Fort Collins, Colorado
Plant support systems
"I have been a gardener my whole life, and also an entrepreneur," says Rider.
It follows that, in 2013, Rider melded the two pursuits with an idea for a support system for cannabis plants involving "a small C-shaped clip" and stakes.
Rider subsequently designed his clip using open-source Tinkercad and started making prototypes with a 3D printer. "I kept on pushing the envelope with it and came up with a shape I thought was pretty worthwhile," he says.
Rider's pitch: "We reinvented the tomato cage. We built a better tomato cage, if you will-- but it's not just a tomato cage. What people have done in the past is they have some trellises and they built it with wood and have some skills in the workshop, or they're going to the store and buying them for hundreds of dollars."
He says the C-Bite is a good fit for tomatoes as well as "anything that climbs," including peppers, cucumbers, and other plants. "Cannabis was the origin story, but we're really focused on the large garden industry in general. Cannabis is just a small percentage of that multibillion garden industry, but it allows for some seasonal stability because not every state is buying gardening products throughout the year, but cannabis growers typically are."
Thriving Design sold about 1 million C-Bites in the company's first three years, but put the operation on pause to start a hydroponic basil farm in 2017. After he received a patent, he relaunched the company with his sister, Morgan Rider, in 2020 as a public benefit corporation.
"We established a firm stake in the ground with regard to our values and we're a 1% for the Planet company as well," says Rider. "We're pretty committed to the triple bottom line."
The new iteration of the company sold another 1 million C-Bites in 2021, largely in packs of 100 units and in kits that also include stakes.
The big news for 2022: Thriving Design has acquired a pair of injection molding machine and a four-cavity mold to move manufacturing to the company's Fort Collins facility, with help from Soft Touch owner Steve Tungesvick. "He's passing the torch to me," says Rider. "The little baby bird's leaving the nest."
The move to in-house manufacturing will allow the company to better control its own destiny. "We can do faster, flexible runs, change colors, operate for purchase orders, run 24/7," says Rider. "Right now, our demand is in excess of our supply."
Rider plans on leveraging automation as well. "We're going to go towards robotics for assembly with this. One of the things on the table right now is getting a SCARA robot arm for taking the parts off the table, putting them in bags, and putting them on the rods."
In-house manufacturing has a capacity of at least 3 million parts a year, but it's scalable with "a little more space, another machine, another mold," says Rider, who also plans on offering contract manufacturing services to utilize excess injection molding capacity. "We're already planning for that now. We've got contracts with Kroger, Williams Sonoma, Family Farm and Home, all of the major garden distributors in the country."
The growth curve is looking like the proverbial hockey stick in 2022, with the first two months' sales eclipsing the total for all of 2021. "We're doing pretty good," says Rider. "We're in the garden sector at the right time."
Challenges: "Our big challenge right now is managing our cash flow as we grow," says Rider. "We've got 90-day credit with some of our distributors."
Opportunities: Growing the company's retail footprint. "We're headed to Home Depot Canada in 2023 if all goes well, and then in 2024 big-box store distribution in the U.S.," says Rider.
New products represent another opportunity. "We're going to continue to add SKUs," says Rider, citing a plan for gardening lines out of recycled textiles. "We're going to work in the garden industry as hard as we can with garden accessories and support products."
But the C-Bite might have potential in the toy market with a few tweaks, he adds. Two Legos can be connected in 27 unique ways, but two C-Bites can be connected in more than 125 different ways. "If you extrapolate for six Legos, there are like 947 million combinations," says Rider. "With six C-Bites, there's somewhere in the hundreds of trillions of possibilities."
"Last year, the number-one-selling toy sector was building blocks and bricks like Legos, K'Nex, and those sorts of things," he adds. C-Bites "fit Legos, they fit Tinkertoys, they fit K'Nex. You can call them the union between all of them, so you can put them all together."
Needs: "We need growth capital -- ideally, growth capital from partners," says Rider. To that end, Thriving Design has launched a Wefunder campaign to raise a target of $90,000.
Rider is also looking at bringing on employees instead of relying on W-9 workers. "We have contractors at this point," he says.