In our Nifty 50 spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Leslie Bradford-Scott, founder of Walton Wood Farm. Walton Wood Farm sells bath and beauty products, is based in both Ontario and Buffalo, and has been in business for five years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Leslie: We are a real working farm, and I created this business to provide diversified farm income for my family, to save our historic barns, and create rural jobs. We just completed the restoration of our beautiful barns! They are like cathedrals to our agricultural heritage.
R: How did you get passionate about farming? What do you grow on your farm?
L: My husband, Peter, has been a farmer for 40 years, and my family had a small fruit farm when I was a child. My first job was picking cherries and selling them on the roadside. I was 8 years old. We grow soybeans and 15 of our products are made from soy wax.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
L: I made bath salts in my Kitchenaid mixer and created fun themes to address life’s issues, like having the Week from Hell. I have expanded categories to solid colognes, hand creams, body scrubs, lip balms and more.
R: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
L: I used to make everything in my kitchen. Now, our recipes are made in six factories in the USA and Canada.
R: How did you know it was time to stop making your products yourself and get a manufacturer?
L: The farmhouse was completely filled with cases of products. We turned my office into a mixing room. When we could no longer find a place to sit on the first floor, we knew we had to find a factory.
R: How did you go about finding a manufacturer? Do you have any advice for businesses looking for one? Did you hit any snags or roadblocks during the transition?
L: A contract packer is a long-term marriage. You want to make sure to speak with current clients and ensure you have an alignment of vision with their team. We searched on Google and visited many factories. Fortunately, we are still making products with the very first factory, and have added five more co-packers.
R: What was your initial investment for Walton Wood Farm? How did you get the money?
L: 50k. It came out of savings.
R: Was it scary to decide to spend 50k on a new business? How did you decide to pull the trigger?
L: It was terrifying! We knew there is no gain without risk, and in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) business, the risk is on-going. The bigger you build, the bigger the risk. You need to decide you can handle the sleepless nights that go with the territory.
R: Where was the first place you sold your product?
L: In a clothing shop in the next village over from us, Mad Monkey.
R: How did you get into Mad Monkey?
L: I took the old-fashioned route to sales, I hit the pavement with a pick-up truck full of product and cold-called stores. Each week I’d head out on the road and tell my husband, “I’m not coming home until the truck is empty.”
R: Where do you sell your product now?
L: In over 2,500 retail stores across the USA and Canada.
R: How did you grow from that first shop all the way to 2,500?
L: A fierce commitment to sales. I’ve driven thousands of miles, spent months and months at tradeshows standing around for ten hours at a time talking to customers. It’s grueling work, but there are no short-cuts to success. There were literally times I couldn’t remember what city I was in.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
L: I’d love to be able to sell our products in Europe and Australia.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
L: Social media is very important to our brand. We are on Instagram and Facebook, and about to bring our Pinterest back from when we abandoned it a few years ago.
R: What has been your social media strategy? Do you feel like you’ve been able to grow organically relatively easy?
L: Social media is a very crowded space. There is no path to getting a spike in followers. Drip by drip, you build an audience and try to keep them engaged. It’s exceedingly important to create content that’s of value to your customer. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with Walton Wood Farm?
L: Maintaining the culture and dealing with third party logistics (3pls).
R: How do you make sure your company culture is maintained? What are some of the difficulties you’ve had with 3pls and how did you overcome them?
L: We have a hiring process that filters for a well-defined, entrepreneurial, self-managed culture. There is a testing process, and an onboarding document that ensures the new hire knows exactly what is expected in our culture. If a person is not fitting in, we part ways quickly.
A 3pl is an extension of your team. We are just nearing the end of a nightmare with a 3pl and it nearly bankrupted the company. My biggest mistake was not recognizing that their experiencing shipping in pallets did not translate to our picking requirements. I used a consultant to choose the 3pl, and that was a big mistake too. The cost of fulfillment is a huge expense and I don’t think anyone is properly prepared for how much it is.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
L: I’ve won many awards including Entrepreneur of the Year, Fearless #over50, Nominated Best Start-up, Bears’ Lair Winner Best Goods and Services, and am a Dragons’ Den Slayer (Canada’s Shark Tank).
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
L: Keep your sales territory tight and local. Focus on proving out the market on a small scale. Expand the circle methodically and keep testing, testing, testing.
Make sure you have enough margin to cover the cost of sales and fulfillment. Those costs are much higher than you think, and most start-ups don’t account for them as they do all the jobs themselves at first. A product has a price ceiling in the market, and you may not be able to get a sustainable margin even out of the best idea or product. Know that math.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
L: I’m always thinking: what is the best next single step?
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
L: Accidentally bumping into my creations out in the wild. It always takes my breath away. “I made that!” I exclaim.
I also love seeing my team learn new skills and apply them to an international business. We are in a rural community and there are not many opportunities here for that. We are a collaborative, co-creative team. It’s invigorating.
R: How many people are on the Walton Wood Farm team? What are their roles? Do you like managing people?
L: We have a person for operations, customer service, inside sales, channel management, office assisting, accounting, and myself as CEO. I’m not a natural manager, and I’m an introvert. This is my motivation for screening to hire self-managed people.
We have no ‘bosses’ around here. If you need a boss, you’re not a fit for the culture. My job is to lead people to uncover their natural talents and find alignment for the work we need done, while maintaining a collaborative and cooperative environment.
R: What is your day to day like?
L: I have ADHD, so the millions of things I have to get done fits my personality. In a typical day, I can be problem-solving in operations, working with the accountant, getting ready for trade shows, planning new products, and looking for earned media opportunities. I try to find time for a PR activity every day.