Ann Gedeon never thought of herself as an entrepreneur.
She'd served in the U.S. Navy, been a paramedic, and was operations manager for an ambulance company. But it was her love of gardening and green living that made her a businesswoman.
This past weekend, her Center Ridge Road store, Rain Barrels N More, celebrated its first anniversary.
"I had no clue how to start a business," she said. "But somehow, I did it."
How it Started
Gedeon was not looking to start a business in 2010, but solve a problem. She wanted to use rainwater to water her vegetable garden, explaining the lower ph in rainwater compared to water from the tap is better for growing plants.
But she couldn't find what she wanted in stores. She didn't want leaves getting into the barrel, or open water to lure mosquitoes, or algae, or a lot of maintenance. She did want a food-grade barrel, something that had never stored chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides, so it would be safe to use on her vegetables. She also wanted something that could stand up to summer's heat and winter's cold without falling apart.
Gedeon went online, and found RainReserve, which makes diverters of food-grade plastic, that connect straight to a downspout without letting leaves or debris into the rain barrel.
She made her first rain barrel for herself. It was a simple closed food-grade barrel with a hole on top to insert the diverter, and a hole near the bottom for a spigot to connect the hose.
Her brother saw the barrel and told friends about it. Her neighbors saw it. Soon, people were asking her to make a barrel for them.
She had made 50 barrels before her brother's suggestion that she do this for a business began to make sense.
Becoming a Businesswoman
Finding food-grade barrels wasn't easy at first. She then discovered that many food companies importing food from overseas were destroying the containers and throwing them away.
"(The barrels) weren't worth shipping back," Gedeon said. "So they were being dumped into landfills."
She found companies in the Cleveland area that would sell containers. Many of the plastic barrels still have a faint olive-y scent inside from the kalamata olives they carried over from Greece. She also buys oak whiskey barrels used to make Jim Beam whiskey.
Gedeon began looking around for a storefront, deciding on a former garage at the intersection of Bradley and Center Ridge Roads.
"It was the right size, and right around the corner from where I live," she said. She was able to rent the building, and then got the city of Westlake to allow her to install gravel parking rather than asphalt.
"We try to be a green business," Gedeon said. "Gravel makes more sense. It lets rainwater go back into the ground rather than into the storm drains."
Her son, Jim Tucker, wasn't sure about the business plan.
"I thought it was crazy," he said. But he ended up joining her in it.
Gedeon knew that the store needed more than rain barrels and diverters. So she began thinking about turning smaller food-grade containers into composters. Jim put his carpentry skills to work, creating a frame that wound allow the containers to rotate 360 degrees to turn the compost into a nutrient-rich food for plants.
Friends such as Judy Decker have come in to help out in the store. Decker was helping out for the first anniversary sale weekend, assembling rain barrels for customers to take home.
Learning and Growing
Gedeon said this first year has been a learning experience.
"Dealing with the ups and downs of retail is a challenge," she said. "One day, 20 people will come in. The next day, one. And I'll get this fear that it's only going to be one from now on. Learning to not get too upset over those ups and downs was important."
Gedeon estimates she averages about 25 to 30 rain barrels sold per week.
Rain barrels start at $125 and go up to $350 for the Jim Beam oak barrels. She also sells gardening accessories and gifts. Many of the items are Earth-friendly in that they're made with recycled or repurposed materials, such as cheese plates made with wine bottles, or biodegradeable, like clippings bags that are made with cornstarch and will completely break down in a landfill within six months.
Gedeon has also been working on getting the word out about Rain Barrels N More, appearing at the Great Big Home & Garden Expo earlier this year.
She is also an official distributor for RainReserve. Gedeon said she and RainReserve are planning for her to expand to other stores in the Cleveland area.
While she has yet to draw a paycheck from the store, Gedeon says she's a happy woman.
"I love my job," she said. "I can teach people how to use rain barrels in their own yards, and help them solve problems."