The pandemic may have caused absolute havoc for many businesses, but for Richard and Tracy Vinzhe, owners of Olden Organics in Ripon, it became an opportunity.
In March 2020, when the pandemic shut down almost everything, the Vinzhes lost their primary source of income – selling at farmer’s markets throughout the region. They had large quantities of produce and vegetables that had been cultivated and grown in their greenhouses, and didn’t want them to go to waste.
To seize the moment, Tracy set up a website on Shopify and started selling online. Orders were taken each week with delivery on Fridays.
“People loved the idea of fresh, locally grown produce and wanted to support farmers,” explained Nick Wood of Green Bay. “Because it is such a close-knit community, they had relationships with vendors from Milwaukee to Green Bay. Many of those vendors asked if they could also sell on the website and the number of vendors grew.”
It grew so much, in fact, that it became difficult to the Vinzhes to manage along with their large, organic farm. That’s when Wood entered the picture. In August 2021, he came to an agreement with the Vinzhes to purchase the ecommerce business they had developed. At the time, the business was named Local Food to Your Doorstep.
“Before we started (he has two investors), we discussed marketing and branding and thought that the name ‘Farm Fresh Express’ was punchier and easier to remember,” Wood said. “We searched out the URL and the name was available, but because it was considered ‘key word rich,’ Go Daddy wanted $15,000 for the domain.”
That led to the decision to change the name to Farm Fresh Xpress, a name that was available at the regular price of $19. It also led to one of the greatest challenges to the growth of the business.
When doing a search on Google, the new name didn’t come up. Instead, the search directed potential customers to a variety of other places. When Wood discussed the issue with a friend of his who was a 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 have the website and Google confusion squared away,” Wood said. “Now, having Farm Fresh Express, our ducks are in a row on the digital site and we can start pushing on the web side (www.farmfreshexpress.com). It will all come to fruition 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-from platform that has almost 40 vendors selling fresh produce, bakery, fish, cheese, spices, coffee, other beverages, oils, pasta, crackers, and an assortment of other fresh, local products.
Although many of the vendors were inherited, Wood is adding to the list and giving customers an even greater selection with the same procedure – order by Wednesday and it will be delivered on Friday. The minimum order is just $25 and there is a small delivery fee of $6.99.
“Every vendor 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 vendors are on there and it’s a great software to track everything.”
When the orders are in, Wood enters everything into a spreadsheet and sends the orders to vendors. Some of the vendors deliver to their facility in Wrightstown and Wood picks up from others. On Friday, it’s all hands-on deck as everything is packed for distribution.
“We had looked high and low for a location, and were fortunate to end up at the American Legion,” Wood said. “They had been shut down by the pandemic and we were able to lease the property. It has a kitchen, banquet tables, and walk in coolers – it’s perfect for picking and packing.”
Once packed, four drivers will head out 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 believes that they have barely tapped the potential. With a footprint that goes from Green Bay to the Fox Valley to Milwaukee and the surrounding areas, he estimates that there are about 1 million households.
“If we could get interest from just 8 to 10% of those households, that would be a minimum of 80,000 households,” Wood added.
His challenge is to get the word out and obtain brand awareness. It is hard to define the target market because, he says, the demographics are widely dissimilar.
“Our market is folks who believe in eating fresh, organic, and healthy food that supports the local food system,” Wood noted. “I ask customers, ‘How far do you think your lettuce from the grocery store traveled?’ The answer is that it went an average of 1,500 miles. Almost everything we sell is from within an hour away. That’s a big thing for our customers.”
He stands behind that claim to freshness with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and has a delivery system that works with customers to make sure that food isn’t sitting on a doorstep in 90-degree temperatures. Wood’s years of experience in teaching, writing, and publishing make him a natural at working through a very detailed process.
“We now have an online farmer’s market that is year-round, seven days a week with the freshest and most local produce,” he said. “Our new and improved website makes it easy to order, and if you have any issues, we’ll make sure we figure it out.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and Past District Director for SCORE, Wisconsin.