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Old 06-11-2014, 08:17 PM   #1
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Default Starting a Native Plant Nursery

Since moving to Vermont, I am disappointed in the lack of native nurseries. The only thing I can find are a few that carry some species (often only as cultivars) that are intermixed with exotics. This has led me, combined with my inability to find a job in my field of wildlife biology (no jobs to apply to), to seriously consider, over the last 6 months, starting my own native plant nursery.

I suppose I am posting here to gather advice, support, warnings... anything you want to share with me about this idea. I have never worked in a nursery, nor am I by any means an expert gardener/botanist. What I can tell you is that I have been interested in native plants for only about 3 years and have taught myself everything I know through research and networking. I am highly dedicated to the use of, and advocating for, native plants to restore wildlife habitat in our backyards and gardens.

I realize I have a long way to go, but my plan is to start sowing the seeds I have now, collecting more this summer/fall, and maybe by next spring I can just sell some perennials at a local farmer's market. Maybe I can do that for a few years, while keeping my day job, to test the waters and fine tune my business plan so I can lease/purchase a nursery property.

My biggest apprehensions include trying to get a business license and insurance, making a website/marketing/advertising, and well, generally the entire "business" side of this undertaking. I have started to consider the need to take some business classes but I think I might also need some botany/horticulture classes as well.

Can anyone offer some experience-based advice?
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Old 06-12-2014, 06:35 AM   #2
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I'd like to be encouraging but I'm sure you know that the nursery business is a tough one. I dabbled myself when I lived in Vermont, starting up first on a rental property then moved to a 10 acre property where we lived with a hoop house and lots of ambition but no business knowledge at all. I also sold at the Farmer's Market and was open to the public on Friday and Saturday.

It really was a labor of love but I have to say I didn't make much money and it is labor intensive work. I didn't have any employees but my husband helped with schlepping plants and the kids helped out with watering and such when they could. If I had it to do over I'd only sell small plants instead of 5 gallon shrubs, especially having to move them to market every Saturday.

I had strengths in marketing and so did my husband. I created a logo and started advertising in the local newspapers. This was years before social media came on the scene. Now I'd probably create a Facebook page, a website, and a blog or e-newsletter. I would have kept all my records in Excel and Intuit Quickbooks instead of a spiral bound notebook!

Definitely do your homework, get some good books on native plant propagation, the Cullina book on wildflower propagation is a good one. Get a good book on starting a small business as well. I just sort of went off half-cocked which wasn't the best idea. There's a lot you can teach yourself without going to classes.

I'd look at it as an ambitious hobby, a labor of love if you will. You can earn some money if you work hard but you'll probably still need to keep your day job! I had a friend in Vermont who ran a bigger nursery operation from her home for much longer than I did. She really put a lot of effort into it, even having speakers come from the New England Wildflower Society and others for weekend seminars. She finally closed the business down after several years.

You should talk with others in the business near you, small family run nurseries that run on a shoestring like I did. There are probably some already selling plants at your Farmer's Market though perhaps not native plants. Still the business model will be pretty much the same. Good luck and keep us posted!
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Old 06-12-2014, 09:01 AM   #3
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Wow, disuhan! Your enthusiasm and philosophy regarding planting natives to restore habitat sound like someone who has been interested for a lot longer than 3 years!

I wish I could give you even half of the advice that linrose has given...but I've no actual experience running a native plant nursery (although, in my early twenties, I worked in a nursery that had a few natives). I guess I've toyed with the idea myself...and I have spoken with a man who runs a native plant nursery about 2 1/2 hours from here. He put the idea in my head to become a supplier instead of opening a retail nursery myself...so, I am passing that on to you.

Perhaps, you could specialize in a few species that you know you could sell to retailers...then you could always dabble in a wider variety of stock to sell at the farmer's market and, perhaps by appointment at your own place. Just a thought.
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Old 06-12-2014, 09:05 AM   #4
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pawprint Nothing happens until somebody sells something.

What would be your main product, specifically, THE PLANT that you have full confidence propagating with good success & enough volume? (example: ginseng, can you produce 100 baby plants to sell every year)
(example: grapevine, can you produce 100 seedlings to sell every year)

Can you sell THE PLANT locally, consistently (year after year), and in volume? (will your clientele become repeat buyers for THE PLANT, or do you expect that THE PLANT is a one-off sale per customer)

Do you expect your client base to be primarily local people, that will buy all you can produce of THE PLANT?

If your business location is at home, can you easily convert the location into a viable business location? (is it a location that you can produce product, sell product, & any customer can easily find/ want to travel to?...it would be difficult to 'tend the store in town', if your working location is out of town, on the farm)

Discuss your business location with ALL your adjoining neighbors, would they have any concerns of you conducting business there? (It is better to find out early, what your neighbors expect of their neighborhood, they may not like seeing increased car traffic... for example,... might they require you to build a privacy fence?...or a problem with hanging a sign out front?...but usually most people will be quite encouraging to you & your endeavors, find this out early!)

That is all the questions I have for the moment.

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Old 06-12-2014, 09:18 AM   #5
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Great additions, ww!

You sparked another question with your "ask the neighbors" comments: what about zoning...is your area zoned for business?
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Old 06-12-2014, 10:48 AM   #6
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Pennsylvania seems to have a lot of native plant nurseries...but none that I've found in NE PA--near me. The closest might be just over an hour and a half away...but I'm just a *little* wary of them after calling and asking about locally native plants--the person on the phone said, "Once it has grown here for several years (or several generations) it is locally native." That really bothered me. Later, I was at their nursery and spoke to the owner about where the Virginia bluebells originated. I was told they were from West Virginia--nice to know they were able to tell me...but when I mentioned wanting to keep things locally native, she told me, "Good luck! That is a noble goal, but it is unrealistic."

She may be right, but it still bothered me. When I mentioned buying something marked "local ecotype" she excitedly asked me where I'd got it. It seems she does want to do that--or at least remain competitive with others that are providing such things.

My favorite so far is American Native Nursery which seems to try to specialize in local ecotype and providing plants grown from seeds known to have originated in specific ecoregions. This is amazing to me...but as I've spoken to a few people, trying to cater to those who care about local ecotypes makes for a small market--especially if one limits to selling within a specific radius of that ecoregion. I think it is a niche market right now...but as more and more people are educated and begin to demand local ecotype/ecoregion specific plants, I think it is the way to go.

As usual, I'm just typing random thoughts that come to me...but this is starting to feel more disjointed than usual. I hope it at least sparks conversation.

In the back of my mind, I used to think of propagating things and selling them on a small scale here--actually, before I used to think about it on a larger scale, but I've toned that down once I realize I don't want to give up the plans I have for this property to make room for potted plants and parking! (Parking is another issue to think about if you plan to do it on your own property.)

Maybe when I retire--just for some extra cash...not sure I could really make a living at it.

I wish you the best of luck. Opening a nursery is a wonderful dream...I just hope it is feasible for you...and if you chose to make it a reality, I hope it is a huge success.
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Old 06-12-2014, 10:50 AM   #7
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Another place you may want to contact is Bowman's Hill (in PA)...if you could find out who does the propagating--I forget his name--he may be able to give you some advice as well.
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Old 06-12-2014, 07:15 PM   #8
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disuhan, I have a friend who owns a small family-run native nursery, located in Valley Falls, NY which isn't too far from you. If you would like to pick her brain, I can put you in touch.

As for not being able to find a job in Wildlife Biology... are you willing to move? And have you been watching USAJobs for job announcements? Feel free to PM me if you'd like.
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Old 06-12-2014, 08:05 PM   #9
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pawprint As far as a business license...

this pdf file might help you get acquainted with some of the rules of the game...the nice thing about the pdf files is you can permanently highlight various important passages with the yellow highlight feature in Acrobat, useful for later reference. http://www.state.vt.us/tax/pdf.word.excel/legal/regs/19701.pdf

Therein is listed some agricultural exemptions, around page 25 & 26, and examples of those type sales. I also found an Reg. 1.9741(25)-6 Nurseries specifically on page 41.

You will have to read thru all that document and understand it fully before you apply for a sales & use license/permit. After all it is basically a contract with the state and you, and you should know the rules soundly. Some new entrepreneurs, sometimes don't take the time to become familiar, and you don't want to take some 'tax accountant' or book-keepers 'word' for what it actually states.

You want to find out and track down a definite answer to your past, present, & future purchases of any type of Equipment used in your operation. This can be a double edged sword if the rules are not understood properly. For example you buy a used shovel, at a yard sale for $5, and it now becomes part of your accounted for Equipment...does that $5 shovel depreciate in value next year, and the year after? What happens to your accounting of the shovel... if you sell the shovel, or break it, or it gets stolen? And if you continue using the shovel how many years are you required to account/depreciate for it? (this question may have different answers depending if your looking at the VT viewpoint, or the IRS viewpoint, as those 2 taxing entities use somewhat different rules) And you will have to navigate those rules successfully, or the tax burdens can become unrealistically sever.

Remember because there is local, state, & federal taxes, these can consistently add up to 30% or more, of your gross sales...that is huge! So you must become your own best tax adviser!

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Old 06-13-2014, 08:44 AM   #10
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pawprint You should visit with your local tax assessor...

Business Personal Property Tax | City of Burlington, Vermont

Hey disuhan, you may not live or conduct business in Burlington proper, but wherever you live in VT, the 'business personal property tax' is probably statewide, and a visit with the local tax assessor should become a priority for your venture. This is detailing somewhat a separate aspect of taxes, so you will want to find out in person what the rules are about 'business personal property tax'. Bytheway, 'real-estate tax, is another type of tax, which valuates the real-estate itself, typically the local tax assessor has authority over that also.

'business personal property tax' will force you to account for every 'business personal property item' that you use in the course of business, like a coffee pot, a telephone, a shovel, store fixtures like office desk, adding machines, a green house, plastic planter pots, other supplies...the list can become quite varied.

Now this is when you really start getting into 'what is what', and the assessors job will be to make an occasional visit to the business site, to verify if you have properly accounted for these 'personal property items'. Don't get up tight when various taxing authorities come to visit, they know & realize that you are 'all new to this'...and that is a good thing! They can & will point out a few things that you never even imagined that required itemization. Remember these taxing authorities can be local, state, or federal, and they are attempting to get you squared away processing equipment purchases as well as over the counter sales in an honest accounting way. Remember if your accounting for various 'business personal property items', the disposition of these items changes thru time, the shovel breaks, the coffee pot gets replaced...and it becomes your job as an entrepreneur to account for these items, continually, and the disposition of the items as they depreciate, or sold, or trashed, etc.

So you want to build your own business, you have to at least be able to think & communicate with the taxing authorities, then set about trying to make a profit from your work with the plants.

Various taxes for business takes time & practice to obtain a solid working knowledge of it, so when you visit with the local tax assessor for example take some notes during your conversation! Generally your local assessor is someone from your community, and they can be helpful, but their main job is to appraise value and attempt to have you account/document it. The state assessor will also drop in at your location, probably without notice. Make sure your 'resale & use permit' is posted properly, and it is helpful if you have a nice clean, organized filing cabinet, full of files...even if some files at first are quite thin!

It is common practice for entrepreneurs to include part of their home & the real estate thereof as 'part of the business'. Which is fine, having a 'home office' and using the tax codes in your own favor to 'write-off' the business part of your utility bills, and other stuff. But that requires you include your home and the 'business personal property' within it, be accounted for...and as such, it can become a little more complicated. hahahaha I know your probably thinking...gee whiz, it might be simpler to have the business on it's own, separate from your house. In that way, your not mixing your personal residence into the business side of things...definitely it is simpler if your business is totally separate from your house. But would require a different building, which may be nothing more than a simple tool shed, if that is where you conduct business.

Oh well, I've probably said too much

ww
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