$400K/Month – Non-GMO and Organic Seeds E-commerce Market – Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market
INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 1:08:22)
Sponsors & Partners
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market, True Leaf Market, an independent seed company, discusses the importance of non-GMO seeds and the company’s focus on providing people with a choice. Garlitz emphasizes the importance of competition in the seed industry and highlights their focus on customer service and quality products.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market, an independent seed company, discusses the importance of non-GMO seeds and the company’s focus on providing people with a choice. He explains the difference between non-GMO seeds, which are naturally pollinated, and GMO seeds, which are gene-edited in a laboratory. Garlitz also shares his journey in e-commerce, starting with a printer repair business and eventually venturing into the seed industry. He talks about the growth of True Leaf Market, their e-commerce platforms and challenges they faced in the early days. Garlitz also explains their business model and their commitment to offering a wide variety of seeds. He discusses the challenges of adding functionality to their website without affecting speed and how they have transitioned to a headless e-commerce structure to address this. Garlitz emphasizes the importance of competition in the seed industry and highlights their focus on customer service and quality products. He also explains the supply chain challenges they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and their commitment to providing a better online seed shopping experience. Finally, Garlitz discusses the warehousing and fulfillment operations of True Leaf Market, ensuring fast and efficient shipping while complying with international regulations.
- 00:00:00 In this section, the host introduces Parker Garlitz, one of the co-founders of True Leaf Market, an independent seed company that specializes in heirloom, non-GMO, and organic seeds. Parker explains that their focus is on the non-GMO market, which includes open-pollinated heirloom seeds, as well as hybrids. He clarifies that non-GMO seeds are naturally pollinated, resulting in crops with the same characteristics as the previous year’s crop. In contrast, GMO seeds are gene-edited in a laboratory and typically sold to large agricultural concerns. Parker emphasizes that their goal is to provide people with a choice and believes that if individuals want non-genetically modified seeds, they should have access to them.
- 00:05:00 In this section, the speaker discusses the concept of natural hybridization and GMOs in crop production. They mention that natural hybridization aims to improve crops over time, while GMOs use science to expedite the process by potentially accelerating the development of super crops. The speaker also touches on the nutritional value of modern fruits and vegetables compared to those from 50 years ago. They attribute the difference in nutritional value to the fertilization practices used in agricultural production, specifically the lack of essential trace minerals in commercial agriculture. The speaker suggests the use of trace mineral fertilizers as a way to reintroduce these minerals into gardening. When asked about the background of the business, the speaker explains that they come from an e-commerce background and started the business in 1990, initially focusing on remanufacturing toner cartridges and repairing printers before venturing into the internet service provider industry.
- 00:10:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz shares his journey in e-commerce. He started experimenting with it while running a printer repair business and came across a supply of used Next Laser Printers that he sold online. This experience sparked his interest in e-commerce, and he built his first website selling toner and printer supplies. Later on, his sister approached him to help her start an e-commerce business focused on promoting wheatgrass growing kits and juicers. The business exceeded their expectations and expanded into other living foods. Eventually, they merged with a seed company called Mountain Valley Seed in 2014 to create a new company, combining their specialties.
- 00:15:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz discusses the growth of True Leaf Market and the company’s history. True Leaf Market was created in 2014 when two merged companies, Mountain Valley seed and Living Whole Foods, came together. While True Leaf Market officially started in 2014, the roots of the merged companies go back to 1974. Garlitz mentions that the business has expanded from around 30 employees to about 200 today. True Leaf Market primarily operates as an e-commerce business, with a small physical showroom for local customers. The company has a team of experts in the seed industry, although Garlitz admits that his expertise lies more in e-commerce.
- 00:20:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market discusses the challenges of promoting an e-commerce business in the early days compared to now. He explains that when they started in 2000, there were limited options for promotion, with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram not even existing at the time. Google was new, and the dominant search engine was Yahoo. Their main option for promotion was a paid search service called Overture, which was primitive compared to Google’s sophistication. Scaling the business was limited due to the small number of people purchasing online. However, today there are numerous ways to promote a website, including paid search, social media advertising, email marketing, and more. Garlitz also mentions how starting a small business on third-party marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart is much easier now, compared to when they started. Overall, he highlights the advancements in technology and marketing options that have made it easier to market, grow, and promote a business in the e-commerce space.
- 00:25:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz explains the business model of True Leaf Market. They started by purchasing seeds from brokers and distributors, but now they have their own production facility in California where they grow a significant amount of their own seeds. However, not all varieties are covered, so they also contract with growers in other places like Chile, Brazil, China, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Poland. They also buy seeds from the broker and distributor market when needed. When asked about any unique or magical seeds, Parker mentions that certain seed varieties gain popularity periodically, citing examples like black soybeans and Moringa seeds. However, True Leaf Market focuses on the overall benefits of growing one’s own food rather than promoting specific health claims. Parker emphasizes that the joy of growing and reconnecting with the land is a deeply spiritual experience. True Leaf Market offers solutions for indoor and outdoor gardening to provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy growing their own plants. As for their e-commerce platform, they initially started with wheatgrasskits.com, but the details of their current platform are not mentioned in this excerpt.
- 00:30:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz discusses the evolution of their e-commerce platforms, starting from a basic solution in the late 90s to their current hosting on Shopify. He praises Shopify for its user-friendly ecosystem and ease of use compared to previous platforms. However, he does highlight a few improvements he would recommend to Shopify. He also mentions having multiple websites previously for better organic ranking but has now consolidated them into a single site due to changes in Google’s algorithms. Furthermore, they have a wholesale ordering portal in addition to their direct commerce e-commerce website. When asked about personalization and fancy technology, Parker mentions the importance of speed in e-commerce and suggests that Shopify puts more emphasis on this aspect. He also mentions the temptations of using third-party add-ins in Shopify’s marketplace but cautions against overcomplicating the website.
- 00:35:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz discusses the challenges of adding functionality to their website without impacting speed. He mentions that they have loaded their website with features and plugins, but they have reached a point where they can’t add more without slowing down the site. Garlitz explains that they have recently transitioned to a headless e-commerce structure, which allows them to do more without sacrificing speed. They are currently debugging and optimizing the headless website and plan to add new functionality like AI personalization and subscriptions in the future. The goal is to continuously improve the user experience and make it easier for customers to find and purchase seeds. They also aim to provide an educational self-serve experience on their website to reduce the volume of phone calls they receive for gardening advice.
- 00:40:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz, a marketer in the e-commerce industry, explains the concept of headless e-commerce, which involves separating the front end from the back end of a website to create a faster and more customizable experience. He also mentions that Shopify has a headless framework called hydrogen and oxygen. When it comes to competition, Garlitz acknowledges that there are many businesses in the e-commerce space selling similar products. However, he doesn’t see them solely as competitors, but also as potential customers and partners in spreading the joy of gardening. While he strives to provide excellent customer service, competitive pricing, and an enjoyable shopping experience, he believes that having more competitors ultimately benefits the market.
- 00:45:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz discusses True Leaf Market’s approach to the seed industry. He emphasizes their focus on bringing an e-commerce mindset to a historically established industry. True Leaf Market prioritizes fast shipping and rigorous seed quality testing to ensure they offer top-notch products. Garlitz acknowledges their world-class competitors and the continuous drive to improve and stay ahead. Despite the competition, he describes the seed industry as amicable, with companies supporting each other and promoting the concept of growing and gardening. When it comes to their customer base, True Leaf Market caters to various markets, including home gardeners, indoor growers, hobbyists, and professionals. Garlitz also mentions the impact of COVID-19, which led to a surge in demand for garden seeds, as people sought new hobbies and ways to occupy themselves during lockdown.
- 00:50:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market discusses the supply chain challenges they faced during the pandemic, particularly in the seed business. Despite the surge of interest in gardening due to COVID-19, they experienced supply constraints as garden seeds take time to replenish. However, they managed to maintain their growth by being aggressive in marketing and advertising. Garlitz also mentions two trends they are observing: an increase in people buying seeds online and the majority still buying from traditional brick and mortar retail sources. True Leaf Market aims to provide a better experience for online seed shopping with more information and guided shopping tools. They take pride in their high repeat customer rate, which reflects the quality of their customer service, education, seed, shipping speed, and competitive pricing.
- 00:55:00 In this section, Parker Garlitz discusses the warehousing and fulfillment operations of True Leaf Market. He explains that they have their own warehouse where they handle the packaging, testing, and storage of seeds, consisting of around 150,000 square feet of total space. They also have additional facilities in California. While they do have international sales, shipping seeds internationally can be challenging due to stringent regulations in different countries. True Leaf Market vets international orders to ensure compliance with importation regulations. Garlitz mentions that their biggest market is the United States, followed by Canada, and they have become adept at navigating the specific regulations in these countries. Overall, True Leaf Market aims to provide fast and efficient shipment to their customers, while also ensuring compliance with international requirements.
People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode
- Microsoft Teams
- Hydroponic Towers
Book: Scaling Up by Verne Harnish
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market
|[00:00:08] Introduction to Trep Talks and guest Parker Garlitz|
|[00:00:32] Overview of True Leaf Market and its products|
|[00:00:59] Thanking Parker Garlitz for joining Trep Talks|
|[00:01:03] Discussing the uniqueness and success of Parker’s business|
|[00:01:17] Understanding the industry and market of True Leaf Market|
|[00:01:35] Explaining the focus on non-GMO and open-pollinated seeds|
|[00:02:24] Clarifying the concept of open pollination and heirloom seeds|
|[00:03:00] Differentiating GMO and naturally pollinated seeds|
|[00:03:30] Discussing the goals and benefits of GMO seeds|
|[00:03:59] Importance of choice and availability of non-GMO seeds|
|[00:13:02] Introduction and Expansion of the Website|
|[00:13:33] Quitting Other Ventures to Focus on the Business|
|[00:13:51] Merging with Mountain Valley Seed Company|
|[00:14:38] Creating True Leaf Market|
|[00:15:10] History and Roots of the Merged Companies|
|[00:16:04] Expertise and Team Composition|
|[00:16:35] Overview of True Leaf Market’s Business Model|
|[00:17:00] Focus on Direct-to-Consumer E-commerce|
|[00:17:33] Traditional Sales and Wholesale Operations|
|[00:18:00] Early Challenges of E-commerce and Marketing|
|[00:26:47] Introduction to Unique Seeds|
|[00:27:06] Popular Seeds and Changing Trends|
|[00:27:35] The Joy and Benefits of Growing Your Own Food|
|[00:28:20] Spiritual Connection to Growing and Eating Food|
|[00:29:00] Indoor and Outdoor Growing Solutions|
|[00:29:54] Evolution of True Leaf Market’s E-commerce Strategy|
|[00:30:28] Early E-commerce Challenges and Vanilla Hosting|
|[00:31:00] Shopify as a Game-Changer in E-commerce|
|[00:31:30] Consolidating Websites and Google’s Algorithm Changes|
|[00:33:11] Personalization and Customized User Experience|
|[00:41:51] Discussing Competition and Value Proposition|
|[00:42:18] Competitors in the E-commerce Channel|
|[00:42:54] Cooperation and Working with Competitors|
|[00:43:35] Competing on Amazon and Third-Party Channels|
|[00:44:00] Providing Great Customer Service and Experience|
|[00:44:36] Balancing Competitiveness and Collaboration|
|[00:46:00] Target Customer and Spreading the Idea of Growing|
|[00:46:42] Embracing Competition in the Seed Industry|
|[00:47:13] Changing Trends in Home Gardening|
|[00:48:00] Target Markets: Indoor, Outdoor, Hobbyist, and Professional Growers|
|[00:55:19] Warehousing and Fulfillment Strategy|
|[00:55:53] Packaging and Shipping Process|
|[00:56:05] International Sales and Shipping Challenges|
|[00:57:00] Domestic vs. International Market|
|[00:57:33] Warehouse Expansion and Seed Processing|
|[00:58:00] Compliance with International Seed Regulations|
|[00:59:41] Lessons Learned from Acquiring Competitors|
|[01:00:13] Challenges of Integrating Acquired Businesses|
|[01:00:58] Regret of Not Being More Aggressive Earlier|
|[01:01:36] Balancing Marketing and Operations|
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market
- Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Scaling Up by Verne Harnish)
- A business or productivity tool that you would recommend (Response: Hydroponic Towers)
- A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Groups of local E-commerce)
- Best business advice you ever received (Response: You can’t sell from an empty wagon, if you don’t have it in.)
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey, there’re entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant. Welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I interview successful e-commerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and thought leaders, and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses.
And today I’m really excited to welcome Parker Garlitz to the show. Parker is one of the co-founders of True Leaf Market. True Leaf Market is an independent seed company offering heirloom, non GMO and organic seeds, and they also offer growing supply and started. And today I’m going to ask Parker a few questions about his Entrepreneur journey.
That’s all the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business. So thank you so much, Parker. Really, really appreciate you joining me today at
Trep [00:01:00] Talks
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Thank you so much for having me.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So your business is such an interesting business. Um, you know, every time I am interviewing a new entrepreneur, um, most of the times I come across businesses that I personally think, you know, I would’ve never thought about starting this business.
And it seems like your business is doing really well. So, for anybody, um, who does not understand, understand about your industry or business, can you please share, give, give a little bit of an introduction of what products you’re selling and what kind of, um,
Market you are serving
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Yeah, so we are, uh, we’re an independent, uh, seed company.
So we focus on the non G M O market, which includes mostly like heirloom seeds, uh, but can also include, uh, hybrids. Hybrids are not G m o g M O means gene edited in the laboratory. Hybrids are naturally cross pollinated. So that, that really is our space mostly in [00:02:00] the, in the open pollinated, uh, heirloom seed space.
And we sell seeds to, uh, both wholesale and retail, to, uh, the home garden, seed industry to home gardeners. We sell to, uh, microgreens growers and sprouting growers, indoor gardeners, hobbyists. That’s kind of our, kind of our market. So when you say non
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: G M O, uh, does that mean that the, these are really the organic, like as organic as one can get?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: These? Yes, these are, so the, the, the, the term really is open pollinated. And what that means is that these, these seeds are naturally, uh, pollinated, uh, you know, through natural means, insects, et cetera, uh, you know, birds, that kind of thing. Hummingbird and the pollination, uh, results in a future crop. And the future crop has the same characteristics [00:03:00] as last year’s crop, right?
So, uh, G m o seeds are seeds that have been gene edited in a laboratory or patented, and those are typically sold to large agricultural concerns. So we sell to the home. The home market. Right. Okay. Predominantly and small, small professional growers.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And in terms of eels, what is the differentiation like.
Are the GMO seeds supposed to give? Uh, I’m assuming like with these seeds, people are trying to get some sort of a fruit or some sort of a vegetable or plant or, or, you know, trying to get some sort of an edible, uh, product out of it. And what is the difference between these kind of, uh, naturally pollinated cease workers, A G M O?
Would there be, you know, is, is one better than the other?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Well, [00:04:00] I, I, I mean that’s, that, that question starts to get a little bit politically charged and it, you know, it, and it depends who you are, what, what you think. Um, you know, at the end of the. You know, we’re not on an anti G M O crusade, but we believe people ought to have a choice.
And if they want non-genetically modified seeds, uh, they should be able to get those. And we, that’s what, that’s what we offer predominantly. The, I think the goal of A G M O is to, uh, scientifically edit the genes of a particular crop, say corn or soy or wheat, in order to produce a, uh, a variety of, of that particular crop that has desirable features.
Maybe, uh, maybe it’s drought resistance, maybe it’s, uh, very high yielding. Maybe it’s a disease resistance or some, some type of aspect like that. Sometimes those types of, uh, those types of features [00:05:00] can be done through natural cross-pollinization. And hybridization over decades, right? You go back and read about Gregor Mendel, right?
Kind of the father of modern genetics. And he, he did, he did his genetic work by experimenting with, with garden seeds, peas, right? So a lot of, a lot of the goal of natural hybridization is to produce an improved crop. And what GMOs do is, is use science to take a shortcut and potentially jump forward, you know, potentially dozens or hundreds of generations in terms of the, the types of, um, super crops that you might, you might get.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I have, uh, in the past read or heard somewhere that the crops or, or the, you know, vegetables and fruits that we eat these days, or the kind of fruits that one would get in like a regular grocery store. The nutrition value of these foods, which are generally like [00:06:00] the gmo, uh, Grown,
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: uh, items,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: it’s much lower than what, you know, what the, the, the, the regular or organic plant would have produced.
Like, I think 50 years ago, they say that the nutrition of having eating, you know, some of the regular fruits versus today, it’s like there’s a lot of difference in terms of nutritional value. Do you have any, uh, thoughts on that?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: I, I do, I’ll give you my opinion on that. And I don’t, I don’t think it’s so much to do with GMO versus non G M O as much as is as it has to do with how, um, food production land is fertilized, right?
So if you look at, if you look at human nutrition, right, we need. Vitamins and minerals. Well, how many minerals are there that are essential to human health? Well, you can argue that the numbers up [00:07:00] in the fifties and sixties, right? Including a lot of trace minerals like vanadium and chromium and selenium and meibum and some of those types of, so, some of those types of minerals.
Well, in the United States, at least for the past, uh, easily now a hundred years, right? Industrial agricultural crops have been fertilized within pk, nitrogen, potassium, and the phosphorus. Those three, uh, minerals will provide a crop. Everything the crop needs to grow big and produce a high yield, which is what, which is what growers want, right?
They wanna be able to sell by the pound and produce very large yield of fruits and vegetables. And n PK fertilizer does that. Mm-hmm. Well, what has been missing, but this is my opinion, right? From, uh, commercial agriculture is trace mineral fertilization. Well, you know, uh, I think Fritz Haber synthesized [00:08:00] ammonia, uh, in order to make synthetic fertilizer possible, which arguably has fed billions of people.
Right. A huge, hugely important, uh, scientific breakthrough. Uh, and that was a hundred years ago. So for a hundred years, crops have been fertilized with synthetic N P K, right? But has any va vanadium or acromium been put back into the soil? Probably not, right? So, personally, I’m an advocate of using a trace mineral fertilizer.
It’s not really technically a fertilizer. It’s a, it’s a supplement, right? Mm-hmm. A soil additive to re-add trace minerals back into. Gardening and we sell a product called Azomite among some others that is designed to reintroduce trace minerals right back into home gardens.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. That’s, that’s, uh, really interesting.
So, coming back to your business, I [00:09:00] mean, as I said, you know, this is a very interesting business. Uh, how did you get the idea, did you have like more of a farming kind of a background? So you already knew about, you know, this, this area and, you know, the, it made sense for you to, to start it? Or can you share a little bit about your, you know, how you came up with the idea or, you know, if you’re a
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: group of co-founders
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: and Yeah.
What really, what really motivated you to start
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: this business? You bet. Well, My background is certainly not farming or agriculture. My background is e-commerce. So I started, uh, personally, I started in business in 1990 and I started a small business, uh, remanufacturing toner cartridges and repairing laser printers locally.
Mm-hmm. Service business. And then one weird coincidence led to another and with a partner, I ended up starting one of the first dial-up internet service providers in our area in [00:10:00] 1993, and grew that business up to a point in 1998, where, where we sold that, that dial-up internet business. Uh, but in the process, I started experimenting with e-commerce.
So still was running that, that printer repair business. And I had come into a, a supply of, of used next laser printers. Right? If you remember the computer company next. Mm-hmm. Kind of Steve Jobs, uh, in between startup, uh, after he left Apple and before he came back to Apple. Uh, so I had a bunch of next laser printers and I listed them for sale on, uh, the used.
Portion of the internet. Not very popular these days compared to the worldwide web, but I listed ’em for sale in a, uh, in a used equipment marketplace on in the used net. And my first, uh, laser printer, I sold to somebody in Portugal, which in [00:11:00] 1995 was, uh, fairly mind blowing for me. So at that point I got, uh, kind of bit by the e-commerce bug and built, uh, my first website selling toner and printer supplies online.
Um, and started, uh, you know, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to promote a website, how to get traffic and visibility and make online sales. And, uh, our printer business really kind of morphed into an e-commerce business much more though, so than a local business. And, uh, at that point, my little sister was graduating from high.
And, uh, was getting ready to go to college and she approached me, this would’ve been the year 2000, and said, Hey, I am really interested in this whole e-commerce thing and you look like you know what you’re doing. Would you help me start a business? And I said, well, why don’t we do it together? Let’s start a business together.
And, uh, so we brainstormed and we decided to promote something that she was very passionate in. And my, my sister is a, is a vegan and a [00:12:00] committed, uh, uh, kind of a committed vegan with a focus on living in raw foods. Right. Okay. So kind of a hardcore aspect of being a vegan and, uh, At the time, she was really into wheatgrass, if you know what that is, growing and juicing wheat grass.
And so we decided that we would set up a, a website and offer wheatgrass growing kits and juicers online. And I thought maybe, maybe if, uh, we’d run this business right and grow it and promote it properly, maybe it’ll do, you know, five, eight, $10,000 a month in revenue and it would be enough to get my sister through college, which was kind of, kind of the goal.
Right? And lo and behold, everything I, I’ve done on purpose wasn’t as successful as the thing I did, kind of as an afterthought. Hmm. Right? So, uh, that business, uh, in short order, uh, it only took us three or four months to achieve kind of that, that five $8,000. A month revenue run, uh, run range. [00:13:00] And it seemed like we still had a crazy amount of headroom.
So we started expanding the website into, uh, lots of other living foods. We had indoor herb growing kits and some herb gardening seeds. We had, uh, tofu making kits. We had, uh, sprouting supplies to grow your own, like alfalfa sprouts kind of thing. And, uh, you know, by, by the time we were 15 years down the road, uh, you know, we had a business with a, uh, you know, a 15,000 square foot building and two dozen employees.
And I had to quit. Everything else I was doing on the side, I was doing a lot of e-commerce consulting. I quit doing that to go back and help her run that business. Hmm. And then, uh, it was about that point that my sister had. Uh, see, I’m trying to think, was it fourth? Yeah, it must have been fourth child.
She was pregnant with her fourth child and she said, Hey, I really can’t contribute as much to the business anymore. So, uh, I, you know, I, [00:14:00] it, it was a big enough business that I couldn’t run it by myself. And I’m not an operations guy, right? I’m much more of a, an e-commerce, um, you know, marketing kind of mindset.
So we decided we would look around for a potential buyer for the business and ended up talking to one of our suppliers, a company called Mountain Valley Seed. Uh, at the time we were based in Springville, Utah. They were based in Salt Lake City. They were one of our suppliers, and they were interested. And as we got to talking, we felt like, you know, what might be a better fit for us to merge and create a new company instead of, uh, having them just buy our company.
And I was still very eager and excited about the, the potential of the business. So, Long story short, in 2014, uh, our company Living Whole Foods, which was wheatgrass kits.com, was our flagship website. We merged with Mountain Valley Seed Company. Um, so Tru Leaf kind of brought the [00:15:00] specialty seed side of the business, the wheatgrass, the grains, the microgreens, the Sprouts, and uh, mountain Valley brought the traditional gardening seed space.
So we merged in 2014, and when we merged, we maybe had 30 employees total, would be my guess. So, uh, 30, maybe 40. And today we’re, uh, we’re about 200. So yeah, so we created True Leaf Market. That was the, the new entity, um, you know, from, from. From the two merged companies and the two merged companies have roots that go way back quite a bit further than that.
Mountain Valley Seed was founded in, uh, 1974. And, uh, true Leaf, uh, or I’m sorry, uh, living Whole Foods. My sister and I acquired a company called Handy Pantry in 2006, and that company had also been founded in 1974. So even though True Leaf has only been around officially since 2014, uh, we have roots. See what I did there [00:16:00] that go all the way back to, uh, 1974.
So that, that’s kind of the, that’s kind of the story of the business. And, you know, my sister has a lot of growing and gardening expertise. She’s, she’s done a lot of seed production herself. Uh, my two partners are great operations guys. We have two horticulturalists in the business. We have a full-time, uh, seedsman who is, uh, one of the partners of our, of our business and a, a professional plant breeder.
Um, so yeah, we’ve got a lot of, uh, seed industry expertise. But none of that resides in me on the mark.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Well, so I, I definitely wanna come, come back to that. Uh, so, but, but before that, is this, right now, is this um, hundred percent e-commerce business or do you also have retail, uh, locations, uh, brick and mortar?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Yeah. We’re, we’re predominantly an e-commerce business. Our only, quote unquote brick and mortar business is our kind of, uh, walk-in will call [00:17:00] showroom. And it’s not even a showroom. We do have some local customers that come in to place an order, but most people place an order online. And if they wanna, you know, save a little money or get it real fast, they can come and pick it up at our warehouse.
But that, that really only applies to local. Um, we do some traditional old-fashioned, uh, sales, sales reps, uh, working with, uh, you know, buyers, purchasing managers, pos on our wholesale side. But most of our, most of our orders, most of our business is really a direct to consumer e-commerce business. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So coming back to your point to the point that you are really the e-commerce person, um, you know, if you go back to the mid 1900, sorry, 1990s or even 2000 or early two thousands, right?
Those were really the, the wild West days of early e-commerce. And it seems like you got got in on e-commerce really, really early. [00:18:00] And if you think about it, like, you know, if I think about e-commerce today, you know, I think if I could go back 15 years back and start an e-commerce business, by this time I’ve, you know, probably dominate the industry that I’m in.
You know, really be the, the big player.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Um,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: and. So, but, but you were in that place. So you, you know, first you had your, uh, ink and cartridge business, um, and, and then you got into this business. Um, can you remember that time when, you know, in, in, you know, late 1990s or early two thousands, what was, what were the big challenges at that time?
Because, you know, if you think about Amazon and what Jeff Bezo has been done with, really just capitalize on because there wasn’t really any competition. And the, you know, the world was an open place. Internet was new, uh,
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: and e-commerce
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: was bound to become [00:19:00] big.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Um, why I,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: what I would ask is why would you, why did you.
Not think about taking that ink and cart business, adding other product line, just, you know, doing what Amazon did. You know, they started out with books and just expanded into everything. Um, what were the, what were the challenges and big things and, you know, marketing wise, uh, e-commerce wise, that you were facing around that time, uh, that, that did not help you, like really grow with the,
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: uh, I, I would say that, um, I, you know, from my point of view and, you know, take it with a grain of salt because I’ve, I’ve done it for so long, I really kind of know what I’m doing and I’d like to think I’m fairly good at what I do.
That being said, today, it feels so much easier to launch and [00:20:00] scale and run a business e-commerce than it was years and years ago. Like when we started wheatgrass kits.com. What options did we have to promote that business? Well, there was no Facebook, there was no Instagram, there was no Twitter, there was no social media, right?
So that wasn’t an option. Uh, when we started in 2000, Google was brand new, and at that time, the big search engine was still Yahoo. And search engines like AltaVista and some of those others still had a decent amount of market share, and nobody really knew or was too worried about, you know, this upstart called Google.
And at that time, Google had only had, uh, a paid search option, which back in that time period was a C P M model, which was horrible, right? Mm-hmm. It, Google’s first attempted paid search, in my opinion, was not good. They, they improved it over time, but [00:21:00] the only real option we had to, to promote our website other than organic, s e o.
Was, uh, and, and doing some, you know, trying to get some links from, you know, natural foods type portals and, and, you know, blogs and those types of things, which were very rare, very few. Um, the only option we really had was a, was a paid search service called Overture. Hmm. And Overture isn’t even around anymore.
Overture, uh, was an independent, uh, kind of a paid search bidding marketplace, and they would, they would, uh, partner with other search engines like Yahoo and Alt Vista and others, and get their search results at the top of those search engines. But their system was really very, very primitive compared to how Google operates today.
Google’s very sophisticated and the amount of people who were purchasing online was very small. So our [00:22:00] ability to scale that business. Into, you know, whether it was the toner business or whether it was the, the, uh, the wheatgrass business, our ability to scale that was fairly limited, right? Today, there are hundreds of ways to promote a website, and there are, there are companies that have taken a single approach, like maybe an ambassador program or have used affiliates very effectively.
You know, we try to do a, a full court press and use, you know, we advertise on being paid search. We advertise on, um, Google in all of their options, their display, their search, their shopping portal, and their, uh, and YouTube. Uh, we advertise aggressively and try to have a presence on all social media. We do email marketing and all these types of types of marketing that really didn’t exist or weren’t reliable enough to be successful back in those early days, right?
And of course, [00:23:00] today, You know, anybody can start a small business. If you’ve got a, uh, you know, a good product and you’ve got good margins and you can offer it a fair price, uh, you can start on third party marketplaces like Etsy or eBay or Walmart or Amazon. And those options weren’t really available.
Right. We started selling in Amazon, I think around 2003 when Amazon introduced their marketplace program. And even then it was very minimal. The, you know, the amount it, you know, back in 2000, 2003, most people still thought of Amazon as a bookstore. And the idea that you would go to the go there to buy a wheatgrass growing kid or to buy seeds or a juicer, most people weren’t looking for those types of things at Amazon at that time.
Mm-hmm. Right? Mm-hmm. So, I, I would say it’s much easier today to market, grow and promote a business than it, than it used to be. Did that, did that answer the question you’re looking for or you’re looking for? I think,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: [00:24:00] I think, I think so, I think so. Um, and I, and I think, and I also understand in those times, you know, e-commerce people did not really probably have the trust factor.
You know, they didn’t know that if they’re going to pay money online, you know what’s going to happen, can they trust the company and things. So I think there has to be a certain combination of things coming together, as you said, you know, marketplaces, search engines, you know, the, the marketing, uh, paid marketing models.
Um, a lot of the trust e-commerce platforms to, to e-commerce to really take off. So, so yeah, I, I mean definitely understand the challenges at that point in terms of your product itself, the different seeds. I know you mentioned that you have a lot of different kinds of experts in this area, um, but. Are these seeds, is this something that, you know, your company grows in-house or is this something that you [00:25:00] purchase from other manufacturers?
Uh, and, and is, you know, you, you’re reselling them? How, how does that business model
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: work? Yeah, great, great question. So, starting out years ago, we were purchasing seed from basically brokers and distributors who would buy from growers, right. But today we do, uh, a whole lot of our own direct seed production.
Not a hundred percent. I don’t think that’s, that’s possible, right? But we grow, we have a, we have a production facility in the Central Valley in California, and we grow. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say a thousand tons or more a year of our own seed. And that really only covers maybe a third of our varieties.
So the rest of the varieties of seed that we, that we sell, we either, we [00:26:00] either contract with growers in other places in the United States, or, uh, we do contract internationally. We have growers in Chile, we have growers in Brazil. We have growers in China. Uh, in China. Not too many, but we have a few, we have growers in Italy and the Netherlands and France and Poland and, uh, o you know, other places internationally where we’ll contract with growers and they will produce, clean the seed and send it to us.
And in other cases we buy, we buy seed from the, the broker and distributor market. Um, still. Like we did, you know, years and years and years and years ago. So a combination of all the above in order to, to meet the needs of our, you know, supply chain. So, you
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: know, is there any seed that is really unique or, you know, I mean, everything that you know about working, you know, in this business so far, you know, uh, a [00:27:00] layman, a lay person like me that doesn’t know anything about seed, is there anything that would surprise me?
Is there any seed that has, like magical properties that I
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: should know about? Oh, I, you know, I don’t know. I, I would say, I would say, you know, interest in certain types of things comes and goes. Right. Like I remember, you know, maybe back in 2010 or 2011, I think, uh, Dr. Oz or one of the, uh, you know, one of the, the, uh, television health gurus, it might have been Oprah Winfrey.
Somebody did a, a show or a program about, you know, how good black soybeans are for you. And we sold out of black soybeans in about four hours, and there was a national shortage of black soybeans for, you know, the next six or eight months. Uh, we’ve seen moringga seed be very popular. We’ve seen broccoli go in and out of popularity.
Um, you know, and [00:28:00] we don’t really take a strong stand and, and try to really promote, uh, the health claims or specific health claims of one type of seed over another. I think our contention would be, look, anytime that you’re, anytime that you’re growing your own food, whether it’s for health purposes, whether it’s just for a hobby gardener.
Whatever it might be. There’s just so many benefits that come from that. You get, you get the benefit of even eating fresh live Whole Foods. Um, and you know, you kind of reconnect to the land in, in a modern society, most of us are so disconnected from our own food supply, right? There’s something, uh, sounds a little bit corny to say it, and it is, but it isn’t.
Right? There’s something deeply spiritual about growing and producing and eating your own food. It’s a connection that our ancestors, you know, was so routine for them. They didn’t think about how it would be if that was missing. And for [00:29:00] us, we don’t think about what it would be like to have that, but it’s, it’s a beautiful thing.
So we’re, you know, we, we don’t care what you grow, we just want everybody to experience the joy of grow. And we, you know, to that we have, we’ve created solutions that, that allow for indoor countertop growing of things like sprouts and microgreens and maybe an indoor herb garden Also, you know, in, uh, traditional outdoor gardening or patio container gardening, all of those things, right?
We, we wanna provide opportunities for everybody to feel the joy of growing things. That’s,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that’s awesome. Um, given that you are the e-commerce expert, um, are you using Shopify or, um, can you share a little bit about, you know, how has your e-commerce strategy evolved over time? Were you using like a different platform before now you’re in a different platform
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: and you bet.
So our, our, uh, our [00:30:00] first website on wheatgrass kits.com. Started out with just some vanilla hosting and we had a backend e-commerce kind of a bolt-on e-commerce solution that was actually based out of Australia. And if you went back to those, that time period in the, in the late nineties, early two thousands, there weren’t very many really good kind of, uh, what I would call out-of-the-box e-commerce platforms.
And I have, I have used a dozen and, uh, currently we are hosted on Shopify and, uh, we have multiple websites. We’ve got, you know, one flagship website, which is tru leaf market.com. But, um, I gotta tell you, I, you know, I’m not a, I’m not a paid spokesperson for Shopify, but I’m a. I really like Shopify. They have a wonderful ecosystem.
It makes things a hundred times easier than [00:31:00] it was years and years and years ago. And, you know, they’ve just, there’s, there’s very little that we wanna do that we can’t do on the Shopify, on the Shopify platform quickly and easily. Now that being said, you know, if, uh, anybody from Shopify’s listening, I’ve got about 10 things that I would recommend that need, uh, need improvement.
But that’s a fairly minor complaint. Uh, I’m a big fan of Shopify. Makes things very, very easy compared to the good old days.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Now you did mention that you have other websites also. Are they Cisco websites selling Same thing.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Yeah. They’re, they’re kind of part of the process, you know, back in the, back in the early two thousands, um, you know, Google’s organic ranking would tend to favor specialty websites a little bit over a general website.
So there was a time in, you know, 2015 when we maybe had a dozen websites. We had herb kits.com and growing [00:32:00] microgreens.com and handy pantry.com and wheatgrass kits.com and uh, mountain valley seed.com and blue master.com and others, right? Since then, we’ve tried to consolidate all those sites down into a single site.
Google’s algorithms don’t really favor specialty targeted sites as much as they used to. Um, so we’ve, we’ve, and, and it’s hard to promote a dozen websites. Um, but we do have a couple of other websites. Uh, some of them are from companies that we’ve acquired and we just haven’t collapsed them into our single website strategy yet.
And we do have a wholesale ordering portal, um, that’s for our, our wholesale customers. And we don’t promote it. It’s just a, it’s an order taking website as opposed to a get visibility and bring people in type of website. So really, if you boil it down, we’re, we’re really a two website company. We have a, a direct eCommerce e-commerce.
We have a backend wholesale, uh, portal, which is [00:33:00] again, just an order taker for our customers. And everything else is just in transition until it gets merged into our, to our true leaf market site. Okay, now,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I think in the recent times you hear so much about, you know, personalization, you know, you want to personalize the customer journey and all, and
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: all these buzzwords.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you using any sort of, and, and, and now of course now you hear about the, the whole new ecosystem, which I think is coming with the
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: AI and everything. Um,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: what kind of, are you using any sort of like fancy technology on your website that is, you know, that customize the user experience for individual users or segment segments of users?
Or is it completely, you know, the customer gets on the site because it’s such a targeted market, they know what they’re looking for or they’re already [00:34:00] familiar with, you know, different kind of feeds and things like that so they don’t need that kind of
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: ization or customized user journey? Yeah, that’s a very good question.
Um, and it’s a difficult, it’s a difficult question not to answer, but it’s a difficult question to get this right. Right. If I was, if I was gonna give advice to Shopify, I would want them to put a lot more emphasis on speed, right? Because, you know, in the world of e-commerce, speed is everything. And the, the double-edged sword of what Shopify has created in terms of their ecosystem is they’ve created a system where you can do a whole lot of things inside of Shopify.
A lot of those things are accomplished with third party add-ins, right? They’ve got a massive marketplace where, you know, any idea that you’ve ever heard of on something to make a website cool, or add some cool functionality, it’s there and available. Mm-hmm. Well, the temptation [00:35:00] is to say, oh yeah, I’m gonna do personalization, I’m gonna do subscriptions, I’m gonna do reviews, I’m gonna do, uh, you know, built-in ai.
Customer service, and I’m gonna have all these plug-ins and functionality on the website, and they do add functionality at the expense of speed, right? Mm-hmm. So every time we put something else in Shopify, yeah, we’re getting functionality, but we’re also getting speed. And the, the goal is to have both, right?
Mm-hmm. So we have, we have loaded our website with features and plugins to the point that we feel like we can’t put any more on without, you know, really, uh, bogging the site down more than, than is acceptable. So at up until now, we have not used a personalization engine. But, um, I, I, you know, I am currently looking at a couple of personalization options, some AI personalization.
Here’s kind of what we’ve [00:36:00] done. We’ve, we’ve taken our, our website and moved it over to a headless e-commerce structure, which is kind of cutting edge, and Shopify does support that, but not as well as we would’ve hoped, right? Mm-hmm. Uh, and again, not a knock on Shopify. You gotta understand I’m a huge fan, right?
Hmm. But it felt like we were doing some headless things that they weren’t able to help us or advise us or support us. Eventually they’ll be able to do that, and it’s been kind of a journey standing up the headless version of our site. So we actually stood it up twice and backed off, uh, while we tried to solve some problems that, that became clear after we launched it.
Uh, we’ve launched our headless, uh, website as of, uh, about two weeks ago. Looks like it’s gonna stick this time. The headless framework gives us the ability to do more things. Without, without the expense of speed, like [00:37:00] had been true of Shopify’s liquid environment. Right? So now that we have headless, we’re debugging it, we’re gonna be optimizing it, see how fast we can make it go.
Uh, we’re gonna do some, some trickery to offload some of the third party, uh, scripts that load and pull data in remotely, like reviews and those types of things. Once we have that issue solved, we will be going back and adding some of some new functionality that we’re anxious to add in, like some guided shopping, uh, experiences, uh, like AI personalization, like subscription and some other things.
So those are pending. We expect we’ll have a lot of that functionality live to improve our, our website experience here in the next, I would guess, uh, six to nine months, we should have quite a bit done. But you know, it’s a. It’s kind of our, you know, at least in the marketing department, providing a, a consistently improving user [00:38:00] experience, making it easier to buy seed and find out, find the seed that you want, or find out what you should want if you don’t know what you want, right?
Mm-hmm. That’s kind of a challenge in gardening. You know, we have, we have close to 300 varieties of tomatoes. Well, if you’re an experienced gardener, you may know exactly what you want. If you’re new to gardening, you come in and say, uh, what tomatoes should I grow? Or, which two or three tomatoes are the best choices for me?
So we’re, we’re doing things to try to help resolve that and provide a better customer experience. And that’s, that’s part of, you know, that’s part of what we’re really trying to focus on. If that, and,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: and I guess, I guess I guess without that, uh, all of those queries would go to your phone lines, right? So if, if somebody doesn’t know which kind of feed they want or which kind of tomato variety they want, they would.
I will assume they would call your
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: phone lines to offset. So. Correct. And our, and our phones, especially, you know, now during the spring season, this is [00:39:00] our busy season. Um, our phones ring so much, sometimes we’re not able to answer every call that we would, we would want to answer. So yeah, we’re trying to make the e-commerce portion of the experience a much more educational self-serve experience.
Not that we won’t have phones available, we always will. Right. Anybody has a question, we’re at their service. Uh, but it’s, it’s tricky. Gardening is a, gardening is something that a novice who’s never done it before can do. And somebody who’s been doing it for 20 or 30 or 40 years is still learning more about how to do it better.
Right. And yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s a, it’s a challenge. So
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: headless is really, you have basically the Shopify backend and then. You’re using your own language of choice to create the front end. Is that the,
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: the idea? Well, yeah, and, and I, I don’t wanna, I don’t want to give the impression that [00:40:00] I’m, I’m, uh, I’m on the technical side of e-commerce, right?
I’m much more on the marketing and promotion side of e-commerce. We have in-house developers and an IT department that does a lot of the fancy stuff. So I’ll give you, I think, uh, two minutes and tell you everything I know about headless, right? Which I can fit into two minutes. I think the concept of headless is the idea that you are separating the front end from the back end, right?
So you have a very light, nimble, front-end framework, and then headless e-commerce injects content into that framework and separates the backend data from the front-end data, which for some magical reason, Allows for a much, much faster website experience. Right? I think it’s the idea that, you know, the first time you hit a site, it probably loads in about the same amount of time that any old website would do.
But when you navigate to a second page, a lot of that content is already pulled in and all it’s [00:41:00] gotta do is pull like text, which happens very quickly. So theoretically, headless e-commerce is a lot, uh, a lot more nimble and a lot faster a framework than other e-commerce platforms. And then the other idea is because of that headless environment, you can in, you can do some customization that historically has been very difficult or maybe even impossible to do in, within the shop.
Old-fashioned, you know, the, the liquid environment that they had. Now that being said, Shopify does have a headless framework. They call it hydrogen and oxygen for the front end and the back end. Mm-hmm. And it’s basically a slightly modified version of the React programming language. Mm-hmm. And that’s everything I know about it.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. No, that’s, that’s very clear. I mean, I think that’s, that’s how much I knew about it also. And, uh, so that’s, that’s great to confirm. [00:42:00] Um, given that you are primarily a marketer, um, can you share a little bit about competition? Uh, are there a lot of other businesses out there? E and e-commerce, uh, um, channel that are selling similar kind of products?
Uh, because I’m assuming, you know, anybody who can go buy seats, they can put seats on a website and start selling, uh, So, if that is correct, then what is your value proposition? Does it really at the end of the day, come down to who has the most amount of marketing dollars to drive, uh, you know, traffic?
Who has the, the, the fastest website feeds? Who has the best customer service? Uh, how do, how do, what do, how what, what separates your business as opposed to any other competitor selling similar kinda
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: product? Yeah, that, that’s a great question. Uh, we do have competitors online. [00:43:00] We have, um, arguably hundreds to potentially thousands depending on how you look at it, right?
So we have a whole army of competitors who sell, for example, on Amazon, but don’t sell outside of Amazon. And we have a presence in Amazon. It’s a small minority of our business, uh, as our other third party channels like eBay and at Sea and Walmart. Um, But that being said, you know, if you look on Amazon, we have a very large number of competitors that sell against us on Amazon.
Now, am I worried too much about those competitors? No. A lot of those competitors actually buy seed from us. Hmm. So, yes, they’re competitors, but in a certain sense, they’re also customers. And so I, I’m not too worried. Um, you know, the way I look at it is rather than trying to beat my competitors, I’d rather work cooperatively with my competitors to [00:44:00] spread kind of the gospel of growing.
Right? The more competitors that we have in the marketplace, the more the message of gardening and the joy of growing your own, your own things and your own food. Can, can get out. So I, I think the number of competitors that we have is growing the marketplace. And while we have some competitors that I, I don’t think do necessarily a, uh, an awesome job, uh, taking care of, uh, you know, their customers, we have competitors that are amazingly good and our honor to compete against.
And frankly, it’s the majority of them in the, in the home garden seed industry. Now, that being said, we do, we do try to, uh, continually improve and provide a great customer service experience. We try to be competitive price wise. Um, we try to provide a, uh, a fun and a fast and an easy and an educational approach to [00:45:00] buying seeds.
A lot of our competitors do, do as well, and do a great job at that. And then, you know, I’d, I’d like to think we bring an e-commerce mindset. To the seed industry, right? The seed industry is as old as you can imagine. Uh, it, I mean, it dates back to the founding of the country. There were seed companies around in, in, uh, you know, in the 1800, early, the 18 hundreds, and you can find old seed catalogs that date back to the, you know, 18 teens, 1820s.
Hmm. So it’s a very old established industry. That being said, we like to think we bring a, a kind of a modern, uh, e-commerce approach to it. So we focus on fast shipping. We, you know, we, we are very aggressive about testing our seed for germination and other, uh, quality factors and try to make sure that, uh, the quality of seed that we offer is, is first class always.
So we’re, you know, we’re doing those things. Um, but again, we’ve got some, we’ve got [00:46:00] some world-class competitors that we compete against too. And, you know, the fact that our competitors are so good. Forces us to continually try to be as good or better. So it’s, it’s a, it’s very much kind of a family industry.
I, I would say not, uh, not, not that everybody’s related. That’s not what I mean, but, Hmm. You know, uh, people in the industry aren’t angry at each other, and we’re not suing each, and we’re not, uh, you know, badmouthing each other. It, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s kind of nice and refreshing. Right. But I, I’m grateful for our competitors that are going out and helping to convert more people to the concept of growing and gardening.
That, that, for me is, is a, a huge plus that outweighs any negatives for how many competitors we have. And we do have, we have a lot
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: now in terms of your customer base, and, and you talked
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: about this idea of, uh,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you know, spreading the idea of [00:47:00] growing your own food and, and things like this. Who, who is your ideal target customer and what kind of trend have you seen over the last decade or two?
Um, are there more people who are looking to, you know, have the home garden or,
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: um,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: how, how, how is the world changing there? You know, you, you definitely have a unique perspective, uh, in the field. So
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: it’s a great, it’s a great question. You know, when, when, when I look at most of our competitors, I, we have, we have tons of competitors that overlap a portion of our business, right?
So we have a big presence in home gardening, right? Selling seed packets to people who are growing, you know, tomatoes and corn and squash in their backyard. And we have a lot of competitors that are dedicated to serving that part of the market. But we [00:48:00] also sell to indoor growers, right? We sell sprouting supplies and growing kits and sprouting seeds.
We sell microgreens, growing supplies and seeds, and we sell those to both the professional growing market and the home growing market. We have gift items that help people get started in the process of growing their own things, right? So, you know, we have very few competitors that overlap us a hundred percent, but we have, you know, hundreds of competitors that overlap a portion of our business.
Some of ’em a big portion, some of ’em a small portion. So it it’s that kind of, it’s that kind of thing, right? So our, we have a lot of different markets. That, that we go after. Uh, but I mean, if you had to really break ’em down, we’ve got indoor growers and outdoor growers, and we’ve got hobbyist growers and professional growers.
Right. So that creates kind of four quadrants, and we, we try to market to those, to those four quadrants, I guess, you know, in a, in a [00:49:00] customized, in a customized manner. Right. Uh, re remind me, remind me the question again. I wanna make sure
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that I, the, the other question, the other question was, is there a trend in the market?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: you see, uh, trend? Yeah. So the, so the trend right, has been, uh, Covid really changed the market pretty substantially. Right? When Covid hit in kind of mid-March of 2020, garden seeds got very, very popular, very, very quickly. It was spring you had a lot of people that, uh, were on lockdown and weren’t going into work and had needed things to keep the occupied.
And for a lot of people, gardening was the answer, whether it was indoor or outdoor, whatever it was. So, uh, the whole entire garden seed industry had kind of a boom there in, uh, in. In 2020. And since then it’s been a little bit of a challenge because that, that huge surge of [00:50:00] demand in 2020 created some supply chain problems, some other issues that have been common for a lot of businesses.
And you know, certainly the seed business wasn’t immune to that, but we had our own particular problems, right? Cuz in the c in the seed business, you know, there’s only so much garden seed that’s grown this year for the market next year. And when all that’s sold out, well there’s nothing more and it takes years to ramp back up.
So that’s kind of where we’re at. So we’ve been, we, it’s been a challenge with supply chains and as you might expect, right, the surge of interest in in gardening for covid has leveled out a bit. And we have tried to maintain and capitalize on our growth by being more aggressive about marketing and advertising and increasing our ad spend.
And so we’ve largely been able to. Maintain the growth that we had during Covid and maybe add to it a little bit. Uh, but that’s been, that’s been a challenge, right? I think [00:51:00] we’re in the decline phase of the post boom. Right. Okay. So, um, but I think, I think because of Covid, a whole bunch of people got interested in gardening that otherwise may not have been interested before.
So that’s one trend. Another trend that we’re seeing is according to some of the, the, uh, statistical data provided by the, uh, like the Home Garden Seed Association and the American Sea Trade Association, other associations in the industry that, that we participate in, some of the data indicates that still most people who are buying seed for home garden are buying from traditional.
Brick and mortar retail sources, whether it’s, you know, uh, hardware superstores like Home Depot or Lowe’s or uh, chain stores like Walmart or Target or, uh, you know, local hardware stores, they’re still buying packets off of that seed rack to the tune of probably, you know, 96% of people buy [00:52:00] their garden seed that way.
So we are serving a very small market in terms of the number of people buying seeds online, and that trend appears to be over time, more and more people are buying seeds online, right? It would be our contention that from the right company you have a better experience buying seeds. Then you have buying seeds, picking ’em from a packet, right?
Mm-hmm. Off of a rack in a store, if you’re an experienced gardener, probably sixes, if you’re a novice or a new gardener, I mean, what, what judgment are you using to pick the, you know, what seed you wanna grow? It’s probably the picture on the front of the, the deal. And there’s only so much information you can print on the back of a paper packet that tells you what the characteristics of this particular variety are versus other options where we have much more room and, and again, some guided shopping wizards and some other things that we help [00:53:00] to, that we use to help people find the answers to questions that you just can’t fit on a, you know, a three inch by four inch packet, right?
Mm-hmm. So our, our argument would be that it’s a much better experience buying seeds online than it is buying from, you know, a brick and mortar rack. That being said, uh, You know, kind of our future growth is predicated on the idea that more and more people will come to realize that, and that buying online is a, is a fundamentally better experience than buying in a brick and mortar retailer.
The selection for sure is 10 times. Definitely.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And, and, and I, I guess that that also means that, If you have a customer, uh, and I’m assuming you know, someone who’s growing these plants, they would need seeds again and again. Right? So if a, if a customer has once purchased from your [00:54:00] store and for the next season when they need the seeds, you know, and, and they’ve had good experience and they’ve, they’ve got good results out of, you know, the seeds that they’ll purchase from you, then they would likely come back to your store to buy it.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: is that, yeah, that’s a statistic we’re particularly proud of. If, you know, we, we track our re repeat customer rate. Our repeat customer rate is exceptional. And I think for about the past four years, every single month, On a year over year basis has been a, has been a improvement or significant growth in the number of repeat customers that we have.
So, you know, that I think speaks to the quality of our experience, the quality of our customer service, the quality of the education that we help to provide to customers, the quality of the seed, the speed of the shipping, the, the price, competitiveness, et cetera. So that, for us, really is the most important metric, right?
If we get a customer today, there’s a high probability that that customer will buy [00:55:00] from us again in the future, right? And we have customers that have placed, you know, dozens to hundreds of orders with us over the years, and we are so grateful for those repeat customers. And that’s, that’s really what we’re trying to do is turn a first time buyer into a lifetime customer.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you talk a little bit about your warehousing? And fulfillment. Uh, I know you mentioned that you do, you know, a part of your strategy is quick, uh, fast shipment.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Um,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: do you, I mean, I’m assuming given the number of seats you have a large number of skews, um, what kind of warehousing do you do and in terms of fulfillment, like do you, do you package your seeds into small packets that people, you know, that’s easy to retrieve and just ship it out?
Or is it kinda like someone orders a certain amount so that it has to be weighed and, you know, packaged and things like that? [00:56:00] And are you shipping, uh, only in US, Canada, worldwide.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Uh, what is your biggest market? Yeah, great question. So, um, when, uh, in 2014, when. Living Whole Foods and Mountain Valley Seed merged, I think combined, we had separate warehouses and I think maybe we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 square feet total.
And we built our products, we packaged them, we have seed handling machinery and cleaning equipment, and all the, all the stuff that a, a traditional seed company would have. And we do all, we do all the bagging, all the packaging, all the quality testing, all of the storage of seeds in our own warehouse. So we, uh, when we merged, we moved into a much larger warehouse, uh, roughly 75,000 square feet.
At the time I thought we were completely nuts and that we would never fill that. And we’ve since acquired the back half of the, the, uh, the building that we’re in. And we’re now in about 150,000 square [00:57:00] feet of total space. And we warehouse our own seat. And that does not include our, our facility in California.
We have a cleaning, uh, a cleaning warehouse and a storage warehouse in California also, that adds probably another 20,000, 25,000 square feet. Um, so yeah, all the seed is, is warehoused by us. We process it, we test it, we bag it, we pack it, and it’s our brand and we pack it, we pick it, we pack it, and we ship it every day.
So we definitely do that. Now in terms of international sales, we do have a decent amount of international sales, but as you might imagine, uh, shipping seeds internationally is tricky. Because most countries have very stringent requirements about what types of seed and agricultural product they will allow into the country and under what conditions.
So that varies from country to [00:58:00] country. So we have an international desk where anytime we have international inquiries or international orders, that those orders are vetted by our international team so that when they ship, they ship legally to those countries and don’t end up, you know, being destroyed at, uh, customs or port of entry or whatever it might be.
So it’s not as easy to ship seeds internationally, uh, especially in small quantities because sometimes countries will require, uh, you know, very expensive testing and that expensive testing amortizes very nicely over a large order of seeds, but over a small order of seeds. It. Price non-competitive, right?
Mm-hmm. Along with the shipping costs and everything else. So we do have a, we do have an international component. It’s tricky. So most of our, most of our business is domestic United States. Uh, the largest, the largest country that we ship to outside the United States is Canada. Uh, Canada does have very stringent regulations, but we know those very well and we’ve gotten really good at making sure that we’re following [00:59:00] all of, uh, all of Canada’s regulations for the importation of seeds.
So Canada is probably half our half our international business. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Now I know we are kind of running out of time. Do you have additional five, seven minutes? Uh, or, okay. You bet. So, so I’ll try to end this. I know, um, I asked this question to every entrepreneur. Um, you know, there’s always mistakes made, lessons learned, failures, um, In this business, uh, through all the years that you’ve been part of it, running it, uh, what has been a big mistake or a failure that you can remember and you were like, you know, you’re like, okay, that was a big mistake.
Uh, I would, I could have done without. What did you learn from it and what can other entrepreneurs learn from your.
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Yeah. So o only one mistake. Huh? That’s gonna be hard to narrow down. We got a whole bunch of great ones to pick from, right? Um, I would say that, uh, you know, if I had things [01:00:00] to do a little bit differently, we’ve acquired a couple of our competitors over the years, and the process of assimilating a competitor’s business into your own business is however hard you think that’s gonna be.
However much time and effort you think it’s gonna be however much organization you do to try to make sure that’s nailed down. Exactly. It’s roughly 20 times more difficult than you think it’s gonna be. Right? So on some of those, and, and don’t get me wrong, those have worked out well for us, but they could have gone so much smoother and so much better.
So, uh, yeah, a acquiring, acquiring a business, um, and integrating it into our own company, that that’s a very difficult time consuming process. And to some degree it’s a very large distraction. The other thing that I. That I kind of wish we would’ve done has been more aggressive. Earlier on, we were kind of tentative with growth and with our marketing budgets.
And, uh, COVID [01:01:00] really gave us an opportunity to, you know, when covid started slowing down and the seed, the order volume started to, you know, drop off the cliff. We decided at that point we would try and experiment and really put the hammer down on marketing and advertising. And that paid off in a wonderful way.
And the big regret that I have is, man, we, we could have and should have done that a lot earlier and we’d be in a lot better shape today than, than where we were. That being said, it’s sometimes difficult to, uh, for the operations side of the business to keep up with the marketing side of the business, right?
So, you know, you, you can’t, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself and not take good care of customers because, you know, in the modern e-commerce era, Operations is marketing. If you do a bad job taking care of customers, it makes it very hard for you to get new customers with reviews and online information that’s available, et cetera.
So making sure that, that your marketing doesn’t [01:02:00] outpace your, your operational growth is very important. And I’m, I’m blessed to have partners that are very, very good at running operations. So that’s, that’s huge for us. Awesome.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Now we’re going to move on to our rapid fire segment. And in this segment I’m going to ask you a few quick questions and you to answer them maybe in one or two words or sentence or the first question.
First question is one book recommendation that you would make to other entrepreneurs and
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: why? Scaling Up by Verne Harnish, it is the most dense book on how to scale a business that I have ever seen. There’s no fluff. It’s all crunch. Awesome.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: An innovative product or idea and the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: You know, I really like, uh, some of our, uh, kind of competitors that are doing indoor growing garden towers. That’s not a [01:03:00] space that we’re in. I’d love to find a good one to partner with, but, uh, I’m really fascinated by that approach to indoor growing. Awesome.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Uh, a business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: You know what, uh, we made the switch to Microsoft Teams about a year and a half ago, and it has been massively helpful for our company. And I think now they’re
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: going, they’re about to integrate, uh, AI into that also. So hopefully that’s gonna bring
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: some, but I’m not sure what that looks like. But if they can make a better call for.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, a startup or business, an e-commerce retailer tech that you think is gonna
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: be doing great things? Uh, yeah, that’s a good, that’s a good question. Um, I’d have to think on that. I cannot remember the name of the company, but there’s a, a company that’s selling, [01:04:00] uh, handmade crafts from Central American merchants.
They started out with little bracelets. I, for the life of me, cannot remember the name of the company. I apologize to ’em. But, uh, they have done some pretty amazing things with their ambassador program. Um, I’m impressed and jealous. I, I
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: think, uh, are these, uh, is this company created by like, younger, younger guys?
A group of younger guys? Yeah. I, I, I
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: think, I can’t remember the name of the company. I, I, it’s right at the tip of my tongue. I can’t remember, but really, They built their entire e-commerce business on, on ambassador program. And, uh,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yeah, I think, I think they’re pretty big also. Like
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: they’re, they’re, yeah.
Yeah. They’re on Shopify and they’re, uh, amazing what they’ve done. Really, truly amazing. Yeah.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, a peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: inspired you? Uh,
[01:05:00] yeah, that, that’s a good question. I, I mean, I, I try to associate with, you know, a couple of mastermind groups and a couple of. Uh, kind of, uh, informal groups of, uh, local e-commerce folks. And, you know, it’s the collective consciousness there. There’s no one person that I say has done amazing things. Every time I go into one of those groups and we have a, you know, a brainstorming session or, Hey, what’s been working for you?
I always come out with ideas to try. So I would recommend maybe that right? Is, is associating with other, with other smart people that are, that are doing what you’re doing. Maybe not in your industry, but you know, from the marketing point of view. That’s been super helpful for me. Awesome.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Uh, last question.
Best business advice you ever received or you would give to other
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: entrepreneurs? Uh, probably, uh, I’ll give you two. They both came from my dad. Number one is you can’t sell from an empty wagon, right? If you don’t have it in. Hard to make things [01:06:00] work cuz you can’t take care of customers. You can’t ship on time, you can’t do things.
So having our supply chain being run at its absolute maximum efficiency is hugely important to us. And again, I’m blessed with a partner that oversees our supply chain. Uh, two partners actually at oversee our supply chain, do a wonderful job. Um, but the, uh, the, the late, the recent supply chain problems that have been a consequence of the pandemic have made things very difficult.
Right. So have it in stock. And number two is when if you’re doing sales and a customer says yes, it’s time to shut up.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s, that’s, that’s key. Yeah. Um, well, before, before I end, I definitely want to ask you this, um, I mean, have you played with chat G p t? What, what do you think about ai? Do you have any thoughts on the, on what’s coming?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: You know, I have done, I have used chat g p t mostly for research. I know our IT department is using it to write, uh, to write simple, uh, segments of code [01:07:00] for them. And, uh, our content department is using chat G P T to kind of create the core of, uh, some blog posts and articles. And then of course, we heavily edit those.
Um, but I’m encouraging them to, to take a look at that and make sure that we have our personalized, uh, stamp and approach to it, and that we’re verifying the information that, uh, that we’re getting from it. But so far we are, we’re using it probably not as aggressively as we should. Um, but so far it appears to be a, a productivity boost to us, for sure.
Yeah. Yeah. Uh, it’s,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: uh, it’s, it’s a very interesting tool and. We’ll see what, what comes out of it. Well, uh, Parker, thank you so much. That was a great, uh, discussion. Nices really great chatting with you. Uh, thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing a lot of your insights about the industry, about e-commerce, about marketing.
Um, so, so yeah, thank you again very much. Uh, if anybody wants [01:08:00] to, uh, look into your products, what is the best way they can do that?
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: Yeah, so we’re firstname.lastname@example.org. T r U E L E A f market.com.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. Well, thank you Parker. Again, really, really appreciate your time and thanks again for
Parker Garlitz of True Leaf Market: joining me today at Trep Talks.
Thank you so much. It’s been my pleasure.
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