I launched my start up, Anita’s Garden, about six months ago. It’s a good time to look back and reflect on how my business has evolved in that time and discuss my vision for its future. In this article, I will draw on real-life experiences and examples and share a bit more about my journey as a business owner. I’m a very transparent person. In my business dealings, I like everything to be put on the table. I’m also very open to sharing my ideas on how I am running my business, as well as how I think a business ought to be run. As always, there’s a lot of ground I’d like to cover. In Part I of this series, I covered my first five reflections on Anita's Garden. These topics were more philosophical in nature. This week, I would like to focus on some practical matters that pertain to the day-to-day running of the business.
1. Plant orders
I accept plant orders. If a customer requests an item that is not currently in stock, I am usually able to source the item for them which they can collect later on. To facilitate the process, I have a book that I write customer orders in. I take down details of what they are looking for, the desired quantity, their name and contact phone number. When the item arrives, I contact them and arrange a time for them to visit the nursery and collect their order. This system has been working well for the most part, but there have been a few exceptions which have actually made me re-think whether it’s worth the effort. It does require quite a bit of admin work on my part, and I’m always flicking through my order book to remind myself of what is outstanding and whether customers need to be contacted if orders have become ready. As usual, it’s always the minority that spoils it for the rest. A number of customers haven’t been coming to pick up orders when notified that they have arrived, meaning that their order sits in my holds bay for a long time. Obviously I have to care for plants in the interim. I don’t mind doing this as I understand that people may not be able to come immediately. But if the customer doesn’t come to collect their order at all, this ties up stock which may be sought after by someone else. It also takes up space, meaning I can’t re-order more stock to infill the nursery. Worse still, some customers simply don’t respond to my text notifying them that the order has arrived. I feel that this is rude. Even if they have changed their mind and don’t want the item anymore (which is within their right and I’m very understanding about this), I think it’s courteous to at least respond and let me know, given that they originally requested the item and I went to the effort of sourcing it for them. Sorry, that’s my little grumble for the day.
2. Special requests
Linked to taking orders for customers, I can also do special requests from customers, provided I am able to source the seeds or plants within the country. Importing seed from overseas and having to deal with MAP is just too difficult these days. I have customers from many different ethnic communities – Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Fiji, South Africa and others. These different groups have requested special vegetables and herbs for their cuisine, many of which I had never heard of before! Sometimes while I’m helping a customer, they might mention their background. I’ll mentally run through orders received from other customers from the same country for items unique to their cuisine and ask if they would also like to order these items. This has worked really well so far. I have managed to source and supply Double Beans (Lima del Papa) and Gem Squash for customers from South Africa and Snake Beans for customers from various parts of Asia. I have also started lemongrass and moringa for my customers from the Philippines. If you’re having a hard time sourcing veggies and herbs that you use in ethnic cuisine, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your request and I’ll see what I can do. My email address is email@example.com or you can text me on 021 02762091.
3. Pre-order and collect
Part of my orders service is the facility for customers to pre-order what they need for their garden and collect later in the week. Normally what happens is customers send me an email requesting items and specifying desired quantities. I then get back to the customer confirming that I have the stock (or offering alternatives in the event I’m unable to supply particular items or quantities requested). We then finalise the order together and I prepare an invoice. I locate and package the plants. I then notify the customer when their order is ready to be picked up, attaching the invoice. Payment can be made either by bank transfer or in cash upon collection. This is perfect for busy people with demanding jobs, children and chaotic households generally. I think we can all relate to this! Sometimes it can be challenging finding the time to go to the garden centre, search for plants and get the advice you need to plant them so I have hopefully managed to take some of the stress out of it. For orders of $50 or more, I offer a 10% discount.
If you would like to pre-order plants from the nursery, please email your order to firstname.lastname@example.org. A list of available stock in the plant nursery can be viewed on my Facebook page, Anita’s Garden (it’s the pinned post).
4. Mail orders
I also accept mail orders. As mentioned in Part I of this series, I didn’t originally envisage sending plants by post when I set up my business. However, this soon changed when I started receiving requests for plants from customers outside the Auckland region.
I can post plants from my nursery anywhere in New Zealand. A shoe box filled with plants sent by overnight courier (and tracked) costs just $12 + cost for plants. $3 extra for Rural Delivery. This is great value as my prices are lower than garden centres, I stock interesting and unusual varieties that aren’t available commercially and will also save you a trip to the garden centre! Email me at email@example.com if you wish to place an order. A list of available stock in the plant nursery can be viewed on my Facebook page, Anita’s Garden (it’s the pinned post).
Here is the feedback that Richard from Mangawhai gave me after he received his plants on the overnight courier service (you can also read this review on my Facebook page, Anita’s Garden):
***** (5 stars!!)
Well good people, I was recommended this site as being a place that I could buy some Asparagus Crowns and hence my relationship with Anita started. I bought 30 Crowns and whilst discussing delivery etc I saw that she had some Snake Bean plants (been after these for ages) so ordered some of those as well. Anita then packaged up the plants and Couriered them to Mangawhai where they arrived on overnight Courier well packaged and in perfect condition. I would thoroughly recommend her to you all as being a top person forgetting that her plants are so cheap it's unbelievable I'm sure she will upset the big players in the industry due to awesome prices. Check her out you won't be sorry.
Here is the feedback that Noelle from Te Kuiti gave me after she received her plants on the overnight courier earlier this week (you can also read this review on my Facebook page, Anita’s Garden):
***** (5 stars!!)
I had placed an on line order of mixed vegetable on Monday to Anita and I received it this morning nicely packed in a shoe box. I have already potted them to get them settling before planting them in the garden. It was a pleasure to do business with Anita she offers some interesting vegetable varieties and is so diligent in her replies. Thank you very much Anita I’ll definitely keep an eye on your nursery.
5. Visiting the plant nursery
As most of you will be aware, at the moment visits to the plant nursery at Anita’s Garden is by prior appointment only. I run my business by myself, so I’m not always able to attend to customers, especially on a drop-in basis. As many of you will also know, the nursery is actually a small (but very important) part of my business. However, I need to devote time to other services I offer such as gardening education in the form of workshops for both adults and children, interactive guided tours of the garden and the supply of flowers for special occasions. I also need time to develop my blog and write my free weekly gardening newsletter, which are really important to me. In order to fit everything in, I can’t make myself available to customers all day, every day during the week. I recently decided to close the nursery on Tuesdays to give myself a day off every week as I found myself working seven days a week and feeling really run down.
At the moment, appointment slots are one hour long but as I have gotten busier, I have decided to change this to half hourly appointments. If you think you might need more than half an hour to find everything you need for your garden, simply request a double booking or re-visit the nursery another day!
If you arrive early for your appointment, I will serve you straight away if I’m free. Sometimes I am with the previous customer or having my meal break (which is incredibly hard to fit into a busy day!), so please be understanding if I’m only available at the agreed time.
I am having a one-off open day at the plant nursery this Saturday 25th November from 9am until 5 pm, where customers can come by without making a prior appointment to pick up plants for their summer garden. Depending on how this goes, I may consider making Saturdays my one drop-in day at the nursery each week going forwards. Saturdays are always a busy day for retailers given that most people work during the week and only have time to go shopping over the weekend. So don’t worry, I won’t be making Saturdays my day off and will make sure I’m here to help you with your garden.
6. Employing staff
As most of you will be aware, I don’t employ any staff to assist me in running my business. Yet in the short time that I have been operating Anita’s Garden, I have already received two job applications and two requests for work placements! I’m flattered that others want to be a part of my team. Unfortunately at the moment I can’t afford to employ anyone to help me as I barely pay myself a salary! In order to provide a better service to customers in future, I may consider hiring someone to assist me. However, this clearly comes at a cost which will have to be passed on to customers in order to meet the financial obligations which come with being an employer and paying wages regularly. Not only will this affect price point (a major factor that drives a business), but it will also change the dynamics of Anita’s Garden. This is something that I will reflect on further as my business continues to grow and I will keep you informed of any developments in this area.
7. Payment by eftpos at the plant nursery
At the moment, I only accept cash at the nursery. A lot of customers have asked if I accept eftpos. I am aware that it is possible for small retailers such as myself to install an eftpos facility on a smartphone, using BNZ, even if you are a customer of a different bank. I am looking into this! I honestly do listen to feedback from all my customers and jot down ideas in my business development notebook to follow up later on when I have some time in the evenings. I may not be able to implement everything straight away as I need time to look into these matters, so please be patient with me! Watch this space for future developments.
Payment for other services such as the supply of flowers, workshops and tours can be made via internet banking by prior arrangement.
8. Price point
As mentioned above, price point is a major factor that drives a business (and its customers). Obviously, I try to keep prices as competitive as possible, but as discussed in Part I of this series, I do need to cover operating costs and use any potential profits from plant sales to re-invest in further inventory which is essential to the continuation of my business. I can only think of one instance where this has happened in the short time that I set up my business, but the prices of items may fluctuate over time. Ever wondered why the prices at the supermarket are different from week to week? To put it simply, it’s not always possible to fix prices and guarantee to always sell items for a certain amount (or less). For starters, there is inflation, which is driven by the consumer price index. The price of many commodities often increases over time. There are of course some exceptions in sectors like technology, where items become cheaper over time as the pool of consumers becomes bigger. As an example, consider how the prices of flat screen TVs, digital cameras, computers, smartphones and other gadgets have dropped since they first became available on the market. Prices are also determined by the economic principle of supply and demand, which you have probably heard of. Basically, this means the quantity of a particular and how much demand there is for it. Where items are sourced from suppliers, I have to negotiate wholesale rates with other businesses and this sometimes fluctuates depending on supply and demand. This goes for other retailers, such as supermarkets and service stations. So this is why prices can fluctuate, but I do try my best to minimise this in the course of my business.
9. Deliberate damage to inventory
Recently, I was saddened to find that during the night someone had deliberately damaged some inventory. This is the first time that an act of vandalism has occurred at Anita’s Garden. The most common question we get asked is whether stock or produce from the garden gets stolen or vandalised, given that the section is unfenced and most of the garden is infront of our house. Up until now, we have been very fortunate to have not had any issues in this regard.
Damage to inventory can occur in a number of ways. It can be accidental, for example, if I damage a plant by dropping it accidentally. It can also be caused by a force of nature, such as the wind or rain, or another element of mother nature such as slugs and snails munching on seedlings. Damage to stock, whether accidental, deliberate or an act of nature, is an operating cost which must somehow be recouped in the course of the business. In determining the price point for inventory, it is necessary to factor in damage to inventory. Up until now, I had only accounted for accidental damage to stock and damage by mother nature. For now, I am writing the incident off as a bad debt (in a manner of speaking), but if this keeps happening, I may have to make a slight price adjustment to factor in deliberate damage to stock. I hope it doesn’t come to this, as it is really unfair to my wonderful customers who are so respectful and a pleasure to assist. As I often tell customers, through my business I have gotten to meet some wonderful people in the community. But as always, it’s the minority that spoils it for the rest, similar to the small number of customers who have not been honouring customer orders, as described above.
10. Free weekly gardening newsletter
As many of you will be aware, I write a free weekly gardening newsletter which I circulate to a mailing list and upload on my website, my Facebook page, my Twitter account and also on Neighbourly. I really enjoy writing my weekly newsletter and have received very positive feedback from both customers and businesses for whom I am a brand ambassador. Even though it’s challenging finding the time to provide all the services and products I want to my customers, I definitely intend to continue to write a free gardening newsletter on a regular basis. I will be taking a short break over the Christmas and New year period but will resume my newsletter in the new year. Don’t worry, I still hope to circulate four more issues before this happens! I am considering whether I may circulate the newsletter less often during the winter, when activity in the garden slows down. Or I may put out a bigger winter edition at the start of the season, giving you all the advice you need to cover you for the winter period. Whatever I decide, please don’t worry, I won’t leave you all wondering what to do around your gardens!