Update: How We Expanded Our Product Offering And Grew Our Team To 200 Employees

Published: March 15th, 2023
Parker Garlitz
Founder, True Leaf Market
$400K
revenue/mo
4
Founders
150
Employees
True Leaf Market
from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
started May 1974
$400,000
revenue/mo
4
Founders
150
Employees
market size
$1.18B
starting costs
$30.1K
gross margin
30%
time to build
720 days
growth channels
SEO
business model
E-Commerce
best tools
Tiktok, LinkedIn, Pinterest
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
44 Pros & Cons
tips
1 Tips
Discover what tools Parker recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Parker recommends to grow your business!

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

My name is Parker Garlitz, and I’m one of the Co-Founders of TrueLeafMarket, a seed company offering a wide variety of seeds and growing supplies for vegetables, herbs, flowers, grains, cover crops, microgreens, sprouts, and other specialty seeds.

Our roots date back to 1974, and we’ve grown our team from 50 employees to 200 employees since we last interviewed with Starter Story.

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Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

The pandemic created quite a bit of demand for gardening and seeds, and we have been able to maintain growth through the pandemic and since, despite a slowdown in the overall market. Our e-commerce revenues are now routinely over a million dollars per month.

Our growth has come from several places including a strong focus on expanding our product offerings. We try to onboard over 100 new SKUs each month, with a primary focus on expanding our seed offerings, but lately, we have also focused on adding more hard goods and growing supplies.

We have also been focusing on improving our website for a better customer experience. The challenge with having a huge selection is that it makes findability on the website a challenge. Many of our customers are first-time gardeners and growers, and we work hard to dispel confusion and eliminate the ‘where do I start’ types of questions that we know new growers have.

This is a never-ending process of brainstorming, interviewing customers, split testing, and creating content. Between expanding our product offering and optimizing the buyer experience on our website, we spend probably 80% of the marketing department’s bandwidth.

Improvements in selection and conversion rates have allowed us to be more aggressive in driving more traffic through paid search, paid social media, organic social media, and a PR agency. We have also launched an ambassador program.

What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

Without a doubt supply chain problems have been the biggest challenges of the last year or two. The pandemic created a demand surge that depleted the industry supply of home garden seeds.

Because seed has to be grown, it would normally take 12 to 18 months to replenish those inventories, but the additional supply chain difficulties have extended this problem.

It’s been almost 3 years since the pandemic began, and we are still having difficulty sourcing many varieties of seeds. There is no easy answer to this problem. Every situation is difficult and needs its solutions, and our purchasing department and seed production department have been burning the candle at both ends to try to minimize stockouts.

We are still at a very high number of stockouts due to the supply chain mess, which continues in the garden seed industry.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Acquisitions are a great way to grow, but it has to be done systematically and slowly, otherwise, things can go wrong quickly.

We also have acquired a few companies in the past couple of years, and it takes a huge amount of work to assimilate those businesses smartly. Anytime we bring an acquisition in-house, the rest of our processes and systems have to be working well enough that we can focus a ton of management bandwidth on the assimilation process.

There are soooo many moving parts that it just takes a huge amount of bandwidth and focuses to do it without dropping a bunch of balls.

However much effort I thought it would take to bring these businesses on board in a comprehensive way, it took 5 times what I thought. Acquisitions are a great way to grow, but it has to be done systematically and slowly, otherwise, things can go wrong quickly.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

We plan to continue to expand our product offering and work on ways to make our website even more user-friendly, and faster.

In the next 5 years, we hope to add a large selection of growing supplies and tools, live plant starts, bulbs, and other home and garden products. We also hope to be able to continue to acquire complementary businesses.

What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

Scaling Up, by Verne Harnish.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

In the modern e-commerce era, it is possible to market and grow faster than your ability to expand all aspects of the business needed to support the growth.

Because of customer expectations on quality and speed of delivery, and the power of online reviews, it is very very important to make sure that your operations stay one step ahead of marketing. At the end of the day, operations and marketing are two sides of the same coin.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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