Looking back at the last two years
On Sow Clever’s second birthday, Lucy our Sow Clever co-founder looks back at our business journey. From where it all began to where we are now, it’s been quite the ride…
A seed of an idea
Hopefully it doesn’t sound too corny to say that Sow Clever really did start off as a seed of an idea. I’d worked for many years in a corporate job in the packaging industry and had started to realise that I needed better balance in my life. I’d always quite liked the idea of working for myself and all I knew at this point was that I wanted to do something that really benefitted people.
Gardening was (and still is) a great passion of mine and has always been a part of my life, so this seemed like a good place to start. From a commercial perspective, subscription boxes were growing in popularity during this time. Glossy Box and Birch Box had the make-up market cornered and Gousto and Hello Fresh food boxes were really taking off – but there wasn’t really anything similar in the gardening world.
And just like that Sow Clever was born.
It doesn’t have to cost the earth
Initially, Sow Clever started out as a subscription box service. My idea was that each month, you’d get a kit with gardening materials delivered to your door with the right seeds to sow that particular month to enable you to grow your own flowers and vegetables.
I decided very early on in my journey that I wanted to create a sustainable seed kit that was plastic and peat-free. It was also really important to me that the product was aimed at novices. So many of my friends had said to me over the years that they couldn’t grow anything and felt like everything they touched died, and this really resonated. I felt sure that with the right tools and advice anyone could discover the joy of gardening, so I decided to create a product that was easy to use, accessible and had everything you needed to grow in one kit - just add water. To keep the product sustainable, the packaging also became part of the product – with the box becoming the seed tray used to start the seeds off growing.
It was also important to me that we were a socially responsible business. I’ve had my own struggles with mental health over the years and have seen first-hand the link between good mental health and reconnecting with nature. With that in mind, it was a natural fit to work with the mental health charity, Mind, donating 10% of our profits to support their work.
Starting to bloom
When Sow Clever launched in May 2019, I was still working full-time. I’d been using evening and weekends to set up the business and was hoping that this would pay off and, when the time was right, I’d be able to leave my job. It was always my ambition to grow Sow Clever but, if I’m honest, I can’t say I had a definite plan in place at this point.
It’s safe to say we got off to a slow start – much like gardening, I had to be patient and put in place the right conditions for growth. We started off just selling through our own site but later that year we began selling on Etsy, Ebay and Amazon too.
The biggest change that happened during this time is that we started to see an increase in orders for single kits rather than subscriptions. Customer research told us customers were treating themselves or a friend to our kits as unique gifts which we were absolutely thrilled about! Over the months we responded to customer demand and Sow Clever naturally evolved into, predominantly, a seed kit gift business.
It’s a family thing
In our first year, the business grew steadily - then in March 2020 lockdown hit and our sales exploded, seemingly overnight. We were also blessed with absolutely amazing weather – and as people flocked to their gardens, they also flocked to the internet to look for new ways to keep themselves busy.
We were so grateful for the support from our customers but, honestly, we were pretty unprepared and initially struggled to cope with the demand. My husband, John, has always been fairly hands on with the business but he was very quickly drafted in to take care of day-to-day operations. Around this time, we were also contacted by Friends of Joules to appear on their site which was incredibly exciting!
In the Summer, we started reaching out to a couple of retailers and were fortunate enough to receive our first order from John Lewis in Autumn for Christmas trading. As a John Lewis lover, this was a bit of a dream for me and seeing Sow Clever products on their website was a definite ‘pinch me’ moment. It wasn’t all glamour though – trying to wrap a pallet of Sow Clever kits ready to ship to John Lewis in our small garage at home was quite the experience! John and I were in stitches as we both fell over and wondered how on earth we’d found ourselves in this position!
If the pallet experience taught us anything, it was that if we were to grow Sow Clever any further, we needed some investment - so in Autumn 2020 we started looking. We got in touch with North Invest, a not-for-profit investment organisation that ‘matchmake’ businesses with angel investors. After a pitching event not dissimilar to Dragon’s Den (although much less scary) we had three interested investors, with two officially investing in Sow Clever in March 2021. This investment will allow us to increase inventory, invest in our digital presence and free up some of my time to focus on building the business.
This is a really exciting time for Sow Clever. We’re currently in conversations with a couple of luxury retailers about the possibility of stocking our products in their stores and we’re working really hard to ensure that all elements of our products meet the highest sustainability standards. We really are serious about sustainability.
I said at the beginning of this blog post that a key driver for me setting up Sow Clever was that I wanted better balance in my life. Have I achieved this? Honestly, I’m not sure. The last two years have been full of highs and lows – and at times, it’s been bloody hard - but knowing that I’m helping people to have fun, connect with nature and support an amazing charity in the process really does make it worthwhile.
Finally, I wanted to say a huge thank you to all our lovely customers, suppliers and stockists for all your support over the last two years. It’s been quite the ride – we can’t to see what the next two years bring!