You could say he was born with a green thumb. Toronto’s Leonard Wong has nurtured his passion for genetics research and organic gardening, combined it with an entrepreneurial spirit, and grown a unique business concept.
The Grow Depot is a thriving center for organic gardening supplies and services. From LED lights and ventilation fans to nutritional supplements and irrigation supplies, The Grow Depot is a hub for planters and gardeners across the greater Toronto region.
Len Wong founded The Grow Depot out of his dedication to sustainability and his understanding of the role organic gardening plays in the environment and with human health. Whether you are growing kale or begonias, says Wong, “organically-derived nutrients, hormones, and soil create an optimal environment for plants to thrive, absorb nutrients, and grow rich in color and flavor.”
Wong is also known as greenhouse specialist who is committed to staying educated about every aspect of building and maintaining ecological greenhouses.
Young Upstarts sat down with Wong recently to discuss how he developed and grew his business, and to get an inside look at an industry that is fresh and alive.
What are some challenges you faced in starting your business? Is there advice you can give to other entrepreneurs about the start-up process?
Len Wong: Our first challenge was to educate growers on why organic is so important. Not everyone knows that organic growing is cleaner and safer and holds numerous medical benefits. Another challenge was sourcing out organic, high quality fertilizers available to improving plant growth.
As far as sharing more general advice, I would tell aspiring entrepreneurs to be aware of the current trends in their industry and marketplace. Believe in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. Anticipate challenges but don’t get discouraged by them. If you fail in some way, brush it off as learning and get back up. And perhaps most importantly, surround yourself with knowledgeable people who exhibit determination
What are some of the factors that have contributed to the success of The Grow Depot that young entrepreneurs might find useful?
Len Wong: I think that having a sound strategy and a marketable product or service are equally important, but also, having the right people and a dedicated team will help you get your business off the ground. Our people are the heart of The Grow Depot. The team has dedicated more than two decades to learning and to utilizing that knowledge in practical ways. We know that the more we learn, the more we can help our clients grow their gardens and plants to their full potential. Our staff is eager to assist clients with all of their growing needs–and they love to answer questions, no matter how big or small.
Is there any strategy to finding the right people?
After searching through resumes, I try to dig deeper and determine whether a candidate who seems to possess the right skills and qualifications will be able to work well with customers. Then I bring the person in for an interview. I look for a person who is eager to learn and willing to do the research on their own. Basically, I want staff members to know the ins and outs of The Grow Depot products and be familiar with organic-style farming.
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
Each day I challenge myself to find ways to improve The Grow Depot, and the overall business. This involves researching products that have potential marketability in the store and striving to keep up-to-date with the current techniques and new styles of growing – both organic and synthetic. A lot of new technology is being developed right now, so I’m always looking for better products and ways to save money. I also keep my finger on the pulse by calling suppliers and vendors, doing online research, reading articles, and checking out various educational forums. We develop products based on need, so, I’m always looking for a need to fill.
What are some other skills or traits you think are important for anyone pursuing a start-up?
I would emphasize the value of Research and Development. Learn all you can about the demographics of your target audience or customer base. You’ll need to know what’s successful and what doesn’t work in your area. It’s also important to be open to advice and have an open mind. There’s always a new chapter to read. This is a big part of being successful – to always have an open mind and to always want to be learning because it never ends with this business.
Are there any final words of encouragement you can share with our readers?
Staying focused on your goals is so important. Also, the power of endurance – work at fanning your own motivation. In the past, I worked with people who didn’t have the same goals or energy as I did about a project.