This is a follow up story for True Leaf Market. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Parker Garlitz and our business is True Leaf Market, we are a seed and garden supply company. Our current iteration is a function of the merger of two companies in 2014.
- Living Whole Foods was a specialty seed company focusing on indoor gardening including supplies, seeds, and kits for growing wheatgrass, sprouts, microgreens, and herbs.
- Mountain Valley Seed Company was a traditional garden seed company.
We merged in 2014 to form True Leaf Market.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since we last talked, the Covid Pandemic has changed the way we do business dramatically. We were fortunate that garden seed continued to have strong demand despite the pandemic and we have been able to grow, despite the severe challenges of keeping our team safe and extremely difficult supply chain challenges.
When the pandemic hit, we saw an initial surge of orders for the first ten weeks or so and we were able to hire many new team members who had been laid off from other industries to cope with the order volume. After the initial surge settled down, we did not want to decrease our workforce so increased our marketing efforts and were able to keep our new employees on.
Our marketing increases included a much more aggressive spend on Facebook, youtube, and google’s display network. We also increased our efforts in recruiting affiliates and social media influencers.
Amazon has been a mess this year, and not at all a reliable partner sales channel. After an initial surge of our products in FBA selling out, Amazon put restrictions on most merchants in terms of being able to re-stock FBA inventory. As a result, our amazon channel grew very little, while our direct channels grew well. In speaking to many other eCommerce merchants it seems that many experienced the same thing. Very strong growth in their direct website sales while amazon and other 3rd party channels languished. The performance of Shopify’s stock in 2020 probably indicates that the phenomenon was widespread as amazon only sellers looked for diversification.
Our existing customers continue to come back and shop with us. During the initial pandemic surge, we got behind on order fulfillment as all of our competitors in the seed industry did. But with the growth of our workforce, we were able to get caught up and since then have been able to keep our core brand promise which is: high quality, affordable seeds, delivered fast. Since about May of last year we are back to fulfilling over 90% of our orders within 1 business day. Also the unprecedented demand for seeds last year has caused a tremendous amount of pressure on the supply chain and international supply of garden seeds. We have responded by increasing our purchasing staff and working to bring in larger inventories than we have normally held. We are doing a lot more direct contracting with farms and growers to produce seed for us directly.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
First of all, we feel extremely fortunate to be in our industry considering the challenges of last year. We did our best to do our part by hiring additional workers as much as we were able to do. But I think the biggest takeaway is how vulnerable amazon and 3rd party sellers were to the disruption.
Like every company, we do make mistakes but we work very hard to correct those mistakes and make them right when they happen.
I personally feel like those big players were not able to adapt quickly enough to the crisis and as a result, there are millions of people out there who bought exclusively from amazon, who were forced to look elsewhere because of stock-outs. And guess what? They had great experiences on those other websites and now are much more comfortable shopping other websites and not just reflexively buying off amazon or Walmart like maybe they were doing for years.
I don’t know a single eCommerce merchant who hasn’t seen direct website sales growth in 2021. I know countless sellers that are frustrated with the selling experience on amazon too. Their seller support is not what it once was, selling on amazon is more cumbersome than ever. It’s a great opportunity for all eCommerce sellers I think.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Our biggest priority is to secure our supply chain which means more direct contracting with growers for us. We are going to keep working hard to offer great quality seeds and supplies at competitive prices and our obsessive focus is the speed of delivery, which is very hard to do.
In our case, we build 99% of the products we sell. We fill seed pouches and bags, we assemble growing kits, etc. So it’s not receiving products that go straight to a picking bin. We bring in the bulk seed that has to be germination tested, and then processed into many different sizes from paper packet to bulk bags, then sent to picking bins. With over 8000 SKUs, it’s a big logistical challenge for a small company.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Scaling Up by Verne Harnish.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I think modern eCommerce marketing is every bit as much about customer satisfaction as it is about up-front customer acquisition. We focus on providing a great end to end customer experience because our growth is 100% about the 2nd order from a customer, not the first order.
It’s expensive and competitive to acquire a new customer and if we don’t provide a great experience from an intuitive and pleasant website experience to great product, to affordable price, to fast delivery, and excellent customer service after the sale, we ultimately will just tread water. Like every company, we do make mistakes but we work very hard to correct those mistakes and make them right when they happen.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We hope to continue to grow in 2021 and beyond, and are looking for help in purchasing, marketing, production management, shipping management, customer service, and more.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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