Recently Sullivan Alexander interviewed Deborah Walliser, CEO of Got Produce.
About the interviewe:
Deborah Walliser is the CEO and founder of Got Produce? Franchising Inc. Launched in 2011, it was designed to bring new technology to commercial growers creating economic, financial and environmental sustainability through the use of advanced hydroponics systems. Walliser previously designed and built some of Arizona’s first commercial floating lettuce systems to withstand extreme temperatures and pioneered change in water policy and local food production. Working with top chefs and fortune 500 companies Whole Foods and Wynn Resorts, she brought exceptional products to consumers and revolutionized fresh food marketing and production. Her techniques in ponds systems and multi-crop integration have since been utilized across Africa to provide fresh produce to harsh regions. She holds a Bachelors degree in Botany, Masters in Administration, and Masters in Education.
Describe the franchise model including (products or services offered, number of employees, location, type of customers you work with, etc.).
Got Produce?® is located in San Francisco, California with employees working throughout the South Bay area. Employees range from 3-10 depending on the season and projects under development. We are the first franchise greenhouse company to provide a complete greenhouse, irrigation and fertilization system, planting diagrams, control system and complete operating instructions. We have a unique network of distributors, suppliers, and vendors that allows us to sell internationally and ensures that we get parts to our customers quickly. Currently 60-70 percent of our inquiries come from overseas in dry, arid regions. We have a Master Franchisee in Botswana Africa that built two greenhouses this year and is planning to develop in 6 more countries.
Tell us about the franchise branding, both in terms of customers and franchisees.
We are not simply farmers, we are professional stewards of our local food system. We wanted to create a new language and idea for thinking about hydroponic food as local, sustainable food. Education, community outreach, and taste tests are important brand building tools for our franchisee and their customers. Our customers who use the Got Produce?® name will need to represent sustainability throughout the business. For example, if they purchase a got produce greenhouse to use on an existing farm, we would want to make sure the entire operation represents a sustainable approach to growing. Our franchise agreements are for 10-15 years. We are going to working very closely with our family of franchisees during that time and look for potential customers that are aligned with our business philosophy.
Briefly describe the key franchise systems that have been developed and put in place?
The key systems include the operations manual which will tell you how to grow each crop, how to take care of the plants, how to harvest, pack, and meet all food safety requirements. It also tells how to run the business end, such as how many employees, what they should wear, how to market the produce, etc. To make the greenhouse operations easier, we have included a patent pending control system that runs from an i-pad. This system allows them to select any crop they want to grow from a drop down menu. As soon as they select it, all growing parameters for that location are instantly re-set to grow that particular crop. No more waiting until next year to plant something else! We also have a patent pending hydroponic pond system which is used to grow many of the crops and helps stabilize internal temperatures making the utility bill lower.
What do you see as important considerations in selecting a franchisee and what is the initial investment and operating cost profile of a typical franchisee location (estimate is acceptable).
It’s important that they are aligned with our philosophy and ‘ethos’. They will also need the financial support to purchase the greenhouse with enough capital to cover construction and operating expenses at least until the first harvests. We have three sizes of greenhouses with our most popular being our GP-20 size which covers about half an acre or 20,000 square feet. The franchise fee is $45k which includes a territory of 300,000 people, operations manual, and introductions into our vendors in that area. Then they will need to purchase the greenhouse and equipment which costs about $350k. It usually takes 120 days to build and get into production with sales of $300k-$400k per year. Annual expenses range depending on location and crop type but are usually around 50-60% of gross revenues.
As the franchise expands what do you see as hot button issues?
One of the potential issues we see is the market definition of “local food.” There really isn’t a set definition. For some vendors it could mean a region such as the Southwest US, for others it’s defined by how many miles away it’s grown. For us, local food is defined by population areas. I think the answer is to let the customer know where it’s grown and let them decide- better still, invite them to tour the greenhouse and show where and how it’s grown.
When you look at other franchise options available, describe why this is the next big thing both from a customer and franchisee’s point of view!
I think its empowering. This is the first time people have an option that can change an entire industry. There are many franchise options out there, fast food burger joints, cookies, juices etc but none of them could actually change the agriculture industry into a distributed production model. This is the first time single unit small business owners can control a piece of the global agriculture market; and make sure they have sustainable fresh food for their community. They don’t have to rely on corporate salad buyers- they are the salad! I see this as the first business model that is truly sustainable, both environmentally and financially.
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Sullivan Alexander, is a Contributor on the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston), whom you can learn more about at www.contureadvisors.com.