Three years after the closure of the Manila Seedling Bank, Gerald Sioco found himself replanting the roots of a gardening business, which had been a “cash cow” for 13 years.
Sioco’s retail gardening business, Green 2000, was among the enterprises told to vacate the 7-hectare Manila Seedling Bank after it was taken over by the local government of Quezon City for good. It happened just a few weeks before the Christmas of 2013 and Sioco described the event as like a supertyphoon toppling coconut trees.
“When we left Manila Seedling Bank, we lost 50 percent of our foot traffic. Imagine, before we did not need to do any marketing at all to get our clients,” Sioco told the BusinessMirror.
“We were the largest gardening retailer there. That’s why I can tell you we were the cash cow there. But that was before,” he added.
Today, Green 2000 is just a thing of the past. Sioco’s gardening business has been resurrected and bears a new name: Cedarhills Garden Center (CGC). The company is no longer just selling plants; it is now in the middle of expanding its business.
Starting over again
It took more than three years before the resurrected Green 2000 regained its footing in the gardening business market.
“From Manila Seedling Bank, to a point where we had to create our own market, we planned everything before giving it a go,” said Sioco, who is CEO of CGC.
Weeks after the Manila Seedling Bank was shuttered, Sioco transferred to a small compound in the middle of fancy restaurants and high-rise buildings along Mother Ignacia Avenue. Sioco reopened his gardening business in the first quarter of 2014. But it was only in April of this year when he formally launched CGC.
“We are slowly growing. To be honest with you, the first two years we were just almost breaking even,” he said. “We did not only lose the foot traffic we had before but the cost of renting our current place was also doubled compared to what we were paying at the Manila Seedling Bank.”
To cope with the evolving business gardening landscape, CGC changed its business model and expanded its offerings. From retailing a wide range of plant species, the company created its own line of fertilizers and gardening equipment, and also offered monthly urban gardening workshops and landscaping.
“Now, we offer not just the merchandise. We created our own brands and distributed our products to our partners in Cubao and Mindanao Avenue,” CGC Business Development Manager Maria Celia Regacho told the BusinessMirror.
“And we now ship our products to other provinces, such as Cebu and Davao,” Sioco added.
Upon relaunching as Cedarhills Garden Center, Sioco also started targeting the millennials. “We need to encourage millennials to take up planting again. The problem that [CGC] might face would not come from competitors. You see, there might come a time when no one will be planting anymore.”
By innovating, the CGC hopes that millennials would be encouraged and enticed to take up gardening again. Sioco admitted that he and his team did not recognize the need to be innovative before and that they held on to the belief that people would continue to patronize their products.
“The biggest we learned from our experience with the closure of Manila Seedling Bank was not to stay overconfident. We were complacent back then that we believed that a lot of people would just buy our plants,” Sioco said.
“We did not see the need to innovate. And it’s just now we realized its importance and how it is crucial for our business,” he added.
CGC has started offering a four-hour monthly workshop, which costs around P1,995. Participants will get to learn eight different gardening activities—from basic to advanced level, according to Sioco.
“We observed that the millennials are now conscious of what they are eating. So they are venturing into gardening lately. It’s like they want to discover whats the fuss about urban gardening,” Regacho said.
“They are starting to realize the need to plant on their own as a hobby and to help purify the air and environment and grow their own food,” she added.
Sioco said nearly half of their 21 workshop attendees monthly are millennials, while some are even younger. “Our youngest workshop attendee is 8 years old.”
He also said their best-selling, homegrown product, Puro All Purpose Potting Mix, was made for millennials.
“It is really for millennials, for lazy people,” Sioco said in jest. “Because with this mix, you do not need anymore to water your plants frequently because it has a high moisture content.”
CGC is also banking on the power of the Internet, particularly social media sites, to reach out to the millennial generation. Sioco said they have created a dedicated team to man their social-media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, to attract millennials into gardening.
“In fact, some m illennials are buying online from us. They buy their raw materials, such as pebbles, cactus and even potting mix,” he said.
“Social media helped us to reach out to all ages. In fact, it is an avenue to engage with the millennials, in particular, as they use it as a platform to explore things, including gardening,” Regacho added.
Sioco urged millennials to “go back to basics” by taking up gardening. “The fact you are able to grow something with patience and develop your character and virtue… it’s priceless. A plant teaches us a lot of things.”
Regacho revealed to the BusinessMirror that CGC is now venturing into farm-tourism to encourage the youth into gardening. She added that they would enhance the physical features of CGC, such as expanding its aquaphonics area, to turn it into a farm tourism spot in the middle of Quezon City.
“It will be an information center for kids and people who would love gardening, because right now we are opted to target the young ones,” she said.
“Last time pupils from Cambridge [Child Development Centre] came here and the kids were excited to experience how to plant. It is something they do not normally do,” she added.
Sioco said they have been accredited by the Department of Tourism and are now in the process of labelling everything in the area to make things “kid-friendly”. “We will tap schools to partner with them in all grade levels and they can have a field trip here. They would not need anymore to go far away just to learn a lot of things about gardening.”
“The green house will be one of the best things to indulge kids. They would experience planting and they would know what’s the reason for greenhouses,” he added.
Regacho said they are keen on launching their farm-tourism project around the first quarter of next year.
“Once it is up, we will be talking with the Quezon City government, to make CGC as its landmark for farm tourism. Because if you become a landmark, it’s like making this territory a tourist attracting for Quezon City,” she said. “So people would come into you and we have everything they would need. This is going to be an ace for Quezon City.”
“I would say right now, we are very blessed that there are clients who tap us for their landscaping projects for their gardens. Before, we did not have that,” Sioco said.
“But right now, we are fully booked as a lot of people are requesting for us to do their landscaping. We are slowly being known not only as a one-stop shop for gardening but also for landscaping and decorating interior gardens,” he added.
Regacho said CGC has slowly regained its foot traffic this year, slowly cutting the 50-percent lost Sioco observed when they left Manila Seedling Bank. She likened the company to a mustard seed, which has the potential to grow big.
“When it [mustard seed] is planted, it takes a while for it to grow. But when it grows, it grows so big,” she said, adding that the company is targeting to earn a monthly income of P1 million.
“And we will reach that [target] next year,” Regacho said. “We will push everybody to move as one single unit to achieve that.”