Your Go-To Grow Experts: Green Coast Hydroponics
When four friends founded Green Coast Hydroponics shortly after graduating college, they wanted to build a business that focused on customers while establishing an awesome company culture. With 11 stores now open and an annual corporate retreat that highlights the founders’ punk rock hippie roots, it’s safe to say both boxes have been checked.
The origin of Green Coast Hydroponics was a convergence of enthusiasm and a need to put some smarts to good use.
It was the late 1990s and some friends had just earned their college degrees from UC Santa Cruz. Jordan Weiss earned a degree in biochemistry and had begun dabbling in the wine industry; Jessica Weiss earned a degree in psychology and was exploring urban gardening; Mike Stone graduated with a degree in environmental studies and was snowboarding and waiting tables; and Katie Stone received a master’s in teaching from UC Santa Barbara and had started a teaching job. From those four paths emerged one idea: open a hydroponics store.
“Mike wanted to open a business, but it wasn’t clear on what type” says Jordan, now COO of Green Coast Hydroponics. “(I) had the agricultural experience from the wine industry and a science background that drove (Mike and Katie) towards hydroponics.”
Back then, options for a gardener interested in using alternative or organic techniques was bleak at best. Customer service hardly existed and there were few products on the market. This industry vacuum led the four friends to found Green Coast Hydroponics with the goal of focusing on the individual customer and creating an awesome and successful work culture.
The start was rocky at best. “It was rough,” recalls Jordan. “We started with just doing online sales and some direct sale accounts out of a warehouse in Oakland. Everyone had side jobs from waiting tables to a dean’s assistant to teaching. Everything was a struggle. From cash flow and basic accounting to overworking ourselves to learning how to run a website. We had to struggle through printing a catalogue, branding the company, getting a business license, plus the daily operations and logistics of running a business.”
The business model proved successful, however, and the friends opened their first storefront business in 2003 in Santa Barbara selling hydroponics and specialty gardening supplies. Though the company grew quickly—it now has locations in Santa Barbara, Long Beach, Orange, Venice, Ontario, SFV, Escondido, LAX, DTLA, Portland, and recently Temecula—its founding principles didn’t change.
“The base of the GC pyramid has always been the individual customer. Our goal is to help the customer be successful in their endeavors. A Green Coast store is designed to be a cultured retail space bursting with information, thus becoming a research and learning space and a focal point of community involvement,” says Melissa Berkson, Green Coast’s director of operations.
Now, more than 80 employees buy into the Green Coast program which includes working, playing, chilling, and partying together. Once a year, the stores close down for a weekend retreat, allowing the founding owners’ punk rock hippie roots to shine through, roots that may explain the company’s explicit and unprintable motto. Jordan says the motto comes from the group’s original mantra “We are Green Coast and you had better ride with us or you will collide with us.”
That mantra seems to be working also. Green Coast has plans to expand into the Pacific Northwest and other regions with the intent of spreading its knowledge-based system designs, expert sales staff, and friendly and professional customer service.