Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
If the team at Year-Round Garden had been told two months ago they’d be helping a pregnant mom protect her family from contact with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), they’d have struggled to believe it.
“We had a customer call and inquire about [ultraviolet] lights and grow tents right at the start of the pandemic. We initially thought it was an odd request, so we inquired further,” explained Michael Wilson, one of three partners in Olathe-based Year-Round Garden (YRG) and co-founder of United American Hemp.
Click here to read about YRG’s 2019 rebrand and partnership with United American Hemp — one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2020.
“It turns out the customer was an essential worker for a local hospital and was looking for a solution to sterilize her scrubs, shoes and phone when she returned from work.”
YRG had the perfect answer — a mylar-lined grow tent and a UVC light, Wilson explained.
“What this does for me is simple,” the customer told YRG in an email shared with customers and Startland News. “It gives me the peace of mind that I have done everything in my power to reduce the risk of bringing the novel coronavirus home with me and spreading it to my family.”
“I set the grow tent up just inside my house, by the garage door and near an electrical outlet. I mounted the UVC lightbulb inside the tent using a Home Depot ‘can light’ that clamps to the top rail inside the tent. I then purchased a smart-socket and scheduled it to turn on every day 30 minutes before I get home,” she detailed, adding the effort cost only $150 and 1 hour of her time.
Click here to read the customer’s full letter to YRG and Jason Mipagel, owner-operator.
“We had no plans to offer this product prior to the pandemic. It was more of a light-bulb moment when the customer emailed us,” Wilson said, noting YRG has since started offering the solution as a package in stores and online.
In an era of uncertainty, safety precautions, and food shortages, YRG has found its services in high-demand — especially related to urban farming, and Kansas Citians dig it, he said.
“Since the start of the pandemic, Year-Round Garden has seen record sales — month after month,” Wilson noted, crediting the boon to a nationwide grow-your-own trend, as well as stress and anxiety surrounding the safety, availability and price of the city’s current food supply.
“After the first few weeks of the pandemic, we started getting an influx of calls from people concerned about the food supply and seeking an outlet to supplement their overall access to food,” he said, noting Year-Round Garden is and has always been committed to helping novice growers cut their teeth and plant a path to success in urban farming.
“The pandemic has forced consumers all over the country to explore new ways to build a sustainable lifestyle,” Wilson said.
While customers focus their efforts on new ways of life, YRG is navigating a new normal in the retail space.
The store’s modified operations plan includes appointment-only retail hours Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The store is closed for cleaning Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Click here for more on new procedures at YRG including a full breakdown of operating hours.
While staff will be wearing masks and gloves, customers are not required to — but are strongly encouraged to take proper precautions, Wilson said.
“We respect that this is a polarizing topic and respect the freedom of consumers and business owners,” Wilson said. “Our No. 1 priority is the health of our customers, so we are taking a cautious approach that we believe provides a good balance between providing high quality service and products without sacrificing safety.”
The pandemic won’t last forever, Wilson added, noting YRG and other retail-focused businesses have a unique opportunity to double down on commitments to customer service.
“Our mantra is, and always will be, ‘Support local growers,’ as long as we continue to hold true to our commitment – we suspect the future is bright for YRG,” he said.