Commercial Location Factors
For Sprout production

Finding the right location for a serious commercial sprout business can be more complicated than it might seem. Following are some factor to consider:

  • Lease or Own: Landlords are the most risky bottleneck in planning your future as a commercial sprouter. Like most commercial growers, you will have to lease your grow site unless you are in a financial position to purchase the right commercial location for the right price. And this may require a loan and a lot of interest expense. Will it be worth it? But if you eventually own the right property, it can provide enormous security for your onging operation and growth. There is no security whatsoever in most leases, other than the technicalities. The only way to proptect yourself under a landlord is through a long lease. A long term lease may protect you somewhat, but it can also lead up to the day when you are tightly rooted to the structure. Then be prepared for the rent to go sky high. The only protection against landlords is to find the right site and buy it if you can;

  • Structural Compliance: Your local and state health departments will likely require certain structural conditions such as floor drains, smooth sanitary walls, smooth washable ceilings, etc. Many, if not most, comemrcial spaces cannot meet these requirements without extensive remodeling. Before you sign a lease, you should take lots of pictures and consult with health departments about sanitary compliance;

  • Natural Light Input: Quality green sprouts, such as alfalfa and clover, should have indirect natural sunlight during at least two days of their growth. This can be achieved if you have a sufficient number of skylights or a wall of windows. Unfortunately, most commercial spaces do not have abundant skylights or sufficient windows. Therefore, it is imperative that you negotioate the right to install a specific number of skylights before leasing. In some cases, you might be able to employ creative means to get light input. For instance, if you lease a space with garage doors, you can create a supplementary sliding transluscent wall to allow the entry of diffused sunlight. Then at night you can close the metal garage doors. But it's better to have lots of skylights on the ceiling, in at least one area;

  • Climate Control: At a mimimum, you will need the right to install some kind of indoor cooling devices such as swamp coolers or air conditioning units. preferably, if these items are expensive and your lease is short, you may need to install them in a temporary way, such as through windows, with the right to remove them later. Essnetially, summer heat can cause much fatigue to sprouts. A building that has air conditioning may be a plus, if the system is clean and well filtered. Beware systems that might introduce dust or mold toxins into your sprouts.

  • Heat expense: Most commercial spaces are poorly insulated energy hogs in winter. Thus, you should scout your location during cold season and bring a thermometer. Try to get a feel to determine if the heater is running excessively. Green sprouts do not need to be as warm as humans, especially if your sprouts are grown in closed containers. However, you will need a reasponably warm working environment. And the lack of a thermodynamic building envelope will raise you heat bill plenty;

  • Good Water: Most commercial growers are located in cities, where water is fairly consistent and reliable. You do not want to rely on well water unless you do extensive testing and local research to determine that there will not likely be any transient toxic substances, pesticides or bacteria entering the ground from local sources such as farms. Urban water is generally suitable. The better your water, the better your chance of growing fantastic sprouts. You should also invest in some serious water filtering equipment;

  • Good Plumbing: You will need a reliable water supply and drains of sufficient capacity to keep things flowing. You should try to get a location without old lead-based plumbing, and preferably not even a lead connection to the street water hookup. In most cases, you will need to install a new and larger water heater, since the water consumption for sprout production is greater than most tenants would use. There is a strong chance that you will need to make extensive plumbing improvements;

  • Location for Distribution: Location can be critical to timely distribution, especially during traffic jams and bad weather. Imagine what happens if your delivery driver fails to make deliveries during bad weather and comes back with perishable product and frustrated customers. You will lose money or customer loyalty. You will most likely need to set minimum orders because it is often not economically feasible to deliver tiny quantities to restaurants and small independent grocers. Another option is to price your sprouts based on delivery quantity. Pre-ordered productions for bulk pickup by the buyer or large regular bulk deliveries will afford the least hassle. But regardless of your strategy, being located within a half mile of a an urban freeway is often ideal. Product distribution will be a large percentage of your overhead;

  • Site Environment: You will need a site unaffected by "toxic neighborhood syndrome". Many commercial sprouters rely on warehouses in industrially zoned areas. You should try to avoid locating directly adjacent to operations that disperse volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air from their building ventillation outputs. For instance, you would probably not want to locate next to a company that paints cars or molds plastic, especially if it's in the same builing. Even a building down the block can reek enough chemicals to affect your sprouts. What goes out of their vent system will very easily end up in your building, by way of your air intakes, windows or pourous walls. It can affect your "organic" sprout certification if chemicals are detected in your sprouts. Also beware of any split building where the landlord might later lease to a toxic operation after you have signed your own lease. Most industrial locations are suitable. But many will put your organic status at risk;

  • Space Requirements and Cost: Industrial-type commercial spaces are priced by the square foot per year. And the rent is normally due monthly. Beware the cavernous look of an empty warehouse. Space can get used up mighty quickly.You will need enough space for:
    • a grow room;
    • a walk-in refrigerator or refrigeration room;
    • an immaculate packaging room and pantry for materials such as poly bags and carboard boxes;
    • a small product development kitchen to create recipes and conduct promotional photography;
    • a dry seed storage area;
    • an assembly room for hardware, grower materials and the actual assembly of growers;
    • an office or two (for basic business, sales, accounting, purchasing, art-direction, promotion, etc.) ;
    • an employee room for breaks, lunch, lockers and meetings;
    • a waiting room for walk-ins;
    • a "mechanical room" for boiler(s) and water filtration equipment;
    • a tool room for maintenance equipment;
    • a "by-product room" to process and collect bio-debris (Sprouts produce shed large amounts of seed coats that can clog drains. They should ideally be centifuge-dried and packed for usage as compost.);
    • a workshop to facilitate remodeling, upgrades and repairs;
    • a dedicated janitorial room with mop sink and storage pantry;
    • outdoor parking space for delivery vehicles and visitor cars;
    • outdoor area for trash dumpsters and bio debris pickup;

  • Payback Lag Time: It is mportant to consider that your space will not be used efficiently until you get it built rite and begin to gain some real business momentum. Therefore, you will be paying monthly rent as a lessor, or wasting space as an owner of a site, until you can use it fully and efficiently.

  • Terms of Lease: Price, rights and responsibilities are the devil in the details. You may need a long lease, or flexible options for renewal, or the right to terminate under given circumstances. Who will be responsible for shoveling snow? How much will the rent go up when the lease renews? What happens if the building is sold or the landlord goes bankrupt or becomes mortally ill? What are your interior finish rights? Will you be permitted to do vehicle maintenance on site? You might want to become a member of a local chamber of commerce or business group to get advice about commercial leases and other matters. If your sprout company can afford an attorney, then ask them to review your lease before you sign. Also be sure to look up your landlord in the local small claims court and do a background check. Sometimes you will be able to uncover tenants that were royally screwed. Or you might learn that the landlord does not fulfill his obligations, or take a real interest in solving critical problems. Beware of making unnecessary permanent improvements to any building. These improvements tell a landlord that he has you by the throat, since you will not want to move. And most landlords will just keep raising the rent, as the building becomes more valuable.

Essentially, it can be a logistical nightmare to start a food business in a leased space, where so much development will root your operation to your landlord's real estate and leave you vulnerable to unpredictable changes. But the dilemna of leasing can be reduced if you come in with a comprehensive plan, the right amount of investment, the right "human resources" and the ability to predict and overcome obstacles efficiently.

In order to succed, your first commercial grow site must be small enough to afford but big enough to do the job and expand. There are a million ways to fail. But your location must be ready for unexpected growth if your sprouts are superior and become a hit sensation.