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Vol. VI No. 1

January / February 2012


Sweet Smell of Success When Business Stinks Retail Garden Center Owner Finds Niche Market as National Distributor of Mushroom Compost


immy Sharpe says he isn’t complaining when he says his business stinks. That’s just the way it is when you’re one of the nation’s largest mushroom compost distributors. While some people may hold their nose at the odiferous product, others who have spread it on their gardens and landscaping swear by the results. “People were apprehensive at first,” says Sharpe, who along with his wife Debra run Sharpe Landscape Supply in West Columbia, S.C. “Some were willing to try it. They would come back and, pardon the pun, it just started mushrooming.” Today, Sharpe Landscape Supply is selling mushroom compost to companies from Nebraska to Florida. “We sell hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tractor-trailer loads,” Sharpe says. That’s a far cry from the days when Sharpe would load some bags of mushroom compost in the back of his car and travel around trying to convince centers and supply yards to purchase it in bulk. “When I would open up the trunk, people would just back up and say, ‘My gosh, what is that odor?’” he says with a laugh. “I would say back then that my business stinks. But it smelled like money to me.” The odor of the mushroom compost was

By p.j. heller

never a problem for Sharpe, who has a condition since birth called anosmia. “My ability to market the product when I first started dealing with it was due to the fact that I did not have a sense of smell,” he explains. Sharpe admits he didn’t know anything about mushroom compost until the manager of a hardware store in Atlanta, Ga., asked him about it. At the time, he was working for a fertilizer manufacturing company. He promised to look into it. What he discovered wa s t h at mu s h ro o m compost is a mixture of ingredients, including wheat straw, peat moss, cottonseed meal, cottonseed hulls, corncobs, cocoa bean shells, gypsum, lime, chicken litter and/or horse stable bedding. It is used in commercial mushroom growing farms. After the material is composted for several weeks, it is sterilized and then placed into trays,

where commercial table mushrooms are grown. Sharpe notes that the compost he acquires is only used for 18 to 20 days, although others say other compost may be used for three or four weeks before it is exhausted. The compost is then removed from the trays and the cycle begins again. Sharpe’s initial research led him to order a truckload of mushroom compost from a Campbell’s Soup Company farm in Georgia. He applied it on half of a large pansy bed at the fertilizer company where he worked, and for “fairness,” put fertilizer on the other half of the bed. “In a week to 10 days, there was an absolute dramatic difference in the size and appearance of the pansies where the mushroom compost had been applied,” he recalls. “It was dramatic.” Although not completely enamored with the results, the fertilizer company gave Sharpe a go-ahead to test market the mushroom compost. While successful in his marketing efforts — one of the world’s largest retail stores eventually began selling the bagged material — the fertilizer company never fully embraced the product, he says. Continued on page 3

Soil & Mulch Producer News Jan/Feb 2012  

Jan/Feb 2012 issue of S&MPN

Soil & Mulch Producer News Jan/Feb 2012  

Jan/Feb 2012 issue of S&MPN