Bounty hunters: gardening is more than a grass-roots pastime – Hot Opportunities in Gardening

Gianna Jacobson


When Neville Vatcha developed a chemical solution that would repel animals, the home-gardening market did not immediately come to mind. At the time, he and his partner, George Genung, were more concerned about power-utility companies, the industry for which their St. Louis company, DMX Inc., manufactured plastics and coatings. Vatcha’s chemical solution was to be incorporated into PVC boots that topped off power poles to keep the squirrels from chewing on them.

But Genung, the marketing specialist, knew there had to be other applications for the solution. So he conducted a demographics study, which set him and Vatcha immediately down the primrose path: “We became very excited about the gardening marketplace and its growth.”

In 1995 they created a separate division, N.I.M.B.Y., to sell a liquid version of the animal repellent in an $11.95, 32-ounce spray bottle. In its first year N.I.M.B.Y. produced $510,000 in sales, and Genung predicts an unlimited market as he expands the line. In the works: a powder repellent to deter digging animals, a bird feeder that will keep squirrels out, and a spray to keep insects away from campsites. N.I.M.B.Y. sells its products — which are harmless to animals — to nurseries, to garden centers, and directly to consumers via the Internet and radio ads.

Gardener’s Supply

Catalogs are nothing new to home gardeners; after all, the Burpee Seed Co. has been selling from them for more than a century. What has changed, however, is the product mix being bought from catalogs.

“Today’s gardeners don’t start from seeds,” says Will Raap, founder of Burlington, Vt.-based Gardener’s Supply. “In fact, the people who buy from catalogs today are more likely to be people who have gardeners or just want to look like gardeners.”

Raap, 47, was the marketing manager for a garden-products company that was taken over and moved out of town. He established Gardener’s Supply in 1983 to sell products ranging from rakes and hoes to knee cushions and bird feeders.

Today he mails out 13 million catalogs nationwide. Including the three subsidiaries Raap created (an irrigation-system catalog, a green-house manufacturer, and a wholesale division that is growing 50 percent a year), Gardener’s Supply generates $25 million in annual revenue.

“Gardening is a good thing to build a business around,” says Raap. “It’s something you can get excited about.”

Raap credits baby boomers with making gardening hip. “It’s a new generation of gardeners who are not committed to the ways of the past,” he says. “We have had to adapt our business to that new opportunity, offering products for the more casual, convenience-driven gardener.”

Under Glass Mfg.

When Lord k Burnham, one of the oldest greenhouse companies in the United States, was bought by a Canadian conglomerate that promptly went bankrupt, three former employees knew they could have exacted a better fate.

So William Orange, Richard Kodnia, and Margaret Lee pooled their savings in 1989. They bought Lord & Burnham’s assests, including equipment, dies, molds, and customer lists, and rechristened the company Under Glass Mfg. The Lake Katrine, N.Y., company has been profitable almost from the beginning and now sells about $1 million worth of greenhouses wholesale per year.

“We are running a leaner operation and simply not spending more than we are bringing in,” says Orange. “People have become more interested in sun spaces and growing things, so we are in a nice position. In the next 10 years greenhouse sales will go up as gardeners become more knowledgeable about horticulture.”

The average Under Glass greenhouse sells for about $5,000, and about 60 percent of the business comes from custom orders.

“We are definitely in a growth phase, with a lot of people putting greenhouses into plans for new construction,” says Orange.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Success Holdings Company, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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