Success is never a straight line

Everything about the new shop was working. My planting room with the soil mixing tub and large counter was great, and along with the automated watering system, my daily work had been cut to less than 2 hours.

The grow room was functioning exactly as I had hoped. The shelves were easily accessed, and I had a huge amount of space for building up my clientele. I hadn’t even begun to use the largest shelf that was a full twenty feet long and three tiers high.

Since my plan had been to stay away from restaurants, I made contact with a regional manager at Whole Foods and the produce buyer at Farm Boy (a local retailer with nearly 20 locations, based loosely on the Whole Foods model). Whole Foods was interested, Farm Boy, not as much. Arrangements were made for an official inspection of my indoor farm, with a positive result garnering a potential contract.

Then I received a phone call that turned everything upside down. The landlord needed the space for a paying client, and as my sales were definitely not in the range to compete for market rent, there was no option but to shut the whole thing down. The feeling of devastation was horrible. I had less than two weeks to dismantle the entire shop and rent a UHaul to get everything moved. I arranged for a storage locker and began to take everything apart. About three days into the deconstruction, I got a phone call from another friend; he had a line on some commercial shelving that was basically free for the taking. I went to investigate and found that the shelving was a complete Pipps Mobile Storage system. (Check them out sometime, they’ve got some seriously cool products).

There was no way I could let a fully functioning rolling shelf system get taken apart and thrown in a dumpster. With the help of two volunteers (thanks Ralph & Dan!) we managed to take the Pipps system from it’s location, and put it in storage with the dismantled system from my shop. My intention was to find another suitable location and quickly set up again. The trouble with indoor commercial space is that the cheap stuff isn’t good and the good stuff isn’t cheap (unless you’re getting a favour).

Life has this way of happening, whether you’re participating or not; while dreams get slowly covered in dust and recede to the background as you focus on whatever crises happen to appear in your life, as they always do. I made three significant job changes from the fall of 2014 to the spring of 2017. From Real Estate, to used car sales, and then to driving a truck for Pepsi. All the while having to cover the cost of the storage space for the dismantled systems. I can’t blame my wife for believing that this money was wasted, everything just sat there, collecting dust. But I had a new plan! Well, the old plan. I’d go back to growing in the basement of our house, but using the rolling shelf Pipps system. I figured that if I could maximise the growing space by having collapsible working rows, I could get back to production without the huge expense of commercial rent.

I’d need to start from scratch (AGAIN). Insulate the room for noise and cooling. Install an exhaust fan to keep the moisture levels low. Paint the concrete floor with a reflective coating, and cover the walls and ceiling with Mylar. It wasn’t a big room, but if I was able to maximise what was there, we could potentially have grow enough to make a decent profit.

Late in 2017, I moved everything out of the room. It’s amazing how much junk you can accumulate without even realising it. I felt like I was on one of those Hoarding shows on TV, throwing out anything that didn’t work directly with the new plan. With the floor painted, and the Mylar installed, the grow room was looking like the inside of an alien space ship. but the room was ready for hardware. I installed the rails for the movable shelving and then began building the tiers.

The grow room became very crowded, but in the end we had three full lighted sets of five tiered shelves. Although I had stored all the seed in the freezer, I wasn’t confident that they were viable after 3 years. I ordered new seed, picked up a bale of Promix, and washed out all the trays. I began growing microgreens again in early March of 2018.

With production well underway, it was time to knock on some doors and find new clients. I quickly discovered that during my three year absence, a good number of other microgreens producers had sprung up, and if I was going to be successful, I’d need to rethink my target customer base. Over the next few months, I worked on signing restaurant clients, and by the beginning of December, 2018, I had taken on an employee and reached full capacity at the shop.

Everything was going well, the only question was: What now? Do we stay at this level, or try to hit the big leagues?