“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself However, I’d say it a bit differently:
“If I knew then what I know now, I may not have ever tried”
Which is just another way of saying that I was didn’t realize how much I didn’t know, but I had the confidence (and stupidity) to just keep going.
The easy part was the first 20 years; gave up a promising career in my mid twenties, but at that point, I had nothing to lose and I didn’t really like my job anyway. No kids, no mortgage and some crazy ideas about making making a living by doing what I loved. That pretty much worked for 2 decades. I had a thriving store, great employees, wonderful customers and greenhouses that pumped out plants that people wanted to buy. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard work, but it was a helluva ride. Spring and fall, we worked like mad. Summer and winter, we sat back and occupy ourselves with travel, vegetable gardens, a bit of hunting and raising a bunch of kids.
The trouble came when other players got into the game. Big box stores that undercut our pricing. Big named grocery stores that could offer almost the same quality and variety of cut flowers, but at REALLY low prices. And large retailers that began to carry garden goods that were ‘just good enough’. People were beginning to value low pricing and compromised quality over the ‘real thing’; plants and products that were, to our minds, authentic. It was a depressing state of affairs.
Adapting to Survive the New Climate
In addition to ignorance and confidence, I am blessed with knowing when to quit. I’m a small guy, and pretty nimble, so when I decide to move, it usually happens quickly. The retail store was over; I was not going to sit there and watch all that I had worked hard to ‘grow’ simply fade away. I’d heard about the world wide web, and I wanted a part of that. Problem was, I didn’t even own a computer.
This is when the ignorance part comes in; if you build it, they don’t necessarily come. You have to go after your audience. How to do that when the entire country is your market, and you don’t have the resources to advertise and you, along with thousands of other people, have that same bright idea. ‘Let’s sell on the internet’.
Growing Pains on the Internet
I’d say we had 3 good years of a straight uphill climb. And we made mistake after mistake. Think about it: I knew how to grow GREAT plants. I could put them on a truck, drive them into town and pop them on my shelves and my grateful customers would buy EVERYTHING I could grow. Easy. So, I had that growing thing DOWN. But, what about the other stuff … how do I make myself known to the gardeners all over the country. Not to mention, trying to figure out how to ship a 3.5” square pot of basil to California. I CRINGE to think about our first season of shipping and if you are out there, thank you for your faith and confidence because we were really flying blind.
So, enter the terms like marketing, social media, search engine optimization, Google Analytics, press releases, print ads, catalogs …. Huh? I honestly didn’t give anything a thought. But, I’m a quick learn and I do know what I don’t know so it was really a question of finding out what needed to be done. And, believe me, we were miles from being anywhere near our destination. We were lost without a clue.
Not only that, we’d never shipped one of our plants, ever. And, we are talking about a pretty perishable product that needs to get to the customer in the same condition it was in when it left its warm and comfortable greenhouse. Oh, and did I mention that there are over 13 different growing zones. And, as that plant travels to its final destination, it may have to go north through freezing conditions, or south through the blazing heat.
Success from Perseverance
So, how did we come through this? Easy. We knew where to go for help. I mean this sincerely when I say we couldn’t have done this, have come this far, without a lot of great help from a lot of smart and dedicated and hard working people. It is truly the folks that have been involved with this venture since 2008 that have made us a success. Thank you.
In the beginning, it was our vendors who helped us correct our mistakes. UPS lent their time and expertise to helping us understand the most efficient means of pulling and packing. They have this down to a science, and we are now a ‘machine’ thanks to their help. Our box designers worked tirelessly on creating the perfect container to ensure that your plants get to you in perfect condition. These guys are literally geniuses. It was a blast to watch them work.
After fits and starts, we hired a really smart bunch of people who understood the intricacies of whatever fits and starts and turns and twists of that ‘god’ known as GOOGLE and keeps us honest and up to date. Social media means a lot more than posting a great looking meal on Facebook, and we’ve been working with a lot of admittedly younger folks to figure out how to leverage all of this chatter in a way that provides our supporters with meaningful content as well as a genuine glimpse into our little corner of the world.
The Growers Exchange is…
But, in terms of ‘boots on the ground’, I’ve got to give a shout out to all of the people who have worked directly with The Growers Exchange over the past 32 years. That is a lot of people, and without exception, each one brought something to us that is lasting and contributed to where we are today. I can tell you that we have had a diverse crowd in terms of age, race, nationalities, legal statuses (am I going to be taken away now?), gender, abilities and disabilities (yes, my first greenhouse staff were adults with mental retardation and my plants were NEVER as lovingly fussed over as during those years) ~ thank you all. And for all the diversity, there is one COMMON DENOMINATOR that binds us all ~ WE WORK HARD. Honestly, it is hard work that has kept this thing going. Going the extra mile, staying sweaty in humid greenhouses or trudging through snow, keeping the fires going at 3AM, lifting and carrying and hustling, filling thousands of pots with soil, gently planting hundreds of thousands of seeds and plugs, working hard to find solutions for customers, staying late and getting to work early. This job is not for the faint of heart.
So, as we move towards our 32nd year in business, I really want to give a heartfelt THANK YOU to all of our staff, past and present. You know who you are, but you need to know how much you are valued. We couldn’t have done it without out.