Today I’d like to get back to talking about operating a “Small Part-Time Worm Business” – specifically, I’d like to explore worm selling itself. In my next post I will write about selling worm castings.
Selling composting worms has been the primary means of revenue-generation for my own small, part-time (“real world”) worm composting business – and in a lot of ways I think it’s the best place to start for those who are keen to get the ball rolling. That being said…as much enjoyment as I’ve derived from this part of my business, and as important as the cash flow has been, it’s important to make it clear that it definitely hasn’t been “easy”!
As I touched on in the last (“Small Part-Time Worm Business”) post, you basically have two main options here. You can grow and sell your own worms, or you can purchase them from someone else at wholesale prices then resell them (of course, there are other options such as drop-shipping, affiliate marketing etc – but we’ll look at these in more detail when we talk about “online” worm businesses).
When I first started out, I tested out the first option – purchasing and reselling. Initially the plan was to do this only for as long as it took to build up a big enough of a population of my own worms to become self-sufficient. As I learned, however, growing enough worms (to fill all my orders) in my basement – or even on my suburban property in general, was a lot more challenging that I had originally anticipated. So, I ended up selling someone else’s worms for the first year and a half. While I won’t deny that this was a valuable learning experience for me, I also won’t hesitate to point out that it ended up being an incredibly frustrating experience. So frustrating in fact, that I nearly shut down the “real world” business entirely!
Some very important considerations when going this route:
1) Pricing – what wholesale “price-per-pound” can you get from a large-scale grower? When I first started out, I naively put most of my focus here (i.e. “Wow – I can get worms for $X per pound in bulk and sell them for $2X or more per pound to customers – I’m going to make a killing!”).
2) Time – this is a HUGE one. It is critical that you figure out how much time it will take to get worms ready for re-selling. Even if you consider your time on a “minimum wage” basis, you may end up shocked by how far in the hole you are by the time the worms are in the hands of your customers. Don’t forget about the time dedicated to customer support/assistance as well
3) Other Costs – There are a million and one little (and not so little) costs that can sneakily add up on you without you really thinking about it. Sure – you may be getting a fantastic price on the worms, but are you driving to pick them up? (gas and time cost) If not, are you paying for shipping? Are you using purchased supplies (breathable bags, boxes etc etc) in order to get them customer-ready? Make sure you keep track of all of this.
4) Reliability – If you decide to work with a wholesaler, it is VERY important that you end up with someone who is reliable, and who genuinely wants to see you do well – not someone who cuts corners and/or simply treats you like “just another customer”. Similarly, when you do find a good supplier, it’s very important that you treat them with the utmost respect, and make every effort to help them do well.
Ideally, you will find a way to create a genuine “win/win” situation that allows you both to profit. Perhaps they can do the harvesting for individual orders (vs simply providing you with all the worms in bulk) or even take care of order fulfillment entirely for you. Lots of different possibilities – but it should always start with a strong foundation of mutual respect.
Growing Your Own Worms
It goes without saying that there are significant advantages to growing your own worms, but…
As mentioned above, growing enough worms for all your orders – especially if you have limited space to work with – can be a lot more challenging than you might think! If you are going to have any hope of sustaining your operation over the long-haul, you will definitely need to have an organized, effective system in place.
Just so you know, when I say “system” I don’t mean “worm bed” – I am referring to the entire shebang:
– scheduling (hatching, growing, harvesting)
You’ll likely need to do a lot of testing (in a careful, scientific manner), and to stay consistent once you have an approach that works.
Given my own lack of space, and the fact that I didn’t want to put too much time and effort into my “real world” business (since my online work is even more important to me), I decided to get creative with my own worm growing/selling approach by veering away from the typical “pound of worms” model. I know how quickly Red Worms can grow and reproduce, and how easily you can start up a worm bin using material/worms from another worm bin, so I decided to offer a couple different types of “worm culture” – “Compost Ecosystem” and “Red Worm Culture”. The only difference between these is that one (RWC) has higher concentrations of adult worms than the other. Both of these are priced considerably lower than the typical asking price for a pound of worms up here in Canada so it works out well for everyone involved.
Whatever approach you decide to take, it is VERY important that you make every effort to be consistent and to NOT cut corners! If you decide to sell by the pound, then make sure you are actually providing people with the weight of worms you claim to be! Even if you happen to have lower pricing than some, it doesn’t mean you can get lazy and provide the customers with fewer worms! I still remember vividly one of my very first encounters with a dishonest worm business person back when I was first getting into vermicomposting. They advertised an exceptionally low price per pound, which I guess should have tipped me off (haha). As it turned out, their version of a pound basically fit in the palm of my hand – I’d be surprised if it had been as much as 1/4 lb! To add insult to injury, this person was not very friendly at all, and wouldn’t even let me see what she was doing (where she grew the worms etc). I certainly wasn’t surprised to learn that she was no longer in business within a few years!
If you DO go with some sort of “culture” approach, don’t assume this means you can just toss some worm bedding in a bag and sell it to your customers. It should ALWAYS be about providing as much value as you can, and making sure the customer understands exactly what you are providing. An easy way to keep yourself on target is to put yourself in their shoes – i.e. if YOU bought the same products you are selling, would you feel like your best interests were being taken seriously? Would you want to buy from that person again?
Naturally, people often focus on the worms themselves as their “product” – but it’s important to remember that customers aren’t really after worms (most of the time – unless they are buying worms for fishing or live food etc) – they are after an “experience”, and likely some form of results (healthy garden, being more earth-friendly etc etc). So doesn’t it make sense, then, to provide them with a POSITIVE one?! Providing your customers with friendly, ongoing assistance as needed can be a great way to increase the value of your offering.
I know, based on my own experience, how fun/exciting it can be to start up a business built around your passion (or at least a field that seems interesting/”cool”) – but I also (now) know how important it is to actually treat it like a BUSINESS, no matter how small it is. Regardless of how you decide to sell worms, always make sure you are taking care of yourself (by being ever-vigilant of your time, your “bottom-line” etc) AND taking care of your customers (by providing them with REAL value), and your chances of success long-term will increase substantially!