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Lancaster woman cultivates gardening startup

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Joella Gamon is the founder of Lancaster-based startup Gnomesy, which aims to launch a subscription service for plants along the lines of what meal-kit companies do.
Joella Gamon is the founder of Lancaster-based startup Gnomesy, which aims to launch a subscription service for plants along the lines of what meal-kit companies do. - (Photo / )

Joella Gamon admits she does not have a green thumb.

But her lack of gardening finesse hasn’t kept the Lancaster resident from pursuing her idea for a subscription gardening service.

The service would resemble the meal-kit subscription concept popularized by companies such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. They deliver pre-portioned ingredients and recipes to people who cook the meals themselves.

Gamon’s startup, dubbed Gnomesy, plans to do something like that, but with plants. Not seeds, but actual plants.

And it will come with an instructional app for people like Gamon – people who have the propensity to, well, kill plants.

“We’re basically giving you a recipe,” Gamon said.

The recipe will come from a landscaping design expert brought on board by Gamon: Douglas Bowe, founding principal of Oak+Resin, a branding development company in Washington, D.C.

Landscaping can be intimidating to people who don’t have a green thumb, Bowe said. But it doesn’t have to be.

“Actually doing it is just so easy, but understanding what you’re doing is the big part,” Bowe said.

Bowe will provide information on planting, how much sunlight and water plants need, whether they are safe around certain pets and whether they are regionally appropriate.

When Gamon first told him her idea, he thought it was genius.

“There’s not anyone out there that’s providing information to homeowners so that they can landscape themselves,” Bowe said.

The idea

After she graduated from college, Gamon established herself in the corporate sector, running marketing departments for manufacturing and publishing companies such as Fenner Drives in Manheim and Demme Learning in Manheim Township.

“The cool thing about the small marketing departments is you really get involved in everything from strategy to launching the websites, figuring out what’s going to drive traffic,” she said.

But on some level, she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur.

So she went back to school for an MBA through Penn State’s executive program.

One homework assignment involved completing a project that would help improve her life in some way.

She decided to redo her bedroom with the goal of turning it into a more relaxing space.

“And I said, ‘I would like to add greenery, but I can’t keep plants alive,’” she said.

She didn’t have the time to go to a gardening store, so she started searching online.

“There wasn’t anything that could help me build this nice space and then tell me how to maintain it or give me guidance if things started dying,” she said.

Her subscription gardening idea took root in March 2016, and she left a full-time job last July to focus on her business.

Excited to start her own venture, Gamon was also terrified to give up her salary. But she has a husband who has been supportive of her taking the risk.

Gamon figured it wouldn’t be an easy undertaking. She has been working with Kevin St. Cyr, a mentor from the Lancaster/Lebanon chapter of SCORE, which provides free business mentoring services to small-business owners. Volunteer mentors are active and retired business executives and entrepreneurs.

Gamon’s business plan is still being finalized, but St. Cyr believes she is making great progress.

“There’s still quite a bit of work to do, but I think in the test phase in the coming months, she will get great feedback from the client on how they liked the product but she’ll also get to observe to see how that supply chain operated,” St. Cyr said.

He doesn’t think getting the startup off the ground will require a significant amount of money.

Gamon used her own money to fund the venture so far, but she is hoping to snare investments from angel investors. Venture capital is not something she’s interested in pursuing, but she has been speaking with accelerators — programs designed to help entrepreneurs develop viable products.

The outside funding that may be required depends on how quickly the startup launches and how big its market is, St. Cyr said.

“I think at today’s stage, we don’t really know, so we’re hoping we can get it off the ground without venture capital,” St. Cyr said.

Gamon is getting her arms around what the potential market could be.

American gardeners spent a record $47.8 billion on lawn and garden retail sales last year, with the average household spending upward of $500, according to data collected by Garden Research, a private company that was formerly part of the National Gardening Association.

She expects the subscription service will appeal to young professionals living in small cities or in suburban homes with patios and decks.

Baby boomers are another target demographic, Gammon said.

Her future customers are something she’s keeping in mind as she begins designing packages in which to send plants, which she said is going to be one of her major expenses.

“I am looking at things like larger print, easy opening, stuff that the rest of us would appreciate anyway,” Gamon said.

Every other week, subscribers will receive seasonally appropriate decorations and plants.

“You might get a pot with a couple of plants one week. The goal is to have it not be more than ten minutes of work on your time,” she said.

Container gardening is the focus, which includes plants in pots, for patios, balconies and entertainment areas where greenery would help create a pleasant ambience.

She plans to go to market with a quiz in which potential subscribers provide information about their likes and dislikes in terms of color, if where they live is shady or sunny and what pets they have.

There are some seed companies with business models that resemble Gamon’s. Local gardening companies can offer more personalization than your average home maintenance store, she said, but she believes Gnomesy can compete.

“We’re a partner. We’re there. We will plan it out. You don’t have to figure out what soil isn’t going to kill your plant. We take that added layer,” Gamon said.

If the business plan for Gnomesy doesn’t work, Gamon said she’ll try another entrepreneurial venture.

“I didn’t want to keep going with corporate,” she said. “I was at the point where maybe I’d have to start thinking about moving to my next position, and I didn’t want to wonder when I’m 50 and bored, because I get bored, if it worked or not.”

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Shelby White

Shelby White covers banking and finance, law and Lancaster County for the Central Penn Business Journal. For tips, email her at swhite@cpbj.com.

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