30 years ago, I was newly married and well on my way to a career in real estate development. I was really happy with my union, it was my job that was causing the angst. In fact, the more I didn't like my job, the more I gardened. In fact, our little lot in the city was becoming a 'drive by'. I was growing an awesome garden! I was so passionate about that garden that I was coming home for lunch, which just meant I was coming home to garden. An added bonus, I was dropping the 25lbs I had gained as a 'guy who lunched'.
Thankfully, it didn't take long to realize the truth: I didn't want to develop real estate, I wanted to grow plants.
Admitting it is one thing, acting on it is a totally different experience. And, even tougher when you are turning your back on the 'family business'. But, luckily I was too young and naive to understand the risks, and I dove right in ~ working 12 hour shifts at a greenhouse operation, learning the ins and outs of managing a garden center, and getting a real education at one of the finest botanical gardens in the country. Within 3 years, I was ready to launch The Growers Exchange on a busy urban street corner in an upcoming, and very hip neighborhood.
Why The Growers Exchange?
I chose the name deliberately, envisioning a place where gardeners could come together and exchange ideas, information and of course, plants! The doors opened in March, 1985 and it was an immediate draw. We never knew anything but a full parking lot and more demand that we could fulfill. My wife, Kenan, quit her job that summer, and came on as a manager. We opened our growing facility in the same year our first child was born, and we've been growing ever since!
The Growers Exchange offered everything from houseplants to perennials, herbs to succulents and any and everything a gardener could want - seeds, tools, soil, pots as well as very cool garden related gifts. We attracted amazing customers and amazing staff, and the business grew like a weed. Over the next 20 years, our community of gardeners grew, our staff grew, our facility grew its maximum capacity for the site and our knowledge about growing grew! We were becoming experts in our field.
But, ironically, as the gardening business grew nationally, we began finding that the introduction of plants by big boxes and grocery chains was not only hurting our sales, it was acting to dumb down the entire world of gardening. The offerings became cookie cutter, the varieties were becoming standardized and the demand for more interesting and diverse plant material was drying up. We were losing the exchange with real gardeners.
Stagnant sales and mediocre interest in real gardening drove us to make another decision. Our useful life on the corner of Cary and Nansemond was coming to an end. In another naive step, I decided that the next step was to hop on the world wide web ~ this decision made by a man who had never owned a computer. Thankfully, right at that time, web designers were plentiful, and we spent the next 2 years building a website and shifting gears. We closed the retail operation, and headed to the farm to grow and sell plants on the web. Again, we were inexperienced, naive and very lucky. We knew how to grow plants, but selling them on the web was a challenge. It took us awhile to figure it out, and in the process, we decided to narrow our focus. We would now become herb growers.
Growing Herb Plants
We had always loved growing herbs, and recognized that there was a lack of top quality growers providing more than the 'usual suspects'; we could fill a huge void, and we did. Becoming a successful web based business is worthy of a small book, so I'll save the details for later. However, within 6 years we had expanded our offerings to 170 different varieties.
Our plants had been featured in 2 major motion pictures, made their debuts with both Martha S and Oprah and I'd even made it into the Wall Street Journal, Fine Gardening and Horticulture. I even hit the cover of Greenhouse Grower magazine!
We now sell to every state in the continental US and we are currently bursting at the seams!
The concept of an 'exchange' has grown beyond our wildest dreams. We are connecting with more gardeners than we could have ever envisioned way back in 1985. The internet provides both the gardener and the grower with unlimited access to one another. And, believe us when we say that our customers have been a driving force in our success, not just through our sales but through their suggestions and requests and complaints. We listen!
So, whether you have just found us, or have been with us since 1985, please know that we are still moving forward and not standing still. We are constantly adding, adjusting, improving. We literally can't sit still! So, when we are not working, we are gardening (or collecting seeds, or canning, or playing with our dogs, horses and goats, kayaking, fishing or visiting our children when we can get away). We thank you for allowing us to do what we love, and we are so grateful to be able to fill your gardens with our farm fresh herbs. What an honor.
The herbs we grow, for the most part, are species plants. We avoid patented plants, therefore you are free to plant and cultivate and pass along to friends and neighbors and enjoy sharing the bounty!
Our Core Values
We love what we do: growing and providing the finest quality and selection of herbs and helping our customers have gardening success. Every herb we grow and sell is rooted behind our core beliefs. They are firmly ingrained in our company culture and reflected in our belief that gardening enriches, empowers and should be incorporated into our daily life.
As part of our core beliefs, we adhere to these principles:
- Chemical-free gardening
- Growing non patented plants
- Growing open-pollinated species plants
- A free exchange of gardening information with our customers
- A 'virtually local' business model: As a small, family-owned and operated business, we treat all of our customers as neighbors.