“We try to be the outlier”
Many companies are struggling during the current Covid-19 crisis. According to Dutch bank ING, 20% of the Dutch economy will come to a halt in April and May. It is a difficult time for everyone. Yet, there are companies that have seen an increase in demand for their services. From the start of the Corona-crisis, no one has been idle at online marketing company Garden Connect and in fact, everyone is busier than ever. Founder Edwin Meijer expands on how the Amsterdam-based company is handling this spike.
It is exactly half-past three and Edwin appears via Google Hangouts. He has a headset on his head and seems quite comfortable in this setting. We got in touch last weekend and within five minutes the appointment for this video call was in both our agendas. He seems to be pretty busy and our conversation starts immediately. I fire off a few questions and Edwin dives straight into them. After a few minutes, he pauses and we both laugh: "Yes, throw in a quarter and I won’t stop talking!"
He gives a high-speed summary of the history of the company: Garden Connect has been a player in the online marketing of garden centres since 2002. They have grown enormously in recent years. During the financial crisis in 2008, they had a team of 7 people. Nowadays they employ roughly 50 people.
On the 15th of March, the annual Garden Connect ski trip to Austria came to an abrupt end when the Covid-19 crisis put the entire European economy in a lockdown. The team had to work from home and they haven’t seen each other face to face since coming back from Austria. More than half of the employees subsequently suffered from corona symptoms, but thankfully everyone recovered.
At any other time, team members would be constantly flying out to visit customers in Canada, Ireland and England, but that is of course, no longer possible. Luckily, it was not too difficult for the online marketing company to adjust to this situation, mostly because employees often already worked from home. "We start every day with a "Daily" in which everyone discusses his or her goals for the next 24 hours. This is a good moment to make sure everyone is on the right track, tackle potential issues and catch up with each other. We have a long strategy meeting every week in which we discuss topics in depth. We’re doing both online now."
Nobody saw this coming, including Meijer. And so the company had to adapt to this situation very quickly. "When it started, we immediately started thinking about what to do and what would be feasible. As a result, we were able to reduce the process for creating a webshop from eight weeks to a week and a half. By doing that, we accelerated our sales immediately.”
"Many of the company's customers are located in England and Belgium, countries where all stores are closed. The offer for a fast track webshop came at the right time for many centres and so Garden Connect was able to realise nineteen new webshops for garden centres in only 3 weeks. "Cash flow is often a problem for garden centres these days, which is why we have chosen to allow these customers to pay in instalments."
Edwin says that Garden Connect works closely with suppliers in the garden industry. "This allowed us to help our customers upload detailed product information for many of the products they sell in their webshops. As a result, our customers can sell a larger part of their product range online quicker.”
"Our e-commerce platform is also integrated with Amazon. This allows customers to offer products directly from their webshop (via Amazon) to a larger audience. Of course, such an integration is a bit of extra work, but it ensures that centres can sell their products and not be left with old stock."
Due to the shortened process for creating webshops and other services, the work tempo had to go up immediately and that demanded a lot from employees.
"As a company, we could keep doing this for a year, but we never wanted to be mass-producing webshops and websites. So we had to be careful not to overstretch the team and sales. Especially when you have children at home it can be difficult to keep work and private life separated. We try to keep the vibe up as much as we can. For example, we still have Friday afternoon drinks and last week even an online boot camp! In the upcoming weeks, there are also yoga-classes scheduled and online quizzes with the team members."
Garden Connect's revenue model is based on monthly subscriptions, which ensures a fixed monthly turnover. The more services a customer wants, the higher the monthly amount. Edwin indicates that in these times, having a website to communicate with customers might be even more vital than before. The company does not assume that they will lose many subscriptions in the upcoming months: "As a company, we invest in the relationship we have with our customers, which is very important to us. We immediately called all of our customers to ask if we could do something for them when the economy was put on lockdown. They appreciated that we took the time to look for solutions together and yes, we were able to help some centres who are now seeing a very nice number of orders coming in via their webshops or Amazon accounts. "
It all sounds very positive, but Garden Connect is naturally also experiencing negative consequences of the corona outbreak. "Companies invest less money during an economic downturn and marketing budgets are often the first to be cut back. That will hit us. But the last weeks taught us that we can be very flexible and adapt to changing circumstances quickly. The team also knows they can rely on each other even if they work remotely.”
It sounds almost too positive during the Google Hangout, is that realistic? “I try to think about solutions. We can’t change this whole situation as a company but we can still try to make the best of it. The moment you start focussing on what you can’t do, you’re doomed to fail. We’re ready for this challenge right now. It might sound a bit naive but we try to be the outlier.”