Case Study on Online & Social Marketing with SEO – Vertical Roots Canada Inc.
Vertical Roots is the brainchild of Mike Newhook, a Business Developer, and partner with Becky Newhook, Marketing Director for Metron. This case study is a little more personal since it was one of the most recent of several companies that we have launched in our entrepreneur journey. If you want to learn some background on this story you can visit the website to learn more about the history of how we became vertical farmers. But for today we are going to focus on how we brought our own marketing agency in to take the task of launching this new business in the middle of a pandemic.
Granted, Vertical Roots, is another venture for us, Metron Owners, Mike, and Becky Newhook, but if we cannot brand, launch, and create a successful company ourselves then we should not be in the marketing business at all! We took our team, our marketing expertise, and our love for business and applied it to Vertical Roots Canada Inc. and WALA – a successful, profiting company in less than 2 years!
This business was started in the back of a garage and was followed by a prototype. The importance of testing the market and building a following was priority one which was followed by the actual launch of a company, now Vertical Roots Canada Inc. We will look at this case study in phases since it has developed and matured in that fashion based on market demand and the pandemic environment.
- Phase 1 – Market Testing
- Phase 2 – Social Marketing
- Phase 3 – Scale and Online Sales (Organic Rankings & Social Proof)
- Phase 4 – Organic Influence and Social Reach
Phase 1 Market Testing
As with any business testing, the market with your product should be a priority. No one should launch anything without a testing phase. If you are going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a product or project, you must test the market with your ideas and adjust accordingly. Since vertical farming is a bit new to Canada, and since the initial investment is very high, a very small, garage model was set up first.
Reaching out to health and wellness enthusiasts, along with friends and family we began to share the leafy greens that had been grown with hydroponics. The response was incredible, and the results were stunning. We knew we were onto something. We had spent about $5000 to find this out, a very small investment to prove the concept and move towards a larger operation. With a bridge loan and family land with a small building, we proceeded to expand the model into a small prototype that could produce over 1200 heads of leafy greens a month.
(Image Garage Testing Farm – Built during COVID Lockdowns)
Phase 2 Social Marketing
All the time that testing was happening in the garage, we bought the domain and set up a couple of social profiles with Facebook and Instagram. Before the website even launched, we began to build a following and increase awareness for the product on social media. Stories of the growing, even the small garage set up were important even as we began to build the prototype. A key here is to include the audience in the journey. Don’t wait till the large facility is set up, merch is printed, and logos are up. Include them in the process! The online world wants authentic, relational stories and that is what we were going to give them. We were not a multi-million dollar start-up, we were a small business, working our way towards a larger goal of supplying local healthy greens to Edmonton and the area. But FIRST, we had to share our story and our journey.
These days it’s hard to get followers and even harder to get engagement. People do not like, share, and comment as much as they used to. It’s difficult to be included in the algorithm and get your business seen. That is why it is important to start this social marketing AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This was a vital part of the company’s success when it came to building the wholesale client base that eventually sold us out.
Phase 3 Scale and Online Sales
In September 2020 the prototype was built and it was time to start organic marketing and create traction for online sales. Social marketing will only get you so far – you must have at least 5 pillars of marketing in place today to reach a wide audience as well as keep the revenue streams coming in. Below are the 5 Pillars of Marketing that Metron used to grow Vertical Roots.
5 Pillars of Marketing
- Social Media Marketing – as previously mentioned above, this was KEY to the growth and awareness of hydroponics and the product that we were producing and introducing. Social Media Marketing is not all about promotions and product placement but also about providing quality content, engaging stories, and vulnerability in your day-to-day that can drive traffic to their website. Social Media also creates healthy backlinks that bolster the SEO, so the purpose extends not only to a cool online presence, it actually works hand in hand with the entire strategy.
- Ecommerce Website – Creating an easy-to-use eCommerce website was important to ensure online orders. Customers could order the product, select delivery, or pick up as well as sign up for a weekly subscription of greens. Allowing for choices such as Home Delivery or Pick Up Points, One Time Purchase, or Weekly Subscriptions created easy access to getting the greens. A website is still a very necessary part of any business with products. Sure people can DM you on Instagram or Message you on Facebook but creating an easy way, where the customer does not have to engage you personally and easily order without a middle man will create better sales in the long run. A side note…when you are starting a company that sells a product you want to teach people how to purchase and the process from the start. If you cater to your customers, home deliveries outside of delivery days, DM orders, and e-transfers outside of the website for example it can create a very BUSY and nonprofitable company. Teach your customers from the start and if you lose a couple because you didn’t “cater” so be it. Those customers will be demanding all the way through – build your business in a way that works for you, your time, and your budget. An Ecommerce site will assist you in doing just that!
- Google My Business (SEO) – organic SEO was also very important and one of the pieces that came into play once the website was live. Part of the beauty of a business such as this is that it is a niche, meaning we could quickly rank for our products and offerings. Setting up a GMB and then ensuring the website is properly optimized for search engines created a quick response from Google. This is an essential part of SEO, and they go hand in hand with localized search. Keywords like hydroponic lettuce, leafy greens Edmonton, and vertical farm Edmonton quickly showed Vertical Roots as a top choice on organic maps as well as organic listings. An ongoing blog and monthly optimization continued the domination in the rankings.
- Email Marketing – once we began to grow our customer base our email list grew. As people purchase, we would capture their emails automatically (with their permission) and they would be included in our weekly stock newsletter. For the first 8 months, this was our MAIN ordering revenue stream. Email marketing is an amazing way to create sales and market new products and sales. These emails are WARM LEADS, meaning they have already purchased your product and are likely to purchase it again. This marketing tool is something that must be incorporated at the beginning of the website sales so you can capture your customers and keep them coming back for more.
- In-Person Events/Markets – getting the product out to residents was a key piece of the marketing, creating a brand and being the face of the products is still vital if you want to increase awareness. Showing up for pop-ups at local health and wellness stores, opening the farm for school tours, and running farmers’ markets showcasing our product were great ways to build clientele and create return customers.
Phase 4 Organic Influence and Social Reach
Not using paid marketing or ads can be a slower marketing strategy but the long-term effects can last for years! That is why Metron loves to create strategies for small businesses that do not have the budget for PAID advertising. Now to be clear, we do PAID advertising for several of our clients. It is very successful and creates instant conversions and customers. But for the average small business owner who is launching the $2500-$5000/month budget, this is out of reach. That is why we have also created custom marketing packages that focus on organic influence and social reach. It can be more hands-on for the owner/operator, but we find that is what the market demands for a new brand wanting to make its mark. Vertical Roots is another example of how a new business can be successful when they engage and commit to their online social presence as well as their customer experience via an easy-to-use, and optimized website.
Vertical Roots Success Highlights
- Over 500 Customers in 8 months (Ecommerce/Email Marketing)
The most successful part of the launch of Vertical Roots was creating a subscription model using WooCommerce and Sumo Subscriptions. Customers would pay a monthly fee and have the leafy greens of their choice delivered to their homes or preferred pick-up point. It was an automated subscription model so they had no need to process the fee, which too is an amazing feature you can integrate into any Word Press Woo Commerce website. This allowed for residual income as well as the convenience of not having to order weekly. The email marketing that captured the customer’s emails also allowed for return clients and easy reminders to reorder when they ran out. Metron prides itself in finding user-friendly options for websites and business owners that provide the most valuable return.
- Essential Wholesale Partners (Social Media/Online Engagement)
Connecting with local chefs from locally owned and operated cafes and restaurants was another integral part of the business while we grew the private market. Giving a small discount on the quantities, Vertical Roots created a zero-waste greens product that allowed them to not only save in the end but create incrediblyly tasty food with the freshest local greens available, year-round. The biggest wins came through social media trolling. Marketing can be fun and does not have to be static. Every time the owner saw lettuce on a burger or a plate of salad they would love and comment “Lettuce help you! We have year-round, chemical-free, hydroponic local greens, contact us for a free sample pack!” It was through this type of social trolling that some of the biggest clients joined the Vertical Roots, Wholesale family, such as Chartier in Beaumont and the most private and exclusive, Royal Mayfair Golf Course in Edmonton. Don’t pigeonhole your marketing, as a start-up, you need to have several pillars or prongs to ensure success and reach.
(Image Local Chef Bri @ Three Vikings / Chartier Feature Salad Beaumont)
- Edmonton Expansion 18 months Later (Business Management/Strategic Planning)
With the success of the prototype, it was clear that Vertical Roots needed more space. The search had begun months before but with local municipalities creating roadblocks and a lack of support, the owners looked to Edmonton where they found an amazing space that had already been zoned years ago for urban farms. By January of 2022, the farm had expanded into a larger facility and by the summer of 2022 further expanded to create space for almost 1000 heads of lettuce a week! The demand continues to grow and with their most recent market expansion into a year-round local market called Bountiful, they project it will sell out the farm by the Fall of 2022, and more expansion is planned for Spring of 2023.
(Image Beaver County Prototyp 2020 / Edmonton Expansion 2021)
A quick side note… just know that you could have all the pillars in place and working but if your product and customer service is not quality, nothing you do will ensure the long-term success that every business owner is looking for. Using the pillars above, Metron, alongside the very involved owners, sold out the prototype in 8 months! The demand for healthy local food was strong, and the pandemic only bolstered that demand. Even with restaurants being shut down and people being off work – sales continued to climb and by the time everything opened summer of 2021, Vertical Roots was growing and had a stake in the market. Metron uses personal stories, relational engagement, and authenticity to build brands and create traction for your business. If you are not willing to be the face, get out in the day to day with your customers or be vulnerable, then organic social, SEO focused marketing may not be for you.
As a new business, investing in a marketing company can be overwhelming and seem like a costly venture. But as Metron has proven here, when you invest with the right partner, the results speak for themselves. Today Vertical Roots Canada is an established vertical urban farm in Edmonton, Alberta. Now with an ongoing weekend presence at the year-round, Bountiful Farmers Market, continued faithful leafy greens, subscribers, and incredible wholesale partners, this is only the start of something great.
Online Marketing is a partnership, and the client must be willing to be involved to grow the business. Metron is a tool and resource that creates opportunity but as the business owner, the service, and the lead conversion land in their court. The small business owners are the ones that must convert the lead, provide an excellent service, and drive the happy user to give a review.
Metron offers a 12 Month SEO Marketing Package for $1200/month + GST and includes all the options listed in this case study. If you wish to pay in 1 or 2 installments, we discount the fee by 10%. Set up a free consultation with Becky at Metron. She will be happy to partner with your business for a launch or relaunch!