The last week of October is kind of a big deal at Good Earth Plant Company. It’s true more than ever in 2020. It starts off with my birthday on October 25 (and thank you for all the birthday wishes!). My favorite holiday Halloween comes in the middle. It ends on November 1 with the anniversary of Good Earth Plant Company, which first opened on November 1, 1977 as a flower bucket stand. It’s still nearly impossible for me to grasp, much less explain the entire 43-year trip.
This year, hitting this milestone was far from a sure thing. The coronavirus pandemic packed a punch a lot of businesses couldn’t survive. It’s been hard to see my favorite restaurants suffering. We had no idea back in March what would happen to our many client businesses in every type of industry – and even whether they would still need us.
But during the wildest year in business ever, Good Earth Plant Company is thriving and growing. How are we doing it?
One reason: Our people.
Over 43 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 former business partner and father. First, he told me I either 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 quickly bought him out for a whopping $1, 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 spigot to fill his watering buckets. I told him people who bought plants from me for their offices in the high rises around me 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.
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-three 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. Now, we’re in the midst of building a new warehouse. You know how these projects go – it’s exciting and crazy making at the same time.
As I reached 30 years in business, I’d survived the loss of our beautiful custom home in the Muth Valley to the Cedar Fire in 2003, and the loss of my marriage as a result. Those things 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 professional roofer Ulf Waldmann and architect Robert Thiele, plus help from Carlisle Products as a sponsor, Good Earth Plant Company completed the first 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 which drew 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 changed for a consultation. The rooftop farm wasn’t feasible – but how about an edible wall instead – something I’d just learned about at a recent 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.
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 – like back in March when the entire country seemed to shut down overnight.
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. Recognize and 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’ll let them.
- Never give up.
- People willing to pull together with you on your team are priceless.
The last point has never come to life more than in 2020. It’s been a rough year for everyone. We didn’t lose our business and so far everyone has stayed healthy. But the stress and uncertainty can make you crazy. I’m so grateful my kids Ted and Allie aren’t young enough to be home schooling. I’m not sure I could get through it – props to all the parents making it work.
It seems like a crazy time to be grateful, but tough times make you more grateful than ever for what’s going right. In 2020, there is still a whole lot going right. It’s been built on 43 years of things going mostly right, with a few hard lessons learned making us even better.
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 2020. 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.
Thank you to our outstanding leaders Erin, Joe, and Rachel. Thank you to Joel (22 years!), Sophie, Lisa, Celso, and Scott on the front lines. Thank you Cassidy and Shayla providing valuable support and our new business developer, Dan. I appreciate all of you.
I’m blessed with wonderful industry colleagues, especially my friends in the Silverados Roundtable. We meet virtually from across the U.S., and they are generous with advice and feedback. We are working on a white paper together right now and can’t wait to share it with you soon. Stay tuned!
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 43rd anniversary this weekend, we learned the Good Earth Plant Company blog has been named the Best Topic Based Blog in San Diego County by the San Diego Press Club – for the SECOND year in a row! We love sharing our advice, tips, and projects with our readers every week since we started nearly 10 years ago. How many words is this? Enough for a book! We promise we’ll have a book out for you before we hit our 50th anniversary.