In 2019 Mr Good Roots Barn and I decided to embark on a new adventure, we packed up our belongings and moved from the bustle of Surrey life to the calm, relaxed Devon life. We had been enjoying Devon for six months when the entire world went into isolation due to the pandemic. We were incredibly fortunate to have work and our income was only slightly affected in as much as I was effectively unemployed having not found a suitable position in horticulture since the move. However, we coped considerably well and since we didn't know anyone down here we didn't find isolation too stressful on our mental health, we managed to stay positive and hopeful throughout. I found myself some volunteering work for a local arboretum and I instantly fell in love with the place, it's history and the team.
Without employment I threw myself into the new garden and spent the entirety of lockdown 1 & 2 happy and content pottering around. I had boxes and boxes of old seed which I sowed (80% of which had expired) and had incredible success, so much so that this year has actually been a bit of a disappointment in comparison, but there's always next year. I was so incredibly proud of the space that we had developed, being in rented property we couldn't very well dig up the lawn and start growing veg (which I wanted to do) so we built planters out of old pallet wood. A project Mr Good Roots Barn is still actively doing 14 planters, 1 compost bin and a cold frame later! The garden really did bring us joy and refuge at a time that was so incredibly uncertain. I can be sure that without my garden space, like most people who managed to discover the joys of gardening during lockdown, I wouldn't have felt so calm and hopeful about the future. Gardening gave me hope and serenity at a time when it felt hopeless.
As if one adventure and world wide pandemic wasn't enough to keep us occupied we decided to embark on another new adventure. For those of you who have read the 'About Us' section on the website, I will make this brief. It was out of pure frustration that one day after searching online for plastic free bird food that I said to Mr Good Roots Barn, "wouldn't it be great if there was a gardening website we could just turn to that stocked all the plastic free supplies we needed for our garden, exactly like there are for our home supplies!". His response was swift "well why don't you start one?". And since I didn't really have a lot going on at that time I decided to do some research into potential products (which is still very much a part of the business that I throughly enjoy) and Mr Good Roots Barn looked into the cost and functionality of various website platforms (very much the part of the business I don't enjoy). And after a few months of research and developing the website and our entire savings later Good Roots Barn was born.
We encountered our first hurdle very early on. We had planned to run the business from our book room/office since we only had a dozen or so boxes of stock. When weeks before the launching the website it was pointed out to us that we should probably check our tenancy agreement and sure enough our contract stated we were not allowed to run a business from the property. We pleaded and presented our business ethos and what we were trying to achieve to our landlords in the hope that they may have a change of heart but sadly the answer was a no. Having used up all our savings on stock and the building of the website we were at a loss. We looked into loans and investment but without any trading history it proved impossible. Then someone suggested crowd funding, I was sceptical at first and thought considering the state of the economy and worldwide concern over the pandemic no one would be interested in helping a small start up get off the ground. But I was pleasantly proven wrong and we received fantastic support and encouragement from friends, family and even complete strangers who believed in what we were trying to achieve.
This helped us to look for a local storage facility, which we found very quickly. We started out sharing a quarter of a large shipping container. It was small but we loved it, we splashed out £10 on a pasting table and we were all set to start selling our plastic free goods.
We couldn't believe the support and generosity that people showed us and given the circumstances and the state of the world, economy and peoples lives at that point, we felt so incredibly humble that people would help us get our dream off the ground. We were so extremely happy and excited to start this new adventure. We obviously didn't have funds for fancy advertising and I was a little over enthusiastic about using social media to advertise the business and get our message out to the world, rookie error but then I've had zero experience in marketing, something I had to remedy quickly. The storage facility is my happy place to visit, it's in a barn on a farm, which I love saying as much as I love visiting it.
I remember our very first sale. it was made by my beautiful godchildren and they helped me package up the order, it was an exciting day. The first customer order from someone we didn't know was crazy exciting, I remember they bought the bamboo trays and pots and I could have just jumped around with excitement (in fact I did and still do!). Even today having received an order Mr Good Roots Barn and I did our usual celebratory dance, I don't think that feeling of gratitude and excitement will ever go away.
After six months we got a free upgrade at the storage facility to our very own room at no extra cost per month, which was fantastic. Very exciting times and we were able to stock more products. We’ve developed a partnership with another small independent business specialising in designing and hand crafting chiminea’s, fire pits and planters. But there are so many products out there that I want to introduce you too, sadly for a small business like ours it’s incredibly difficult to expand and introduce new products without investment, which is our next journey.
Lessons learnt along the way have been of course marketing the business, this has meant many hours spent on webinars teaching myself how best to present our brand but to be honest as much as I strive to be a successful business woman, I’ll always be a gardener at heart and I think our customers appreciate and relate to this better than any fancy marketing campaign. The accounts/financial side of the business has been a challenge to manage and it has meant that I took a Summer job this year just to help keep the business ticking over. The other big challenge has been social media ‘influencers’ and learning to say no. In the beginning I fell hook line and sinker and was giving away free products in the hopes that this would generate sales but in reality it didn’t, I was just reducing our inventory for zero return, not smart. Now when I’m looking to test products I always purchase them for my garden first with my own hard earned cash, rather than approaching as a company and asking for samples, simply because it allows us to gage what kind of business they are, the packaging and service they provide to their customers and whether they would be a good fit for us to partner with. But more importantly we want to support small businesses and put our money where are mouth is and not just talk about conscious consumerism but practise it too. So now when I’m approached I kindly thank them for reaching out to us and offer them a discount code to use on our website if they really do want to try our products.
We celebrate a year of trading on the 1 August and eighty orders later we are proud to be still growing strong but we recognise that there is still a long way to go and so much more I want to share with you all. Mr Good Roots Barn likes to say that we are changing the world one garden at a time, I tend to agree.