Hobbyist that want to start a greenhouse. Have Questions for more experienced than myself

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Jun 14, 2023
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My understand from reading around is that a lot of orchid businesses are going out of business at an unprecedented rate. I’m relatively young and I’m very ambitious/driven person. I love the orchid hobby and am considering building a greenhouse but also would love to sell orchid plants/educate people on these amazing plants.

In my area all you can find is just the regular grocery store Phals and those are usually very limited in selection as well. I think my area could really benefit from an orchid greenhouse open to the public and I also live in a very “opulent”, wealthy area. Many people have/grow orchids as display plants in their businesses and homes.

Does anyone think that this could be a profitable business? Or is it not with the costs of growing in a greenhouse too much to be profitable? I’m not looking to get rich at all. I’m comfortable financially already. Thanks to anyone who replies!
Why do you think orchid businesses are closing? It is a business of long hours and little money. I know you said you were well off financially but to start a business without yearly profit is discouraging and plays on your brain.
I know of many people, who in my 50 years of experience, have thought an orchid business was a good idea. 99.9% never made it long term.
You need to consider what you will sell, where you will sell and to who you will sell to. It is repeat customers that will make you successful.
Then consider heating and cooling bills, plant import costs, etc. It is a very complex question without an easy answer.
You can also start with a smaller greenhouse and sell a few plants as a hobby kind of. Or you can go large scale with a thousand or two square feet under glass. You have to grow plants on too as plants in bloom are easier to sell.
If you go large, you will need workers.
But let me be honest, Oklahoma? Consider the warm weather heat buildup. Will you have room to summer plants outside while you repair the greenhouse. You will some serious shade.
Is water readily available?
Local ordinances which will allow for such a business.
I tried a small business for 7 years, 1980 to 1987. My accountant finally said that you need to pump serious money into this business to make it profitable because for the last 6 years, it looks like a hobby! I closed the business immediately. I wanted to spend my time and money on my two, young sons. That was a better reward then dabbling in orchids!!
Good luck
Start small and grow. What I would do is get a green house that you can build on to. You will not be able cross your own plants and grow them to flowering size because there will not be room. Also if it is a plant like rothschildianum you will wait years to see a dime. You will need to out sorce plants that are smaller from places like Raingreen's nursery to keep costs down. You can also buy in bulk for a good discount but you may not have the room. If I was selling to business I would get really good crosses of phalaenopsis that put out big sprays of flowers. You can rent these plants out or sell them and then give a credit for returning them so you can spike them again: catlea also seem to grow really fast and you can divide them if you know how to grow them. You could go the exspensive route and buy a green house just for a hobby and expand your collection with awarded expensive plants. Then cross them and sell them when they are young to nursery who have the room. This way they get great parents and you get that green stuff to buy better plants. Also you can get large shipments from Asia twice a year and post them here and localy that there is a sale. Asia seems to be really big into paphiopedilums right now. Hope this helps
What is being suggested is a business model that already exists.
Phalaenopsis are being sold every where. Plants are being offered at competitive prices. This is also being done. Where? By who? Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, Lowe’s etc.
To start small and add on later is more expensive then just starting out bigger. As big as you can afford.

What you need to do Ndove is to figure out if a niche exists for you in the retail world of orchids? Can you create a product, orchid plants, that nobody else sells? No one else has. You need to create a demand where one does not exist.
If you end up dabbling in orchids and selling what everyone else sells already, how does that promote long term success?
Look at businesses such as Motes, Vandas, SVO Catasetinae, Lehua slipper orchids. They all specialize in something and branch out from there. Again, find a niche that you can exploit. Otherwise your business will likely look like every other struggling business.
I think Mr. Big923catt is overly pessimistic.

I was a hobby grower for over 20 years and had the opportunity to travel nationally and internationally on business, affording me opportunities to visit many nurseries and to acquire a really nice collection of plants. Then I had a heater and alarm failure on a 7F night, resulting in a total loss. It was devastating.

I moped about it for a couple of months, but then bought a cattleya and a cymbidium at the Philadelphia Flower Show and started a slow rebuild. I bought a new heater and alarm.

I had repotted and divided my two plants, and by fall, they were well established, so I offered them to other orchid growers on the Comp-U-Serve Gardening Forum. “Send me a check, I’ll send you a plant”. Within 3 hours, 2 of the 3 divisions were claimed, and - SNAP! - I knew how I’d make it a business. (I still had a full-time career in the chemical industry.)

H&R and Carmela extended wholesale terms to me, and I began by selecting a plant or two I wanted, buying 20 instead of one, then reselling 18 or 19, using the profit to buy more. Back then, I had to photograph a flower, get the film developed, and scan the photo to be able to post it in a rudimentary web page (page, not site…).

I continued with that same approach - need bark? Buy a pallet. Need pots? Buy a case of 500. I got to the point of importing plants from Asia monthly, and 3 or 4, 40-foot containers of LECA from Europe a year. I provided jobs for the developmentally disabled at a local non-profit, drilling holes to make semi-hydroponics pots and repackaging potting materials (not the charcoal - it was too dusty so I did that myself).

At my peak, I had a greenhouse with some 700-1000 plants and more than 300 supplies in inventory, occupying some 5000 square feet in a public warehouse, at the non-profit, and in my walk-out basement.

Without a doubt, my biggest cost was heating the greenhouse, but that, like all other costs, can be written off of your business taxes. In fact, tax write-offs may be a bigger advantage than cash generation, especially as I have always tried to keep my prices low. That is not to say that there were no profits, there certainly were, but we didn’t need them to live. My kids used to say “Dad pays for all the fun stuff”.

When I retired from my real job and prepared to relocate and downsize, I sold off almost all the plants, the greenhouse and equipment, and simply didn’t restock supplies as they sold out. At the time, I was the sole retail outlet for three products. I planned to retire the business as well, so started seeking out “competitors” to carry them. I was successful with one (K-Lite), but the manufacturer of Kelpak told me that if I stopped selling it, they would not authorize a replacement, because they appreciated how I teach people about the products and how to use them and not just “sell and walk away”. It’s too good of a product to let go by the wayside, so I kept the business open.

This October 14th will be the 29th anniversary of First Rays, even though I have shrunk to having 3 core products occupying a 75 square foot room in my garage. My product line is 1% of what it used to be, but my gross sales are still roughly 33% of that, and it still keeps me busy, makes a little bit of money, but most importantly, introduces me to more and more orchid growers every day.
I prefer to think I am realistic, not pessimistic or cautious. For my first 38 years in orchids in the NY metro, so many hobbyists loved growing orchids. With 8-10 million people in the NY metro, so many people thought that they would start a business, including me. Not many made it. I can think of three out of dozens. One you all know, Piping Rock Orchids.
But in Oaklahoma, what kind of foot traffic can you count on? You can certainly go mail order but that doesn’t seem particularly easy.
But all I am really saying is to try to make yourself as fully prepared as you possibly can. Think of all the issues, all the angles, cover all bases, cross your t’s, dot your i’s. And if you have everything straight in your mind then go for it!!!
The time to figure everything out is now, not three years down the road when you are thousands in debt.
I would take the opportunity to visit some established nurseries within travel distance to your location....
Try to bend their ears, (letting them know up front your intentions, so they don't feel you are wasting their time)
get their story- ie...how they got to where they are....
Some locations in the US have more orchid nurseries (that are still in business) are where they are for a reason..
ie... cheaper to heat, or cool, so overhead is cheaper... i was a hobby grower dabbling in hybridizing phals early on, but realized that the hobby was changing quickly with the advent of aisian growers taking over the breeding of phals, and in particular CLONING to the point that they were able to produce seedlings in low spike in a fraction of the time that we could here.
that was when grocery stores and box stores could offer really cheap phals in comparison to what hobby growers could, and the average pot plant owner doesn't care if a plant is a mericlone or a label with a unique seedling name. They just want a pretty plant in flower.
now there is still a place for specialty growers/breeders, but in order to establish your business where folks search you out takes time and dedication.... Big923cat has many relative points and it isn't for the faint hearted... You don't want to go into this with a false sense or you will be throwing good money down the drain.
Those that have been most successful, dedicated their hobby to a particular grex of plants and stuck at it.
I have a different look at why "so many orchid breeders/growers have gone out of business at a rapid rate"
I have seen it in different hobbies,,, where the old guard, those experts in our field have left the hobby or business is simply - they have gotten too old to keep up with the rat race and some have done their thing, and are ready to retire to simply keeping for fun or love of the plants, but do not want to try to maintain a viable business.
Now the issue is where are the younger newer folks that may have apprenticed under these icons, and are ready to step up and take it on so to speak.... I see it in my own business where there is not the dedication to stay at a business in a proper way to grow anymore....
I am hoping it is cyclical and things will get better.... there are some new growers trying to take on the programs of our old guard, and continue with great bloodlines.
I also think if mericloning of slippers happens - the business will change even more....
just my take on the business end...
Honestly I just wish there was an orchid inn around. Sam had all the great plant usual always on hand. Now you need to look through the internet for hours for an overpriced beaten up plant. Even the places that specialize in paphiopedilums seem to be lacking. Now the one reliable place that has plants is Norman's orchids. However as we all know this is far from an orchid inn setup. It is just saddening that after being spoiled with great plants, this is were an orchid collector has to even give a second glance at websites like these. Also I know Sam had to retire but I wish someone kind of followed in his footsteps.
Honestly I just wish there was an orchid inn around. Sam had all the great plant usual always on hand. Now you need to look through the internet for hours for an overpriced beaten up plant. Even the places that specialize in paphiopedilums seem to be lacking. Now the one reliable place that has plants is Norman's orchids. However as we all know this is far from an orchid inn setup. It is just saddening that after being spoiled with great plants, this is were an orchid collector has to even give a second glance at websites like these. Also I know Sam had to retire but I wish someone kind of followed in his footsteps.

Paph Paradise is the primo spot now, selection may not be quite as large as OI but the plants are top quality. You couldn't pay me to take a plant from Norman.
paph paradise is a good spot
hillsview gardens have taken OZ plants and moved forward on Terry's plan,
and there are others, while they may not have the numbers that Sam had, I am hoping that some of the lucky folks that managed to acquire more than a couple of OI plants may work further with the program.
I managed to obtain a bunch of Sam's callosum's and when they flowered out, got several awards including an AQ on a group i sent in for judging (and by the way had them awarded under his name)
I have photographed and catalogued every one that was in flower and plan to do some sib crosses with those plants i thought were unique....
But in Oaklahoma, what kind of foot traffic can you count on? You can certainly go mail order but that doesn’t seem particularly easy.
"Big" - I guess we simply have entirely different perspectives.

With the exception of speaking engagements and three shows in 29 years, my entire business has been mail-order, and I don't find it difficult at all. It certainly avoids the perennial problems associated with missing or swapped tags from folks walking through the greenhouse.

Granted, shipping plants is more of a hassle, but once you "get it down" and plan accordingly, it's not that bad, either.
"Big" - I guess we simply have entirely different perspectives.

With the exception of speaking engagements and three shows in 29 years, my entire business has been mail-order, and I don't find it difficult at all. It certainly avoids the perennial problems associated with missing or swapped tags from folks walking through the greenhouse.

Granted, shipping plants is more of a hassle, but once you "get it down" and plan accordingly, it's not that bad, either.
Advertising and getting you name out there is a must: it can make you or brake you
I think the importance of location of where you start your orchid nursery hasn't been stressed enough.

Think long term and operational costs. Many greenhouse growers in EU are having trouble with the increase in gas heating and cooling costs.

Also consider the business taxes and potential labor costs.

Cant forget about water too!
I reread the original post and perhaps we as responders overlooked something. A very important something. Ndove stated that orchid businesses have been folding lately at an unprecedented rate. Maybe we should expand on that. Why are Orchid businesses closing. There are a lot of reasons why. It might not be something that Ndove has thought about.
People have had their owners die thus causing their business to close.
Another business closed due to doctors orders after a stroke.
We overlooked COVID -19 and the impact it had for two years or so. Trying to keep a business going under mandates and quarantine had to be difficult. Even if you get plants to restock, could people travel to visit your business? Shows, which are the lifeblood of many orchid concerns were canceled by the dozens.
But we seem to be coming back from that quite strongly. All 7 shows I judged this year seemed to follow the same blueprint. Most had an early Saturday judging and then the sales area opened. All seven shows did a very brisk business on Saturday. My own little show here on April 1-2 featured about 80-85 % of the sales on Saturday. East Lansing was similar as was Ann Arbor. And perhaps 15-20% of business was on Sunday. It was like the “Sales Area Dam” burst early on Saturday. It was a crazy sight to witness.
Anyone see the same thing in their area? Just curious.
In these times, how does a vendor prepare for that?
I think that starting any business now a days is incredibly difficult.
Another thing to consider is the vendors themselves. The costs incurred to sell at a show are astronomical. As an example if we here in the Detroit Area wanted to invite, say Waldor Orchids to sell at our show, would they come that distance.
They might require hotel rooms
They really could not restock as easily as a local vendor might.
The you have gasoline costs, food costs, etc. etc.
Does doing a show become feasible for most vendors? I don’t know for sure.

And look at societies. With an aging membership declining in numbers, does a club have the manpower to run a show? Can a society afford the increasing rates an exhibit hall might charge? Again, who knows!?
“I want to start an orchid business” can seem so easy, painless almost but a good deal of thought goes into anything these days.
So to think one day, I’ll start selling orchids, does that work anymore??
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This is a tough way to make a living. I can't tell you when my last day off was. I do this because I enjoy making crosses, growing the plants up and seeing new things from my breeding. I also enjoy traveling for shows and speaking and meeting customers in person who I only knew through email. I was a winemaker for 20 years...all in the corporate world. It was lucrative but I was dying a little every day as I sat through endless meetings. My friends all noticed how much happier I was when I quit.
You have to start small and build slowly. How many nurseries have we seen sold to a new owner, only to fail in a couple years (or less). Find a niche. Pot plant Phals are pointless since Taiwan produces them faster and cheaper than anyone else can.
You also need to realize that it takes a long time to see any return on your investments. I have been doing this full time for about 5 years now. I am still not quite at the point where the volume of plants coming out as finished goods is equal to the amount of material entering the lab. I am VERY close, but still not there. The mountain of rothschildianum seedlings hasn't helped on that front!
This is also a seasonal business. I can tell when the winter ends back east as online orders suddenly spike. Summers are always slow (but there is so much work to do), show season is crazy.
In the end, an orchid nursery has to be a labor of love. If you can't devote all your time and energy to it there is no point trying. If you have the energy, time and patience it can be very rewarding.

Sorry for my late reply… had a kids birthday party to go to out of town today.

I will say that I’ve owned and personally ran 2 businesses of my own. One dog breeding/show/training business and one towing company that ran 24/7. I do know how to run a business and definitely know how expensive and time consuming it is.

I LOVE orchids. And like I said I’m already comfortable financially so I don’t really need to make millions of dollars… to break even or a little over would be fine by me.

When I said that nurseries were dropping, I was referring to a thread on this website I read a while ago I think it was by Tom Reddick?
There was a lot of discussion on that thread about a lot of big nurseries going down. That’s where I got that idea/assumption? Whatever u may call.

I might sound like a dumb newbie but I am here to learn from people that know the orchid business, and I can deal with some pessimism to some degree.. but I think the goal here is to encourage young, eager people into the orchid businesses rather than discourage them? Right?

Not going to lie but some people on here seem less than welcoming to someone new to the orchid world. Others seem more eager to have enthusiastic “youngins”. I promise that I am worth getting to know and I am honest and reliable and here to just, learn orchids! Thanks for all the constructive replies!
In my opinion, ANY business venture must be a “labor of love”. In my case, it allowed me a way to merge two interests, orchids and those newfangled (back then) computers.

My original intent and the origin of the name “First Rays” was to be a premier supplier of phalaenopsis with “sunrise” colors of reds, oranges, and yellows, as white and pink were by a huge margin, the norm at the time. Like Dave stated, I soon recognized that such an approach would be folly.

Selling plants alone, I think my first calendar year’s sales totaled $268. My expenses far exceeded that, but damn it, it was fun! I continued down that path and a few years in, was reselling 500+ blooming size Asian cymbidium plants I imported every month. That was lucrative, but not nearly as much fun. Semi-hydroponics was new then, and I found it far more fun to teach folks about it, and that - helping folks understand the “why” behind the “what” to do - became the cornerstone of my customer relationships. As the business evolved, I got away from plants and more on the supplies side of the hobby, but in all cases, I only carried (and do to this day) products I use and like. Now, my focus is the “chemicals” aspect, which follows on well with my career interest - still a labor of love.
Interesting.... everyone that has put in their 2cents worth have either experienced this business or are very close to it.
not to mention many of us on here have either owned a business or taken part in setting one up... Dave, Big, Ray, Tony, all have expressed the uphill battle one needs to plan and pack for... I too have been involved with start ups, and while it is/was very satisfying making them work, the hardest part was to "keep them running" efficiently and from a profit standpoint. I think in reading everyone's responses, it is apparent, that not only do you have to have some capital to get the ball rolling, your presence is necessary too... speaking engagements work, but in this day and age if you don't have an internet presence, ie, website, that stays current, folks get bored.... Lets face it, we are in a different world now and the digital age and internet are a must.
I remember, when travelling for work (even before cell phones GAK!) my two necessary items in my car were my road map and the AOS guide to growers throughout the country. Can't remember a trip i took where i ALWAYS knew what growers or nurseries were on my route during my trips. nowadays, if they don't have a website, and i cant' look them up on my phone ('orchid nurseries near me') I wouln't get to them..

The other factor, the one that looks us all in the face these days(and i am speaking generally) - younger folks do not have the desire to do the "work" to run a successful business. They either want it handed to them on a platter, or just simply do not have the ethics. clubs cannot find young people interested to get involved, employers cannot find young people to work, and if they do, the employee wants way more money than they are worth. It is fascinating when a local club brings in an expert to speak about their plants and breeding program, and 70% of the folks attending are on medicare, another 10% on their way there, 5% spouses of some of these attendees, and 5% (maybe) are future orchid geeks, now if they are lucky the club will bring in 10% millenials that want those bloomed plants that the speaker brings to sell..... granted the speaker, if they brought plants for sale will sell many as that is part of why folks go to the meetings.... but gone are the days where people like myself want to buy a 1/2 dozen non bloomed seedlings to see what they might get, instead of the instant gratification plant.

Now many established growers are in my phone (their phone numbers at least) and I have visited many many of them in the years i have been travelling the states... My work takes me to Florida several times a year so I try to get to at least one 'new' nursery, among all the regulars.
I digress..... if you can find a niche for your orchid sales that is one good way to make it move in a positive direction in the beginning.. I have orchid friends in Virginia that have gone away from orchid show sales and sales from their home base to selling to higher end homeowners as potted plants and arrangements where they keep the owner in fresh flowering plants throughout the year, replace with the plants going out of flower, with new fresh ones and maintain them and charge a monthly fee accordingly. they are pretty much guaranteed a monthly salary, retain the non flowering plants and can re-bloom and so on ... this is not a bad plan, but you need the space to grow on new plants, rebloom the old ones and have good suppliers to obtain stock from... They found the orchid shows to be more effort than they wanted to donate to it, after years and years of the same ol....
As i mentioned before,,, talk to established growers to see what worked best for them.... see what fits into your plan...

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