Agway of Cape Cod is a family-owned business that has provided lawn, garden and pet products to its customers for more than 25 years.
Matt McCollow works as a buyer for Agway in the pet supplies category, and manages the IGC’s ERP system. He’s also taken the lead on the indoor growing category, which has been growing steadily over the last two years before rocketing up this spring.
Some of the increase in indoor growing supply sales can be attributed to people stuck inside due to COVID-19, but the section’s growth began earlier than that, coinciding with legalization of recreational cannabis use in Massachusetts. Retail dispensaries began to sell to recreational users in November 2018. The dispensaries are “crushing it” too, McCollow says, but for people who live in his area, it’s a long drive to one of the Cape’s two dispensaries. And it’s a lot more cost effective to grow your own.
“I sensed it coming,” he says. “But in our Cape area, there’s a lot of older people, and that baby boomer generation is the one that’s getting into the growing. That’s what initially shocked me.”
Baby boomers have consistently been the IGC industry’s biggest spenders. When McCollow walks past the indoor growing displays in Agway’s stores, he says he’s more likely to see a 65-year-old deciding what supplies to buy than a 25-year-old.
“That older customer would rather go to a garden center that they trust rather than venturing into a full hydroponics store,” McCollow says. “There’s just so much around and it’s kind of intimidating.”
When McCollow was researching products to include in Agway’s indoor growing section, he spoke with Brian Kelly about FishSh!t, the OMRI-listed organic soil conditioner from Fish Head Farms. The name attracts instant attention on an IGC’s shelf, of course, but it’s also accurate. The product is derived through feeding tilapia a proprietary mix of feed that, when digested, creates a collection of micro-organisms and beneficial bacteria that, when used as a soil supplement, increases plant production by up to 30%. It also improves nutrient uptake and flavor, whether you’re growing cannabis or tomatoes.
During the quarantine, Agway rolled out a curbside pickup system, online ordering and a digital flier. He started devoting a section of the flier to indoor growing, showing products like FishSh!t that have the name recognition that signals to home growers that they can buy what they need at Agway. It brings instant credibility with those aficionados who are already well-versed in growing, which was a boon to Agway’s fledgling department.
“People who know, know,” McCollow says. “That has been a huge advantage. They have a really big social following and grower following.”
McCollow says the stigma around recreational cannabis use is lessening in Cape Cod, but he still is careful with how he advertises in the flier and on the Agway social media channels.
“As a company we don’t have an issue with it, it’s just trying to toe the line with the general public,” he says. “You would think it might be the elderly customer that might be a little hesitant on it, but those are the ones I’m helping most when I’m out there.”
Fish Head Farms is based in Seekonk, Massachusetts, not too far from Cape Cod. Fish Head’s Brian Kelly stopped by to visit one of Agway’s stores on the Cape. The two of them were standing in the aisle with FishSh!t and the store’s other growing supplies when a feeding frenzy ensued.
“Before we knew it, we were surrounded by people,” he says. “It’s like how in a garden center, once you talk to someone outside who knows something about hydrangeas and all of a sudden, there’s like three people around all trying to hear, trying to pick up on the information. That’s kind of what happened. I ran some numbers and we easily sold $1,500 worth of grow supplies in two hours.”
The support from FishSh!t has been wonderful, McCollow says. When you bring in a specialized product, you want it to come with a knowledgeable sales rep. And that’s exactly what he’s received — alongside an education on products and vendors that fit with their particular niche.