Growing a new business in good soil

The Craft Soil Company has opened up a new gardening store, focusing first on artisan soil as more supplies come in.

Most businesses that start from the ground up put an emphasis on the up – Erik Harrington and Travis Maher are focused on the ground.

After all, The Craft Soil Company, which opened Nov. 12 in a storefront at on Portage Road across from the airport, is all about the “living soil blend” they have been perfecting over the last several years.

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Their all-natural soil is the result of “lots of reading, lots of trial-and-error,” Maher said.

“It’s great for raised beds [and] indoor gardening,” he adds.

Harrington, 47, until recently a car salesman and who goes by the nickname “Hollywood,” and Maher, 37, who has worked as a chef and in sales until his most recent employer closed its doors a year ago, decided to open their business now after many of the pieces fell together.

“A lot of things happened for us because we knew people,” said Harrington, who is originally from the Flint area but moved to Kalamazoo about 20 years ago “looking for a change of venue.”

“I’ve had a lot of people asking for it,” said Maher, an Augusta native who still lives there. “One customer pre-ordered 384 bags before we opened.”

A week in, three skids loaded with bags of soil sit in the corner of an otherwise barren business, though more products and supplies are on their way.

Maher and Harrington employ Michigan Grower Products Inc. in Galesburg to mix and bag their soil and recently had the opportunity to lease the storefront at 5252 Portage Road just south of I-94. Empty since before COVID hit, it formerly housed a small grocery store.

Harrington and Maher are currently working on exterior signage and interior remodeling, which will include shelving for a multitude of organic gardening products that will complement their soil, plus a microgreen display in their front window.

“Currently we are stocked with our signature living soil blend, made right here in Kalamazoo,” they say on their Facebook page. “This soil blend is sourced from the highest quality ingredients from around the country.

“In the coming weeks our shelves will be stocked with organic inputs to allow you to cultivate your very own soil blend.

Among the products they intend to sell are “worm castings,” or worm waste, from worm farms in the region.

“We’re can-do people,” Harrington said. “If someone wants something, we’ll get it.”

That said, their main focus is on their soil, which is available nowhere else.

“The soil is the superstar of this store.” Harrington said.

They are hoping to have everything in place for a grand opening around the first of December, but said realistically they might not be ready for that showcase event by then, although they are certain it will be held by the beginning of 2022.

They have their company logo on the front door and elsewhere, including the back of Harrington’s sweatshirt, to promote the company.

craft soil company logo
The Craft Soil Company logo is already featured on their storefront and on a Harrington’s sweatshirt. Dave Person | NowKalamazoo

“I can’t wait to have this logo on the bags [of soil],” he said.

In the meantime, the pair have been busy getting the word out about their business via Facebook and Instagram.

Maher said the need for a product like theirs became more evident to him when he registered the business with Google. The search engine reported that some 9,000 people were searching for gardening products in the Portage area.

“We were shocked,” he said.

“I think it’s just [good] timing,” Harrington said. “People are growing [plants] now that never thought about growing before.”

Each bag of soil is 44 pounds and contains 1.5 cubic feet, or 11.2 gallons, of soil. It is designed to be used in outdoor raised-bed gardens or indoor/outdoor potted gardens although it also can be used over hügelkultur (decaying wood or other compostable plant material) mounds. The cost is $40 a bag.

“It’s a water-only soil,” Harrington said, meaning nothing else needs to be added for planting.

Plus, said Maher, it’s a no-till soil, ready for planting, and it is reusable, with a long life.

“The more you use it, the better it gets,” Harrington said.

And best of all are the all-natural ingredients, they said.

“If it’s not natural, it’s not Craft,” Harrington said.

craft soil company co-owners lifting a bag of soil
Travis Maher, left, and Erik “Hollywood” Harrington heft a bag of their craft soil. Dave Person | NowKalamazoo

He and Maher met several years ago through their wives, who worked together. They boast that the soil enhances the flavor of produce and the color of flowers.

“Plants love it; worms love it,” Maher said.

“People are going to love it,” Harrington added.

Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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