. You have several options when looking at selling beyond your friends and neighbors.

Consider selling at a local farmer's market or flea market. Farmer's markets are usually held weekly and attract plenty of potential customers. To participate in a farmer's market, ask other vendors at the market who the market's promoter is. Contact the promoter and find out how much it costs to rent a space, how the promoter supports the market in advertising and what rules the market has. Flea markets run much the same way.

When you participate in a farmer's market, you will be running your own store for a short period of time. You will be setting your prices and making the sales. You'll pay weekly rent to the promoter and you'll need to be there for a set period of time.

Be sure that you can earn enough from your crops to pay for your rent, your initial investment in seeds, water and fertilizer, any packaging that you use and your transportation costs to and from the market. You'll likely be able to charge more at a market than you can with family and neighbors, but you'll also be competing with the other vendors at the market. Pricing too high will drive customers away in search of a bargain, so do the math ahead of time to be sure that a given market will allow you to make a profit.

If you've got the right location, a roadside stand is another option. If you live on a well-traveled road (or have a supportive friend or neighbor on a busy road), this is a great way to sell your crops. You set the hours and control your own advertising, which can be as simple as hand-painted signs. If the stand is in your yard, you won't need to pay rent, but you will need to be mindful of local traffic and zoning laws.

Whether at a roadside stand or a market, there are some simple things you can do to improve sales.

  1. Set a fair price. Find out what others are charging for the products you sell. This is as simple as visiting the supermarket or walking around the farmer's market. Pricing below the average may help you sell faster, but it will reduce your profit. Pricing above the average could make it harder to sell, unless there's something unique about your crops or the way you grow them. Organically grown foods, for example, can often be sold at a higher price than foods treated with pesticides.
  2. Display your prices. Have your prices prominent and easy to understand, with the amount next to the cost, such as $5 per pound or $3 per bunch. This makes it easy for customers to comparison shop. If there's something unique about your crops or growing techniques, make sure to include that in your display, such as organically grown or heirloom variety.
  3. Create appetizing displays. Make your crops look mouth-watering on the table. That means cleaning off any stems or leaves that shouldn't be there, washing vegetables, discarding any foods with signs of rot, insects or disease and arranging them carefully so that they're easy to see and easy for customers to pick up and inspect. Check the produce aisle at the supermarket for ideas.
  4. Consider packaging. Sometimes putting your products in a clear bag, a box or an attractive pot will let you charge more or boost your sales. Most of the needed supplies can be found at party supply stores or agricultural cooperatives. Experiment with different types of packaging and ask your customers for feedback.
  5. Promote yourself. Always have a stack of business cards ready so that customers can find you in the future. If you always sell at a certain market or run a roadside stand at certain times of the year, include that information on your business card. If you have the time, consider setting up an e-mail mailing list so that you can let your customers know what you have.

Other venues for selling your produce include local restaurants, grocery stores, caterers, wholesalers and health food stores (if you grow organically). Be aware that these buyers typically require a large volume of produce unless you're growing something very unique. You'll also be competing with professional growers, so you'll need a good deal of dedication to keep these customers happy.

Finally, make sure that you comply with local licensing and ordinances when you sell the bounties from your garden. License requirements vary from state to state and location to location and affect how you can promote your products, what standards must be met to make certain claims and, in some cases, what you can charge. 

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