Will Workman is a writer, illustrator and teacher. He writes about gardening, travel, art, motorcycling and the outdoors. He lives in Williston, VT.
GARDENER'S Supply Company does business with hundreds of suppliers across the U.S., in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. But our largest and most important supplier — by far — is right here in Vermont. It's a small-but-mighty factory called Serac.
Cody McKibben with one of the products he helped create, the
Apex Trellis Planter.
After many requests for mobile gardens, we created two new gardens. The Elevated Rolling U-Garden (shown) and the Rolling U-Garden, a ground-level version that rolls on casters. Both have Butcher-block cedar sides and lifetime aluminum corners.
The Gardener's Supply Cart is now made in two sizes — and several colors.
Serac (Solar Energy Research and Construction) was a British company that came to the United States in 1987 with the idea of making greenhouses for commercial growers. While those hopes didn't materialize, it became clear that greenhouses for the home gardener were a bigger opportunity. In 1989 Gardener's Supply Company bought Serac.
Our first product was the Northern Light Greenhouse, an unusual saltbox-style greenhouse that had an asymmetrical roof and a mixture of clear and translucent windows. Knowledgeable gardeners immediately saw the advantages of its unusual design: It made the most of every bit of sunlight. Many gardeners considered it the only greenhouse for northern climates.
Serac soon added other greenhouses and tried marketing wooden sheds made by other companies. The sheds sold well, but the supplier was unreliable. Every year there would be late shipments, missing parts and indecipherable invoices. Eventually, the Serac team came to a realization: If we want this done right, we'll have to do it ourselves.
Despite having no experience in shed construction, they built a prototype and convinced the rest of the company that they could produce it reliably — for $400 less than the current cost. Just like that, we were in the shed business.
In 1995, Serac began making the SunShed, a wooden shed with a section of clear greenhouse roof. This turned out to be a great "husband and wife" building. She had a place to start seedlings in the spring, and he had a place for the riding mower in the winter. A few years later, Serac introduced the Garden Starter Greenhouse, a 6 x 8-foot model with polycarbonate panels and an aluminum frame. It satisfied gardeners who were looking for a small, full-featured greenhouse at an affordable price.
Most manufacturers grow by making more products that fit their existing machinery, or are made with materials on hand. But at Serac, product development starts with someone saying, "We can make that better. Let's figure out how." In 2002 Serac began manufacturing an improved version of the Vermont Garden Cart, a classic design unchanged since the 1970s. Within two years, the Gardener's Supply Cart was rated "Excellent" by a leading consumer magazine.
The demand for home greenhouses declined in the 1990s as gardeners turned toward raised-bed gardens that could be tended in a few hours a week. What's a greenhouse-maker to do? Well, Serac invented its own aluminum raised-bed corners. The Raised Bed Corners and In-line Connectors make building a raised bed easy. Eventually, Serac started building complete raised bed kits and is now the nation's largest supplier of cedar raised beds, bed corners and accessories.
Serac also designs and manufactures SunLite® Gardens, a line of high-quality light stands made for seedstarting and houseplants.
"The key to this business? Always be an entrepreneur, always be a start-up," says Pete Gay, who runs our Vermont manufacturing facility. "Don't keep doing things just because they're comfortable."
We're proud of Serac's can-do philosophy, and we can't wait to see what innovations they'll bring in the years to come.
Raised Bed Corners simplify the task of building sturdy garden beds.
Bring the sunshine indoors with our line of SunLite® Gardens.
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