Green Heron Tools Blog

The costs of doing business

It’s a beautiful winter day in eastern Pennsylvania — bright blue & cloudless sky, birds swarming the feeders, snow flecked with the coal-black shells of countless sunflower seeds, and the temperature — yet again — solidly below freezing. Yet spring IS coming! Chicken in the SnowWe feel it in the radiant heat of the sun, strong enough to melt ice even though the thermometer suggests it couldn’t. We know it in the blessedly longer days, and see it in the wild eyes of our chickens, cooped up too long and relishing fresh air and the chance to fly over snow piles to alight on dry macadam.

Spring promises to be both exciting and productive, with the introduction of our brand new digging fork — HERSpadingfork™, companion to HERShovel™ — and continued beta testing of our tiller. More on both of those, soon.

For now, though, a few thoughts on the business of business. Since starting to sell tools in late 2009, we’ve learned more than we could ever have imagined about what it means to be a small business — in our case, a really small business. On the positive side, it means the opportunity to build genuine relationships with customers; the freedom to follow our own hopes, dreams, principles and philosophies; and the opportunity to play a role in creating an economy that is truly sustainable.

On the more challenging side, it means being at a disadvantage in the economy of scale. If you’re selling 100,000 widgets, you can buy them from the manufacturer (or make them yourself) for a much lower price than if you’re selling 150. And if you’re selling 100,000, you can afford to sell them for a lower price and still make enough money to keep you and your business thriving. For small businesses like us and most of our suppliers, the profit margins are lower and the ability to charge rock-bottom prices and survive – let alone thrive! — isn’t an option.

Then there’s the matter of shipping (!). At the start of 2015, FedEx and UPS fundamentally changed the way they charge for ground shipments, resulting in what has been described as the largest rate increase in history. Essentially, both carriers now charge based on “dimensional weight”; larger (but not giant) packages, especially those that are relatively light, got hit with the highest rate hikes.

I’ve seen it described as the “Amazon effect”: An astronomical number of items are purchased online and shipped each day, many of them in boxes much larger than necessary. FedEx and UPS, their trucks and planes crammed with packages full of “air”, alter their rates accordingly.

On one level, it makes perfect sense. But for us, “dim-weight” is a three-edged sword: Our tools tend to be light, because light, good quality tools are better for women; our signature items, HERShovel™ and now HERSpadingfork™, are large AND light; and our boxes are custom-made to fit them. Our ability to mitigate the rate hike, in other words, is almost nil. Meanwhile, those super-sized shippers — some of the very ones who got us into this problem in the first place — are so big that they can negotiate much better shipping rates than we and our fellow small businesses can.

So this, in a nutshell, is why businesses like ours cannot compete with the Amazons of the world on price.

But we can and do bring value in other ways, including:

  • Manufacturing our own tools here in the USA
  • Charging fair, consistent prices
  • Providing the very best customer service, including being accessible to you via phone or email
  • Selling only the highest quality products
  • Continually exploring options for the best-possible shipping options
  • Bringing our tools to you at events throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and working to get HERShovel™ into more brick-&-mortar stores, closer to you
  • Promoting the health and wellness of farmers & gardeners via resources on our website, workshops at conferences and other events, and a continual search for new products to make our lives easier
  • Being true to our mission, ourselves, and your trust in us

That’s it — the best we can do. And to those of you for whom it’s enough, we say, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!