November 21, 2010

Growing success from a compost heap

Sales are good for the maker of mulch and garden soil derived from the waste of some of Maine's iconic industries.

By J. Hemmerdinger
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Using tillers with 16-foot-wide rotating cylinders, Coast of Maine mixes and aerates long piles of composting material, which includes organic matter such as lobster shells and carbon from wood shavings and sawdust. Based in Portland, the company makes the compost in Washington County.

Photo courtesy Coast of Maine Organic Products

click image to enlarge

Carlos Quijano, president of Coast of Maine Organics, used a painting of Maine islands by North Haven artist Eric Hopkins on the company’s bags of soil.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

So Quijano turned to a friend, Eric Hopkins, a North Haven artist. Hopkins painted the image of the islands that still appears on Coast of Maine's bags.

The company's initial run of roughly 50 pallets of soil -- more than 3,000 bags -- sold fast.

Still, some thought Quijano's business was doomed.

"I remember Carlos coming to me with a bag of compost and telling me how much it would cost. I told him he was crazy," said Joel Leeman, a buyer at Skillins Greenhouses, which has stores in Brunswick, Cumberland and Falmouth.

Coast of Maine's strategy was to sell to independent lawn and garden centers, which Quijano said have better customer service than such big-box stores as Walmart or Home Depot. And unlike local hardware stores, Quijano said lawn and garden centers are thriving, particularly in the Northeast.

Cameron Bonsey, Coast of Maine's director of marketing, said the company spends time educating clients' employees about Coast of Maine's products.

Growth has been steady. The company initially sold to lawn and garden centers in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, but has since expanded south and west.

Because transportation by truck is expensive, Coast of Maine partnered with a composter in southern Ontario, Canada, which is some 200 miles closer to the mid-Atlantic region than Maine.

Coast of Maine has annual revenue of roughly $4 million and has never had a down year, not even during the recession, said Quijano.

The company employs four full-time staffers in Marion and an administrative and sales staff of five. Coast of Maine's compost production runs from April to mid-November.

The company has succeeded despite competition from what Quijano called the "25,000-pound gorilla" -- Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., which makes topsoil and saturates television every spring with advertisements.

Quijano attributes his success to quality products and effective branding.

His clients agree.

"It has been well packaged and well marketed and is a top-quality product. Customers accepted it well and come back for more," said Leeman at Skillins Greenhouses.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:


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