Gardens All Year Long

Mike Bastin has a passion for hydroponics. He started as a hobby at age 19 and as a young man opened a store selling equipment and supplies. He eventually sold the store and then held various occupations, but he wanted to return to his first calling. Although Bastin has a low level of visual acuity, he can manage most business activities so he decided to purchase a building and open Allegheny Garden Center. 
 
Once established in the retail space, Bastin realized that he needed additional inventory of hydroponic equipment, fertilizer, and other supplies to boost his sales. Because he was in the start-up phase, he also needed potential customers to know he existed, that meant strategically placed advertisements and an updated website to expand his market reach. He also needed assistance with adaptive computer equipment so he could handle online inquiries and manage his billing and recordkeeping. 
 
Initially, Bastin reached out to his counselor at the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. There he was told that he might be able to secure a grant to help him with his business needs.  Because his business was recently established,  Bastin’s was a good candidate for assistance from the Bureau.  If Bastin could produce a business plan and financial projections, he could be considered for the grant. 
 
Bastin’s counselor reached out to the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC).  The SBDC network has had a long-standing relationship with OVR giving guidance to OVR clients who are interested in becoming self-employed rather than return to the workplace.  One stringent requirement for OVR approval is a strong business plan. 
 
The initial meeting was held at Bastin’s store and included both the OVR counselor and the SBDC consultant.  Bastin furnished a tour and explained how the hydroponic systems worked.  The beauty of hydroponics is the ability to grow throughout the year.  Bastin also demonstrated his computer equipment and how he needed an adaptation to use it easily.   
 
They discussed Bastin’s plans for marketing and spoke with Bastin’s principal supplier, who provided invaluable information on customer profiles, rough sales estimates, and verification of the needed inventory. The OVR counselor had a preliminary business plan but needed a market analysis of the industry and financial projections.  The SBDC consultant offered assistance in both of those areas. 
 
The SBDC subscribes to the market information database Alteryx, which helped flesh out that section of the plan.  Moreover, the information verified that the hydroponic industry was growing.  Mike and the SBDC consultant then tackled the financial projections.   
 
The OVR committee reviewing Bastin’s business plan was impressed with the result and awarded him the grant.  He purchased print ads for the next several months and retain someone to improve his website. He purchased additional inventory and secured the assistive computer equipment needed.  His advice to others:  “start out with as much capital as you can and get help from organizations, such as the SBDC.  It’s not like a 9-5 job, and you can benefit from all the help you can get!”