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Herb technology seeds retail, franchise business

Urban Cultivator’s in-home garden appliance sales up as demand for fresh herbs grows
Eric Sloan says his company’s sales of consumer and commercial-sized appliances for growing herbs have quadrupled in the past 18 months | Chung Chow

Four years after a group of Vancouverites created in-home herb-growing appliances and founded Urban Cultivator, it is readying to open its first retail store and aims to launch franchises within the year.

Living Produce Aisle has taken possession of a site on Yaletown’s Hamilton Street and is set to open within the next month. It’s the latest foray for the company, which president Eric Sloan said has quadrupled sales into the “millions” in the past 18 months.

The venture is a sister company to hydroponics company BC Northern Lights, which shares principals and resources with Urban Cultivator.

Most of Urban Cultivator’s revenue has thus far come from distributors selling products such as a dishwasher-sized appliance for growing herbs in residences. Larger commercial-sized appliances for restaurants similarly automatically control light, water and aeration but provide no heat.

It also sells accessories such as light bulbs, compressed soil and seeds and now plans to open its own storefront.

The company charges a comparatively low $25,000 for a franchise and a 2% annual royalty fee – both of which are far less than the standard fees to open a franchised coffee shop.

Franchise experts such as Boughton Law associate Tony Wilson say that it’s common for franchisors to require that franchisees buy supplies from the parent franchisor.

Urban Cultivator, however, takes the practice to a new level.

Franchisees not only use Urban Cultivator’s products to grow fresh herbs to sell to customers, they also pay wholesale prices for the cultivators and accessories to sell direct to consumer at retail prices.

Tarren Wolfe, Davin MacGregor and Myles Omand founded the venture in late 2010. Six months later, they appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s Dragons’ Den, where Venture Communications president Arlene Dickinson agreed to provide $400,000 worth of marketing in exchange for a 20% stake in the venture.

Metro Vancouver customers have included Pear Tree Restaurant co-owner Scott Jaeger, who has used one of the early commercial-sized cultivators since 2010.

He uses his cultivator sparingly, however, in part because of the high cost of accessories. Scott also keeps it in his garage because he doesn’t want dirt in his kitchen.

He pointed out that, because the unit doesn’t have heat, growing herbs in the winter can be slow in the cool garage.

“My farmers can grow herbs for less than I can,” Jaeger told BIV. “I like the uniqueness. I can grow things such as baby romaine lettuce, which we pick at an inch and a half, and salad burnet. No one will grow those things for me. It’s also very fresh. You cut the herbs minutes before you put them on the plate.” •

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