2008 - Volume #32, Issue #2, Page #09[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Michigan Couple Sells Zinnia Seed Online
Layoffs in railroad, steel and automotive jobs convinced the couple they needed to adapt and create their own business. When Sharon read an article about a nearby zinnia grower who planned to move, Sharon contacted her and arranged to work with her every Friday one growing season. The Ballers later bought the customer list and a couple of pieces of basic equipment.
Gipper applies Roundup weed killer to kill the grass in 100-ft. long, 4-ft. wide strips where he grows zinnias. Seeds are planted Memorial Day and the couple keeps the plants weed-free through July 4 to produce quality flowers. They also weed out spindly and poor plants in order to propagate only the best seed.
When the petals turn pale and dry at the edges, Sharon harvests the flower heads by hand. The heads are dried on screens in the loft of their pole barn, then tumbled and broken apart in an old clothes dryer without heat. Finally, they're run through a seed cleaner which separates seeds from cones and chaff. The seed is labeled by variety and harvest date and stored in tins until Sharon has time to fill packages that she custom designed. A wine chest with rows of deep shelves provides the perfect place to store the packaged seeds.
The price of $1.50 for 100 Supreme Variety seeds remains the same as when the Ballers bought the business. Other varieties - Benary Giant, Mini Zinnias, Fairy's Whirligig, African Woody and Green Envy - start at $2.50/pack. Sharon includes seed in every package from blooms picked late in the season to ensure cold hardiness. Customers from all over the world - including China - order zinnias and a wide variety of other seeds from the Ballers.
Sharon, who works as a small business specialist in accounting and computer applications, created a multi-paged website with information on growing flowers and saving seed, advice and quotations on how to live life to the fullest, a diary of life on Redbud Farms, and a downloadable seed catalog.
With the success of her online business, Sharon recently created an Internet small business mall (www.lobatek.com) for other home-based entrepreneurs. She creates a free webpage and charges $1/month for "web booth space." Sharon earns a commission from PayPal for sales made by those businesses. She also charges an extra fee for regularly updating search engines to bring more Internet traffic to the page, and for a monthly newsletter that shares e-commerce advice.
With hard work, the Ballers have set up successful sideline businesses that will help them in their retirement, Sharon says. Plus, there's a bonus. Working with flowers relaxes her. "They provide peace of mind to me."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Gipper and Sharon Baller, Redbud Farms, 3820 Stillson Rd., Stockbridge, Mich. 49285 (ph 517 851-8194; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.redbudfarms.com; www.lobatek.com).
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