From the West Coast to the World
The company: Salt Spring Seeds is a niche business supplying organically grown seeds and promoting sustainable agriculture.
The mission: To create a website from scratch that would turn a local mail order company into an efficient and trusted international supplier.
For 17 years Salt Spring Seeds was sustained by an annual catalogue and positive word of mouth. It was earthy and practical – the ultimate offline business. Three years ago, owner Dan Jason decided it was time to take his heritage business online. It was a decision that doubled his customer base and helped him to survive the sudden loss of a major market. As well as gaining more local customers, Salt Spring Seeds now gets inquiries from Australia to Korea, the Czech Republic to China.
International Revenue Streams
In 2004 Jason had 6,000 names on his mailing list but he wanted more customers and a more effective means of spreading the word about organic gardening, heritage and heirloom seeds and crop diversity. He says: “The website has made an incredible difference to the business. Over the years it has been quickly building up and now about half of my customers are online.”
The development of an international customer base beyond the North American market proved to be a timely move. When the US Department of Agriculture brought in new customs regulations in 2005, Salt Spring lost access to a significant market overnight. But with growing global presence, new customers from other parts of the world ensured that sales didn’t take a nosedive.
Developing Customer Relations
Dan Jason still produces a catalogue each December after the latest harvest has been inspected. But he says the website gives him much more flexibility in managing supply and demand. “If I sell out of something, there is no easy way to inform customers who only have the printed catalogue. But online I can let customers know right away. That saves me a lot of time and hassle just like that.”
The website has allowed Jason to include more detailed product descriptions and customer comments on individual seeds. Something that was too costly with the printed catalogue. With email and newsletters, he also has the opportunity to respond and engage with more of his customers.
When Mastermynde first started developing the website, they had to meet a number of challenges to ensure the website’s effectiveness. “Their customer base is older so they are not the typical demographic of people who use the web,” explains Leif Jason. “Everything had to be very explicit and easy to find.” The e-commerce application had to be easy to use and manage and the online catalogue uncomplicated and easy to navigate. The site also had to reflect the company’s existing branding and be easy for Dan Jason to update himself.
PayPal was chosen as the e-commerce option, not only for its ease of use but it keeps costs down for new web businesses that have yet to establish their online potential says Leif Jason. “PayPal is easy and cheap to integrate into a site and you can see if people are buying and get the cash flow going before they think about investing in a more expensive option.”
How to Get Attention
Expanding the customer base was also an essential requirement of the website and search engine optimization ensured that Dan Jason wasn’t simply converting his offline customers into online buyers. Salt Spring Seeds may be a small enterprise, but type the phrase “organic seeds” into Google and Salt Spring is a top listings. Not bad for an owner-operated business with a non-existent advertising budget.
By his own admission, Dan Jason is more of a man of the soil than a man of the keyboard but he believes that the website has allowed him to grow his business and spread his organic philosophy while still leaving him plenty of time to do what he does best. “I was not a computer person to start with but Leif set it up so that it has been easy for me. In terms of communication with customers it has just been amazing. It is so fast and straightforward and I can’t say enough about it. It’s great.”
Turnover has increased and Dan Jason has much better contact with his customers. Through a links page, online instructional videos and a sister site, the company also plays an important role in supporting the wider organic and sustainable agriculture community.
Mission Accomplished. The website has proved to be an effective business development tool for Salt Spring Seeds. With a limited investment in time, Dan Jason has seen revenue grow, the customer base expand and his ideals for sustainable agriculture find new audiences.
To find out how Mastermynde can help your company, contact us today.