SBDC advising helps nursery owner prune business to promote growth

SEATAC, Wash.—It makes sense that a business called “Restoring Eden” might do well during a pandemic.

“Most people have never tasted home-grown fruit ripened on a tree,” said Troy Picou, owner of Restoring Eden, a nursery and landscape design company specializing in edible fruit trees and shrubs.

At a time when so much in life seems uncertain, the satisfaction of picking one perfect apricot, warm from the sun, is hard to overstate.

“There is so much joy there,” he said.

The right place and time yields fruit

Timing is everything, and Picou he says his decision to contact the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in 2019 was key to his ability to prosper in 2020 and beyond.

The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 40 certified business advisors working in communities across the state to help small business owners and entrepreneurs start, grow or buy/sell a business. SBDC business advisors in Kent and Auburn are hosted by Green River College.

Over the past two years, the inventory at Restoring Eden has grown exponentially. The nursery offers more than 300 different edible plants, including 169 fruit trees, 41 fruiting shrubs and 41 evergreen edibles. Restoring Eden sells 29 different varieties of Washington’s state fruit, the apple, and quite a few exotic fruits as well, including Pakistan Fruiting Mulberries, Chinese Jujubes, Australian Finger Limes and Blue Sky Honeyberries from Siberia.

Picou wouldn’t have believed it possible just three years ago, but he is currently working with an agent to find a 10-acre parcel in unincorporated King County where his nursery can put down roots for the long haul.

In the beginning

Picou, who has spent some time considering origin stories, says there are several origin stories for “Restoring Eden.”

The one he tells most often is that he and his wife were living with his parents and doing ministry work in 2015 when he decided he needed a side job to supplement their income.

Right outside their door was about a quarter acre of land covered in weeds, overgrown shrubs, blackberry bushes and vines, so Troy thought maybe they could reclaim it as a vegetable garden. The original plan was to sell the produce to friends and neighbors at a farm stand. How hard could it be?

It was really hard, Troy said. “I made a ton of basic mistakes when it comes to gardening.”

But, the blueberry bushes they planted did well, so they leaned into that. Their first child, Theo,  was born at the same time the business was taking shape, so being outside in the garden tending blueberry bushes kept Troy close to home, but occupied.

Picou, who earned a business degree from Seattle Pacific, was torn between continuing to do ministry and gardening on the side, or building a sustainable small business. But his pastor confirmed what he had begun to realize. “You are called to do business,” the pastor said.

Early on, Picou had planned to sell pints of picked blueberries, but he shifted his business plan from produce to plants when it became clear that path had more potential for a sustainable business.

At first, he said, “it was really just blueberries and some fruit trees.”

When customers began asking for more exotic or hard-to-find fruit trees, he leaned into that as well. As his business began to gain traction Picou was able to take over more of his parents’ property until he eventually had about an acre of land to work with.

Seeking good advice for expansion

Taryn Hornby, Washington SBDC Certified Business Advisor

Picou began meeting with Taryn Hornby, a certified business advisor with the Washington SBDC, in 2019 because he’d outgrown the acre and was trying to buy commercial property. He originally called Hornby to discuss financing options, but when that deal fell through, he continued meeting with Hornby.

“Taryn is very sharp,” he said. “She doesn’t sugar-coat it. She tells it like it is.”

At that point, Restoring Eden’s business plan was still something of a hodge-podge. He was selling berries and fruit trees, but he was also installing sod and doing landscape work.

After looking at his financials, Hornby told him, “You need to get rid of that,” meaning anything that pulled the focus off edible plant sales. At the time he disagreed with her, he said, “but looking back on it, she was 100 percent right. She forced me to be laser-focused financially.”

With Hornby’s assistance he began maximizing his profits while keeping expenses low. That’s a good strategy at any time, but was especially fortuitous going into a pandemic.

When the tourism industry shut down, home improvement stores, including gardening centers not only stayed open, but often thrived. Picou said he was fortunate to have an established business with room to grow.

Troy Picou, owner of Restoring Eden with wife and child

Picou and his wife, Billiemarie, have a growing family as well as a growing nursery. Their fourth child, Troy Valor, was born this June and joins siblings Theo, Harvest and Truth.

Hornby continues to be a trusted advisor.

“She’s good,” Picou said. “She’s creative and has high business acumen. I really can’t say enough about Taryn.”

The Washington SBDC receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) at the federal level and institutions of higher education, economic development agencies and business and civic organizations, including municipal governments at the state and local level. The Washington SBDC network has been hosted by Washington State University since 1981.

The SBDC office at Green River College where Hornby and her colleague Kevin Grossman are located receives funding support from Green River College.

For more about the Washington SBDC, go to wsbdc.org

For more about Restoring Eden, go to restoringeden.co

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Contact Washington SBDC

washington@wsbdc.org

(833) 492-7232