The pandemic may have wreaked absolute havoc on many businesses, but for Richard and Tracy Vinzhe, owners of Olden Organics in Ripon, it has become an opportunity.
In March 2020, when the pandemic brought almost everything to a halt, the Vinzhes lost their main source of income – sales at farmers’ markets in the region. They had large quantities of produce and vegetables that had been grown and grown in their greenhouses, and did not want them wasted.
To seize the moment, Tracy created a website on Shopify and started selling online. Orders were taken weekly with delivery on Friday.
“People liked the idea of locally grown fresh produce and wanted to support farmers,” said Nick Wood of Green Bay. “Because it’s a close-knit community, they had relationships with vendors from Milwaukee to Green Bay. Many of these sellers asked if they could also sell on the website and the number of sellers increased.
It has grown so much, in fact, that it has become difficult for the Vinzhes to manage with their large organic farm. That’s when Wood came into the picture. In August 2021, he reached an agreement with the Vinzhes to buy the e-commerce business they had developed. At the time, the company was called Local Food to Your Doorstep.
“Before we started (he has two investors), we discussed marketing and branding and thought the name ‘Farm Fresh Express’ was more impactful and easier to remember,” Wood said. “We searched the URL and the name was available, but because it was considered ‘keyword rich’, Go Daddy wanted $15,000 for the domain.
This led to the decision to change the name to Farm Fresh Xpress, a name available for the regular price of $19. It also led to one of the biggest challenges to growing the business.
When searching on Google, the new name did not appear. Instead, the search directed potential customers to a variety of other places. When Wood discussed the matter with a friend of his who was an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) expert, the friend encouraged him to buy the other name.
“We were able to negotiate a lower price for the domain and eliminate confusion between the website and Google,” Wood said. “Now, with Farm Fresh Express, our ducks are lined up on the digital site and we can start pushing on the web side (www.farmfreshexpress.com). It will all come together in the next few weeks.”
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Now that the site will be easier to locate, customers will find an easy-to-order platform that has nearly 40 vendors selling fresh produce, bakery, fish, cheese, spices, coffee, others beverages, oils, pasta, crackers, and an assortment of other fresh, local products.
Although many suppliers have been inherited, Wood adds to the list and gives customers even more choice with the same procedure – order by Wednesday and it will be delivered on Friday. The minimum order is only $25 and there is a nominal delivery charge of $6.99.
“Each supplier is unique. Some are larger like Waseda Farms in Door County and there are smaller vendors like Voyageurs Bakehouse in Green Bay. I use the Shopify platform; all of our products and suppliers are there and it’s great software to keep track of everything.
When the orders are received, Wood enters everything into a spreadsheet and sends the orders to the suppliers. Some of the suppliers deliver to their Wrightstown facility and Wood picks up the others. Friday is all on deck as everything is packed for distribution.
“We had searched high and low for a location and were lucky enough to end up at the American Legion,” Wood said. “They had been closed by the pandemic and we were able to rent the property. It has a kitchen, banquet tables and coolers, it’s perfect for picking and packing.
Once packed, four drivers will leave to deliver the hundreds of orders. Despite the website confusion they experienced, there are already 1,000 contacts in their database. But the target area is huge and Wood thinks they’ve barely tapped into the potential. With a footprint that stretches from Green Bay to Fox Valley to Milwaukee and surrounding areas, he estimates there are around 1 million homes.
“If we could get interest from just 8-10% of those households, that would be a minimum of 80,000 households,” Wood added.
His challenge is to spread the word and gain brand awareness. It is difficult to define the target market because, he says, the demographics are very dissimilar.
“Our market is made up of people who believe in eating fresh, organic, healthy foods that support the local food system,” Wood noted. “I ask customers, ‘How far do you think your lettuce has traveled from the grocery store?’ The answer is that it averaged 1,500 miles. Almost everything we sell is from an hour’s drive away. It’s important to our customers.
It backs up that freshness claim with a 100% satisfaction guarantee and has a delivery system that works with customers to ensure food doesn’t sit on the doorstep in 90-degree temperatures. Wood’s years of teaching, writing and editing experience make him a natural at working through a very detailed process.
“We now have a year-round, seven-day-a-week online farmer’s market with the freshest, most local produce,” he said. “Our new and improved website makes ordering easier, and if you have any issues, we’ll make sure we understand it.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former district manager of SCORE, Wisconsin.