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Long Creek Herbs

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Long Creek Herbs
  Jim Long & Josh Young



Editor's Note: I’m not sure exactly when I first met Jim Long.  I remember reading his newsletter, “The Ozark Herbalist” back in the 80s and was impressed.  He’s one of the most gifted writers I know.  And I think our first in-person meeting was at a Virginia Herb Association Conference about the time I first started my own network in 92 or 93 and we had a delightful lunch together.   Since then he’s become a regular speaker at my conferences and we’re both members of the Garden Writers Association of
America.  (Excellent resource organization).  It seems he writes most of The Herb Companion (or he’s manipulated his way onto most the its pages :-) ) and has a wealth of stories to regale you with.  

3/16/09  Jim never fails to keep things updated...find his below

Founded:  1987

Location: PO Box 127, Blue Eye, MO 65611

Employees:  5

Annual Sales: $250,000 - $500,000

Q: How did you start (or become owner) of the business? I decided that an herb business would be a good addition to my farm. I had been in the landscaping and design business for 20 years and had evolved toward herbs. I enjoy product development and marketing and it all seemed to fit together.

Q:  What made you choose this type of business? A back injury in 1985 that caused me to not be able to work, not even sit at my drafting table, for an entire season. I began writing and publishing The Ozarks Herbalist, a quarterly herb newsletter. At the same time I began hosting herb festivals on my farm, and developing my gardens and gift shop.

Q:  What is your background? Landscape architecture with a life-long love of herbs. That, combined with my experience in restaurant cooking from my teenage years, and emphasis in college on public speaking, English and design.

Q:  What are your biggest challenges as an herb business? Being flexible and changing what I do and what I market.

Q:  What are the biggest rewards of being an herb business? Working with products that give people pleasure, both for our customers and for our employees. It’s rewarding to have someone telephone to say how much they enjoy something I’ve created, either a book I’ve written, or a product I’ve invented. And to have employees tell me this is the best place to work out of all  the places they’ve worked before, is satisfying.

Q:  What is your philosophy of customer service? To do whatever it takes to make the customer happy. We have special “ Jim Bucks” (dollar-bill coupons) that we send our customers. If they’ve had to make a phone call, or have a question about an order, or simply reorder often, we give them a Jim Buck. Our products, especially the Nail Fungus Soak – which is our biggest selling product, have the guarantee included with the instructions. If they aren’t happy, or if the product doesn’t perform like we promise,
we give them their money back.

Q:  What makes you stand out from your competitors? Probably that we’ve been in business longer than many other herb businesses who do what we do. And the fact that we make our customers part of our family, through our catalog and website.  We let our customers know who we are and what we’re about. We even include the farm’s dog and cat and goats in several of our  publications.

Q:  What plans do you have for your business? .We’re about a year and a half into working with a wholesale distributor who is widening our market. We’ve purposely made the decision in the past to not grow beyond what our capacity is for products, but are making deliberate changes to increase production.

Q:  Is your family supportive of your business?  It doesn’t really apply in this instance. I’m an only child and my parents are deceased; Josh has one parent living. But, no, no children or siblings or wife/husband situation where this question would be applicable.

Q:  What do you wish you’d done differently with the business?  Hired employees earlier, rather than trying to do everything ourselves.

Q: What do you think people starting out should know about getting into your type of business?  That running a business is hard work. While it looks like fun, and it can be, it requires planning, constant promotion, staying on top of trends and competition and finding who your market is. I see lots of businesses begin and fail, because they build the business on what they want to do, rather than what market they can fulfill.

Q:  How has the internet helped/hurt your business? I was resistant to using the internet at first. Our website has been up about since about 1997 and I predicted it would just sit there, because I believed herb based products that you need to see, smell, feel or taste, wouldn’t sell that way. I took a chance on the website and it has become the most important part of our business. We’re able to reach customers nationwide and around the world in ways we never would have with only a paper-based catalog. Additionally our website creates opportunities for promotion of my books and other products. Recently I’ve given lengthy radio interviews for English speaking radio programs in Spain, the Canary Islands several others in the States, places like Anchorage, Alaska. Most of those requests come because of our website. 

Q: How long has it taken for your website to pay off?   It started paying off within the first year. I was pleasantly surprised that people found it quickly and used it. We make it easy for our customers to use our secure server, as well as giving them plenty of other options for ordering. Some of our customer base is elderly people, especially for our top selling product, Herbal Nail Fungus Soak, and they will go on our website to get information, but then want to call and place their order, or send it by mail. The website fulfills a service in giving those customers some information and reassuring them that there is more to our company than just the ad they saw in Grit, Cappers, Mother Earth or similar publications. We’ve found that the ads we run increases the traffic to our website considerably.
         The biggest mistake that I see herb businesses making when they put up a website, is not doing anything with it after it’s up. Having a website is like having a garden, you have to constantly tend it and make it useful for customers. If there’s no reason for a customer to stay and look around, or no reason to come back, the website doesn’t fulfill any purpose. Just to  have a website isn’t enough, you have to use it. So many websites I visit for plant-based or herb-based businesses, have a few pretty pictures on the front page, but no substance to entice the visitor to explore further.

Q: What things have you done to promote your website?  We promote the website through all of our literature, our ads in various publications, our wholesale and retail catalogs, through all of my self-published and publisher-based books. All of our products carry the website address. Whenever I give interviews, either TV or radio, I have the agreement in advance that there will be information about our website listed. For example, appearing on the P.Allen Smith Gardens TV programs has netted links from their show’s website to ours, along with reviews of several of my books on their weekly newsletter. 
          I don’t, however, do exchange links with other businesses – the kind where someone says, “I’ll trade a link to your site for your linking to mine.” It’s never worked nor been useful for us (plus it leads people away from your site and the goal should be to keep people at your site as long as possible). We do list other websites on our resources page, for places where we recommend as sources for plants I’ve written about, as well as links to organizations like Herbworld.com and Garden Writers of America. But we don’t do the exchange link thing as we’ve found it totally nonproductive.
             The other way we promote our website is through the use of our free E-postcard service. Customers seem to enjoy our website and when they are there, we give them reasons to stay and look around. By going to our “Garden Tour” section, they can choose a photo they like from our garden and send it as a free email postcard to a friend. We’ve found that people use it and it brings more traffic to our site by referral from one customer to another. 
----NEW (3/16/09)     
The other way we promote our website is through the use of our free E-postcard service. Customers seem to enjoy our website and when they are there, we give them reasons to stay and look around. By going to our “Garden Tour” section, they can choose a photo they like from our garden and send it as a free email postcard to a friend. We’ve found that people use it and it brings more traffic to our site by referral from one customer to another. But probably the more important way we promote our website is through blogging. I use eBlogger for hosting my blogs (http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com/), and post to those every 4 or 5 days. What that does for us is bring in people who do searches for things I post on the blogs, and who might not find us otherwise. I post information about specific plants or people and Google search brings up my blogs associated with that information.


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