Parker Garlitz still remembers the first sale he made online. It was a refurbished laser printer sold over dial-up to a customer in Portugal. He believed at the time that he was glimpsing the future of American commerce—and he was.
Today, the digital tools and markets that once seemed beyond imagining have become cornerstones for small businesses. True Leaf Market, the Salt Lake City-based seed and horticultural company that Parker now co-owns, is a great example.
True Leaf Market is the product of two small-business dreams coming together: an online wheatgrass and garden supply company founded by Parker and his sister in their garage and a mail-order seed enterprise founded by Greek immigrants in the 1970s. The small business they formed in 2014 is one of the few truly independent seed companies in the country, with many of its competitors having merged or been acquired by much larger agribusiness. That makes effective digital marketing, which Parker oversees, critical for True Leaf’s success.
For years, the company’s target market was offline and local; its primary marketing tool was a physical catalog. Times changed, the company’s customers moved online, and gradually so did the company. This year, circumstances forced True Leaf Market to forgo its catalog altogether and Parker hasn’t looked back. His marketing is now 100% online and focused on digital tools like advertising on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and paid search through GoogleAds. Unlike in the days of the catalog, Parker can now target his marketing directly to those who actually want to see it and track how his campaigns are doing in real-time with tools like Google Analytics.
“We can see the exact return on investment for every dollar spent,” Parker said. “When you have a small marketing budget like we do, that matters a lot. It gives us an edge over the big guys.”
True Leaf Market is now in the process of making a major expansion of its physical facilities. The company recently expanded its payroll by 50% and continues to hire. The digital tools True Leaf Market uses are not only enabling a more expansive playing field Parker started dreaming about when he made his first sale online, but they are also allowing it to end its reliance on printers by forgoing the massive task of printing a catalog.
Parker can’t imagine how it would be possible to continue competing effectively without the digital tools and services he now uses every day. He really hopes policymakers think long and hard before they do anything that might undermine all that. “Who’s going to get hurt most if these tools go away, become less accessible or get more expensive? It isn’t going to be the giant agribusinesses we compete against, it’s going to be small businesses like ours.”