RACINE COUNTY — Unco Industries, the producer of Wiggle Worm Soil Builder, is currently growing like a tomato plant started with a healthy handful of worm castings.
Unco, based at 7802 Old Spring St. in Mount Pleasant, is the industry leader in worm castings, an organic fertilizer, Unco owner, co-founder and CEO Tom Chapman said Monday.
“I’d never be here if I didn’t reinvent the (production) process,” he said about the converted country school in Mount Pleasant. So he is now moving the corporate offices to 1577 11th Ave., Union Grove, and expanding production there.
Chapman bought the 52,000-square-foot building in Union Grove for $420,000 and will spend about $350,000 on renovations. The project, which should be completed in about mid-March, will roughly double production capacity, and Chapman promised, “There is enough of a market for that.”
Unco’s foundation is a system for growing earthworms, or night crawlers, and harvesting pure worm castings — “worm poop,” as Chapman occasionally refers to them.
Chapman and his friend Dave Hauch started the business straight out of high school in 1983, originally in an unused Hauch family dairy barn on Highway 38. Initially they raised worms for bait.
Within a few years, Chapman bought out Hauch and has since devised his own methods of vermiculture, or worm cultivation, which Chapman said is a type of animal husbandry.
Worm casting sales now comprise about 70 percent of sales, which currently total about $2.5 million a year. Unco has about 18 production facilities around the country, Chapman said.
Some Wiggle Worm is sold straight to consumers under that brand.
But in the past few years, another market has opened for Unco: large companies that buy worm castings in bulk and make their own specialized soil blends with their own brands. Those blends can contain from 2 percent to 20 percent worm castings, Chapman said.
“That’s becoming a big market for us,” he said.
He added, “We have customers that will take 100 semi-truckloads (per year) for their blend.” Four years ago those customers were nonexistent.
The biggest problem at the Mount Pleasant site was not production capacity but warehouse space, Chapman said. That meant filling some orders could be delayed by almost two weeks. The new facility should solve that problem.
And employment should climb from about 10 people now to 16 to 20 within two years, Chapman estimated.
He is also working with a partner company to create a new product, a liquid form of worm castings that may reach market in a year.
That’s a business that’s galloping — not crawling.