Photo: Todd Yarrington

Three years ago, Leo Berbee’s Bulb Co. in Marysville, Ohio created Berbee’s Best, an online retail store. Berbee’s Best now accounts for roughly five percent of the business.

Below, Mattie Berbee, the company’s marketing and outreach director, answers questions about Berbee’s Best.

Greenhouse Management: Why did Berbee decide to open an online store, and how did the company go about setting it up?

Mattie Berbee: We obviously knew that moving forward, online is going to be more prominent in the way that people shop. We get a lot of calls [to] our wholesale [division] asking to buy things, from homeowners that maybe had heard of us through talking to other people that know of the product. And while we will always accommodate, we were not in the business at the time to sell to homeowners — we’re a wholesale business. So, with that we asked, ‘How can we make this easier?‘ Instead of turning people away or sending them to their local garden center that may be a customer that sells our products, we figured why not try to take a part of the market for ourselves? This fall will be our third official season [selling online].

GM: What were some of the challenges in developing this part of your business?

MB: The challenge has been saturating the market. We knew we had some demand for [our products] because of the calls we would get or even people that shop in our garden center that say, ‘I want to send this to my grandma who lives out of town.’ We were able to accommodate those requests, but it’s now about, ‘How are we going to make this a thriving business and not just something to accommodate a few requests that we get?’ I would say [that] has been the biggest challenge [and also] learning how to reach a broader audience without spending all of our money on marketing.

GM: Is it a challenge for Berbee to ship online orders at reasonable prices?

MB: It’s not a money maker. We are losing out on some orders because we tried really to stick with these flat rate options. We based the shipping on the quantity ordered or the dollar amount that was solely based on just pulling people in. Myself included, anytime people shop online nowadays, they wait for the free shipping deal, whether it be spending so much and get free shipping or flat rate, $5 shipping. We tried to stick with that flat rate model and knowing that shipping something to California from Ohio is probably going to cost a little more than shipping something straight in Ohio. But at the same time we had, we knew we were going to lose a little on some and gain a little on the other [end].

This interview was edited for style and clarity. Editor’s note: To listen to the full interview, list to the Hort Report podcast here