By encouraging customers to bring gardens indoors, retailers can remain profitable year round and solve weather limitations for gardeners.

One of the greatest challenges for independent garden center retailers has remained the same for years, regardless of periods of prosperity or recession: weather. Many green businesses are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and easing the seasonality of the industry is a focus for many.

Brent Jackson, director of global sales and business development for Sunlight Supply, calls that peak selling season “the golden quarter,” and he hopes a new concept the company is championing — Modern Homesteading — can change that and eliminate the “condensed selling time frame.”

The primary focus is to encourage people to move their gardens indoors, to places as small as counter tops if that’s all they have, during cooler seasons so that people can grow food all year long.

“There is a demand for better food, better produce and healthier things that one can consume at home from the garden,” Jackson says. “We think we’re starting a movement where people can start to grow some of their own produce indoors and have a better lifestyle as a result of it.”

For decades, gardeners have used indoor lighting to start seeds inside before transplanting them outdoors in spring, and Sunlight Supply got its start in 1995. But with consumers growing concern about where their food comes from and how it is produced, the company wants to encourage them to use indoor lighting to start earlier and have established plants they can enjoy all winter long.

“We’ve come across people who are growing with small gardens and small little set-ups within the home, where instead of going to the grocery store and depending on produce that may … depending on the harvest, the price might be through the ceiling, they’re able to feed themselves 12 months of the year,” he says. “By adding Modern Homesteading to the mix, what it does essentially is it gives [garden centers] a business that they can operate 12 months a year.”

“Modern Homesteading” will first offer indoor lighting and other growing supplies, but plans are to expand the department and add beekeeping and other self-sustaining supplies.

At Cultivate’16, Sunlight Supply will present this store-within-a-store Modern Homesteading department concept to IGCs, which they plan to roll out and implement 60 to 90 days after the show.

The specialized stores will offer everything customers need to establishing indoor gardens, including lighting, propagation equipment, fertilizer and education. The plan is to also expand the departments to carry other products that allow consumers to be self-sufficient and a “modern homesteader,” and ideas like wine- and cheese-making kits and honey and beekeeping equipment have come up.

The proposed department is a 2,500-square-foot, non-seasonal space with clean, fresh fixtures to designate it from the rest of the store. To be a certified dealer, there are suggested requirements, including devoting four walls to the area, but Jackson stressed that this was not a cookie-cutter model.

By adding Modern Homesteading to the mix, what it does essentially is it gives [garden centers] a business that they can operate 12 months a year.” – brent jackson, sunlight supply

“We have to visit every individual store that shows interest in them because layouts aren’t common. That will be the biggest challenge for us,” he says, adding that some retailers may only have 1,000 square feet for the department, others may want to double the space, and the goal is to try to work within retailers needs and markets.

“Some people have a very controlled theme or look within a store, so we may need to work around that with certain stores. At the end of the day, what we’re really trying to drive home is that Modern Homesteading is a store-within-a-store concept,” he says. “Anything that they can do to adhere to our brand would help. They are likely going to be on the hook for the fixtures. But in terms of new products, POP material, education, those things are all up to us.”

A major goal of the department is to attract new, younger customers. Homestead Gardens, with locations in Davidsonville and Severna Park, Md., was the testing site for the first Modern Homesteading department. Managers of the store report that the department is doing well and getting good traffic.

“The first sale we made in the department was to a male ... he was 78 and he was buying a table-top hydroponic garden for his 80-year-old wife, who is in a wheelchair, so she can sit at the table and garden,” says Brian Riddle, owner of Homestead Gardens. “The idea of the department is not as foreign as some might think. Every day the International Space Station uses products we are featuring in Modern Homesteading to feed astronauts.”

For many, organic indoor gardening is not a fad, but a permanent return to traditional, simple methods of living.

Russ Cunnington, director of sales and marketing for SunBlaster Lighting, says he’s seen a surge of interest in indoor gardening, especially during the past six years.

“People want to take charge of their own food. More and more people want to grow their own food so they know what’s in it,” he says. “People don’t have to have a huge piece of property. If you want to grow fresh basil, you can do it right on your counter.”

The most popular products on the market, he says, are T5 lighting and indoor growing kits which include all of the necessary materials.

“[Growing indoors] is not a trend. It’s not a fad. It’s not a new way of life. It’s actually a return to the old way of life where we grew our own food,” he says. “And the interesting thing is [indoor gardening] consumers are young. A lawn and garden center has a responsibility to help people with whatever it is they want to grow.”

That’s exactly where Jackson hopes consumers go when looking for indoor gardening supplies. The goal is that the Sunlight Supply Modern Homesteading concept will create a destination for gardeners who want to grow indoors and want a trusted source for materials and education.

“Half of my backyard as a child was a garden. I had fresh produce in the house, and I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I think the name goes hand in hand with how the world is changing,” Jackson says. “I can go back to my roots and do a little bit of gardening, but I’m going to do it on a more modern scale, with lighting technology, perhaps some new organic inputs that can help produce a bigger yield. [We can] use today’s technology, but at the same time, get back to our grassroots.”