At this time of year, most people focus on Halloween. At Good Earth Plant Company, we celebrate something surprising instead of frightening: our anniversary!
November 1 is the day I founded Good Earth Plant Company, which first opened on November 1, 1977, as a flower bucket stand. It gets harder for me every year to believe the entire 45-year trip. Explaining it is a challenge too, but I’ll give it my best try.
Over the few years, hitting this milestone was far from a sure thing. How many recessions have I weathered? Each decade and then the big one in 2009. And when management is taking away the plants – you know the company is in big trouble.
The pandemic hit many businesses hard. They couldn’t survive. We had no idea in March 2020 what would happen to our many client businesses in every type of industry – and even whether they would still need us.
Instead, during the pandemic and beyond, Good Earth Plant Company is thriving and growing more than ever. How are we doing it?
Health and Well-being Are Front and Center
The effects of the pandemic gave us all a big wake-up call about the need to focus on health and well-being in our lives, both at home and in the way we work. Businesses had to focus on keeping their employees safe and sound, including their mental health. Good Earth Plant Company knows the power of Nature and plants through the science of biophilic design to enrich peoples’ lives. We’ve been spreading the word for four-plus decades.
More people than ever are now focusing on this issue and introducing biophilic design elements into their projects. We’re here for them. If there is a silver lining to what we’ve all been through, this realization is it. Here’s to our health!
Good Earth Plant Company: Powered by Good People
Because of this spike in interest, we’ve brought new employees with fresh thinking onto our team. It reminds me that, at the core, there’s one reason for Good Earth Plant Company’s success. It’s never changed in 45 years. It’s our people.
Over 45 years, you work with a lot of people. Even though I started this business on my own at the age of 20, the first person to help me was my father. First, he told me I needed to get a job or move out. Then he ponied up a $3,500 loan to help me buy the downtown flower stand that would eventually become today’s Good Earth Plant Company. I ultimately bought out my partner, but I couldn’t have done it without you, Dad.
In the early years, I got to be good friends with Dane Schlemmer, who had the plant maintenance contract at the bank where my plant stand was located. Dane used my garden hose to fill his watering buckets. I told him people who bought plants from me for their offices in the bank were now asking me to take care of them. What a hassle! Dane said something that literally changed my life: “You know, people pay for that.” Say what, they do? Dane helped me put my first plant maintenance proposal together. I didn’t get that job, but I got the next one and the next one.
Next, I owe a big thanks to the wonderful comedienne Joan Rivers. Her team found me in the Yellow Pages (ask your parents) when she needed plants to dress the stage for a show in San Diego. Now I was officially in the plant rental business. I started working for Avalon Attractions and Bill Silva Presents, decorating dressing rooms and the stages for San Diego’s two biggest concert promoters.
It’s Still A Lot of Fun – 45 Years Later
At the five-year mark in business, I had a memorable conversation with my mom, Sandy Fowler. “It’s been pretty fun for five years; I think I’ll do it another five.” At ten years, who was I kidding? I didn’t look back. What else could I possibly do that would be this much fun?
Thirty-five years later, it’s still true.
Good Earth Plant Company moved to Kearny Mesa in the mid-1990s and rented the property where my business sits today. In 2000, I also started renting the property in the back and put up a greenhouse. In 2002, I bought the property, and a new era began. Last year we undertook a major remodel of our 20-year-old greenhouse. It’s been a game-changer and made our creative work for clients even better.
As I reached 30 years in business, I’d survived the loss of my beautiful custom home in the Muth Valley to the Cedar Fire in 2003 and the loss of my marriage as a result. Like the pandemic, these events force you into a lot of soul-searching, which I’ve written about along the way.
Out of the ashes, I developed an interest in green roofs. With the help of Ulf Waldmann of Mission Valley Roofing and architect Robert Thiel, plus help from Carlisle Products as a sponsor, Good Earth Plant Company completed the first permitted commercial green roof in San Diego in 2007. Members of the San Diego Master Gardeners helped us plant it.
My little project got a lot of media attention, drawing interest from celebrity chef and restaurant owner Mario Batali of Pizzeria Mozza fame. The Batali Group wanted to put a rooftop farm on its new Hollywood restaurant. It was the first time I ever charged for a consultation. The rooftop farm wasn’t feasible – but how about an edible wall instead – something I’d just learned about at a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities conference.
The Batali folks loved the idea. It not only changed things for the restaurant and its colorful creator, it changed the course of what Good Earth Plant Company was doing, thanks to the recognition we received on a national level.
Five Bits of Business Advice – You’re Welcome
Today, we’ve constructed 100+ living walls across the United States and dozens of green roofs. We get calls every day. At 45, we have never been busier.
Sure, you have to be great at what you do to be successful. You also have to love it, or you’ll never tough it out through the dark days. There will be more, and we need to accept those challenges as a reality.
But you can’t do it alone. You need good people to go with the good plants. I have been incredibly fortunate to be helped and inspired by so many people.
- Sometimes you need to be pushed off the cliff to take that first big step (thanks again, Dad).
- Be willing to walk through a door when someone opens one. Act on opportunity.
- You never know when someone will say something that can change your life, so you better be listening.
- People are generous and willing to help you if you let them.
- People willing to pull together with you on your team are priceless.
The world’s future sometimes seems dark: economic uncertainty, global warming, and political division. Maybe it’s strange to be grateful, but tough times make you more grateful than ever for what’s going right. In 2022 and beyond, there is still a whole lot going right. It’s been built on 45 years of things going right, with a few hard lessons learned, making us even better.
More Thank Yous Than an Oscars Speech
Besides all the many family and friends, I thank every single one of the hundreds of employees who have worked for me, especially the people working for me right at this minute. I can say I have the best team of people at Good Earth Plant Company ever in 2022. They’re hard-working, creative, and fun. They are getting rave reviews from our clients. If you don’t believe me, go to Google! Sometimes the reviews are so good they bring tears to my eyes – I’m not kidding.
Good Earth Plant Company’s original business location on a Thanksgiving 45 years ago.
I’m blessed with wonderful industry colleagues, especially my friends, in the Silverados Roundtable. The pandemic prompted us to publish a white paper together on an issue we’re all passionate about: bringing nature and plants into peoples’ lives. We even published a second edition last year. If you somehow missed it, please give it a read.
Most of all, we have the best clients and customers. We love to enrich people’s lives with plants, and we love seeing the results. We get to make people happier and healthier. What could be better than this?
As we reach our forty-fifth anniversary this weekend, we learned the Good Earth Plant Company blog won an award this week for the Best Topic Based Blog category by the San Diego Press Club – for the THIRD year in a row! We have loved sharing our advice, tips, and projects with our readers every week since we started nearly ten years ago. People keep saying, “you should write a book!” Maybe when I retire! Seriously though, we might try to have a book out for you before we hit our 50th anniversary.