Editor's Notes: Sandie Shores has been a
member of the Network for years….I’m not even sure how long.
But it wasn’t until she
and I were both part of a panel at Frontier Natural Products in
Iowa several years ago that I actually learned about her. Over
years we stay in touch by email. Every few weeks one of us
checks in to see how the other is doing, commenting on business
issues as well as what our latest feeling are about the men in
our lives (always good for several jokes). She’s another
woman with a successful business and she’s a successful author
as well with a high selling book on growing and selling fresh
cut herbs. I hope that reading about Sandie will spur many of
you on to realize you don’t have to live in California or
have a highly successful fresh herb business.
Location: Southeastern Minnesota
bluff and river country, near Rochester
Description of Business and Products: Professional grower
of fresh-cut herbs, potted herbs for retail sales, speaker,
consultant and author of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
(Ball Publishing) and Cooking with The Herb Ladies (self
Employees: Me (in this incarnation)
“I get by with a little help from my friends” and family when
needed. When I was growing
fresh herbs year round there were 2 nearly full time and many
Annual Sales: Varies
Q: How did you start (or become owner) of
the business? Purposefully, with a solid business plan
including a loan from an
Ag Lender for my first big greenhouse and well.
Q: What made you choose this type of
business? Like many people I was interested in starting a
business where I could
work from my farm and use some of the skills that I had acquired
through the years. That, coupled with extensive market research,
a love of herbs and good growing genes (Herb was my grandfather,
long deceased when I started the business) led me to settle
on growing and selling fresh-cut herbs and potted herbs.
Q: What is your background? I preface
this by saying that variety has always been one of the “spices”
of my life. I started early
and I am old! Marketing, Sales, Nursing, 14 years in the music
industry doing artist management, a stint as a Realtor and the
of several small books.
Q: What are your biggest challenges as an
herb business? Crop scheduling and continuing
new varieties, culinary uses of the usual and unusual varieties,
new growing techniques, developing new recipes and writing the
next book. It is a challenge to find the time to read all the
trade magazines each month and learning how to keep my Type A
traits focused and in check! This and all the other, non-herb
related, things I want to do with my life.
Q: What are the biggest rewards of being
an herb business? Making people happy! It is wonderful to
new growers and home gardeners. The letters and e-mails from
people who tell me how my book has been their “bible”, or
constant companion in the greenhouse and field, makes all the
hard work worth it. I was speaking at a large conference two
ago when a man suddenly walked to the front of the room, hugged
me and told the attendee’s that my recent series of articles in
trade magazine had made his business a good deal of money and
changed his life….well, it brought tears to my eyes and made
me weak in the knee’s. What more can I say?
Q: What is your philosophy of customer
service? Service, service and more service! Give the
customer what they want and
what they didn’t know they wanted.
Q: What makes you stand out from your
competitors? On a local basis-Service, product knowledge,
consistency, attention to detail and more service.
Q: What plans do you have for your
business? I have completed downsizing plan Number Three and
will continue as I
am-see addendum below.
Is your family supportive of your business?
Yes, they call me “Herb” and
probably always will. My son is now my main
Q: What do you wish you’d done
differently with the business? Actually, I am quite happy
with the way that it evolved. My
only regret is that I didn’t follow my business plan entirely
which included staying small and relatively local (selling only
within a 50
mile radius). It was difficult to say no when top Chef’s from
the Twin Cities were begging for my fresh, honestly fresh,
did manage to learn to say NO but it was difficult and, for many
people, seems quite contrary to the usual business concept
of continued growth.
Q: What do you think people starting out
should know about getting into your type of business? That
it is most definitely
a business. There is a huge difference between growing a few
fresh herbs in your backyard (AKA gardening) to sell at Farmers’
Market and a Business. It takes a good business plan,
money, knowledge of each herb, continued education, commitment,
willingness and ability to work endless hours of hard physical
work, perseverance and much, much more.
Q: How has the internet helped/hurt your
business? Since my business is, and will remain, local my
web site has not helped
in my product sales but rather lends credibility. It has done a
good deal for my book sales since it is still the only book that
addresses the topic, in depth, of growing and selling fresh-cut
herbs. My monthly e-mail newsletter has been awesome for
generating sales on a local basis. It is targeted to the home
gardener and busy cook/foodies. I specifically try to avoid
complicated, time-consuming, recipes and give basic herb and
gardening information. The feedback from people has been
gratifying in that they appreciate that approach a very much.
They also appreciate that it is not a “gaudy” newsletter with
attachments, color and photo’s, etc. I find that feedback
interesting in that so many sites are touting all the busy and
we are supposed to do to our newsletters! My customers just want
to read what I have to say.
Q: How long has it taken for your website
to pay off? Immediate. My purpose with the site is to
educate and call attention to
my book. While I do have some book sales from my site, I
actually prefer that my publisher and the distributor handle the
it sounds odd but the book is available from so many online
sellers, seed catalogs and brick and mortar stores and they sell
at a lower price than I can. The only sales I get are to those
who want an autographed copy and that is fine with me. My web
has been suffering from my inattentiveness for a very long time
and has survived only because of Maureen’s help! It will be
Q: What things have you done to promote
your website? Not enough. It has not been a primary focus
since I don’t use my site
as a sales vehicle as many of you do. As soon as I make the
necessary updates and changes to my site it will be more
actively promoted. I sell (not plants or herbs) on eBay and each
package goes out with a handwritten thank you on the back
of my Herb’s Herbs card, which includes my web address, of
course (with my eBay ID in place of the phone number). It is
how many books have sold because of this one little thing (well,
not THAT little-I’ve sold several thousand items!).
Some further words from Sandie: First
I would like to say a huge thank you to Maureen. She was
instrumental in my s
uccess, especially in getting the first edition of my book
published by Storey Publishing and it has been uphill from
you Maureen! (Echoed by just about everyone in this group.)
My original plan with this note
was to relay to you a brief history of my business to explain
how it has changed and
downsized profitably. Brief is not possible with a 20 year
history in the business! What I do want to tell you is that a
plan also includes an exit strategy, with more than one scenario
given that life changes.
I think it is
important to have periodic life reviews. Doing so will usually
lead to the question “What matters most?” My answers
to that question have caused me to downsize my business again.
Yes, I remain
in business with profit and passion but on a smaller
scale now. I have only one, perfect-fit, account and I love it!
It is the only freestanding gourmet produce store in Rochester.
I basically set up my Farmer’s Market display (minus items that
would require a commercial kitchen for retail sales) starting
early spring and it goes right through October. My customers
Farmers’ Market have followed me there, thanks to my newsletter.
The amount of plants and fresh herbs that I sell there is
quite amazing and I don’t have to “man the store”. Perfect fit.
me the time to broaden my horizons-to give back for many
blessings that I have received. I have been an eBay
seller for 5 years selling all manner of antiques and “stuff”.
Now I have more time to continue to help the elderly and others
of their items. I am learning sign language so that I can
volunteer as an Advocate with the State of Minnesota Deaf and
Hearing Services and there is more, much more. There are so many
other things that I want to do while there is still some juice
Always! Writing and teaching? Always! The message I want to
convey is-work hard, make a profit, have
fun, enjoy life and know that there are ways you can do it all
if you plan and work smart. It is entirely possible to keep your
business small and be VERY profitable