Growing business

Justin Marshall

Photo by Mason Masis

In 2010, Justin Marshall had been working at for a couple of years and decided to take what he learned there to create his own business selling hydroponic gardening supplies. That year, he started, a complete gardening supply company with a focus on indoor gardening. Marshall says he was inspired after noticing that online “grow shops”—those geared toward cannabis growers—back in 2010 were somewhat sketchy. They often didn’t provide contact information, he recalls, and didn’t appear to be the type of websites one would trust with credit card information. With HydroBuilder, Marshall hoped to present a professional site that was accessible for indoor and outdoor gardeners and also combated pot-grower stereotypes. His customers are not armed gangsters who slash and burn forests, he says. Google AdWords and Facebook indicate they’re most often older men or even grandmas with medical cards. Though he believes that at least 85 percent of what is sold on his website is used for growing marijuana, Marshall says HydroBuilder has worked with produce companies on massive indoor farming systems and has helped individuals successfully grow a variety of plants.

What kind of response have you gotten locally?

The West Coast is interesting because there are so many people that are pro [pot legalization], but Butte County is a very conservative county. One of the issues we face is they are not differentiating between the cartel grows that are leveling the forest, diverting the water and really kind of ruining the land—they are not differentiating between those growers and the backyard growers who want four or five plants in their backyard.

How has legalization in other states affected the business?

When we first started this business, it wasn’t all about marijuana. We started before Colorado, Washington and Oregon … decided to legalize it. Ever since then, it would be stupid of us not to capture that market. So now we focus on that.

How are you preparing for potential legalization in California?

When Colorado and Washington changed, we saw a huge spike, because you get the commercial side of it as well [as the medical]. In California, you can have six plants if they vote to legalize. We have complete kits that are geared toward six complete plants … all you’ll need to do is add water and a plant.

Who is your typical customer?

The people we sell to most often are the older adult males whose kids have all grown up and moved out, or were in the military or have worked all their life.

What about customers who aren’t growing marijuana—what are they growing?

A lot of herbs—tomatoes, basil. We have a lot of people in the Midwest that have really poor soil conditions. So they will grow a vegetable garden, or salsa gardens are really popular. We also have people who are growing miniature fruit trees outside, but in the winter it’s zero degrees so they will bring them inside. So they need a fluorescent light to keep them alive.