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Life in a Seed Company during COVID

Never could we have predicted what would happen to the seed industry during a world wide pandemic.
Karen
 1 comments
Published on

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Never could we have predicted what would happen to the seed industry during a worldwide pandemic.  The increase in gardening as a hobby and as a way to create a food source was ballistic.  What a fantastic positive to come out of all this craziness.  We thought you might like a little insight into the challenges we faced, and are still facing, six months down the track.


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AUTUMN ORDERS EXPLOSION

In the middle of March, we suddenly had a hike in the number of orders being placed on our website.  This was around the time the government announced the levels system for dealing with COVID.  At the time, we were in Autumn mode, with our customers buying seed for autumn sowing and a little bit of seed for the following spring.  Green manure crops are very popular at that time of year, as people look to sow something to nourish their garden soil over the colder months.  What happened next, as we went into Lockdown, was nothing short of an explosion!!

Stories were heard, in the week prior to lockdown, about garden centers and hardware shops selling out of seedlings, compost, etc.  Our growers were getting bombarded with orders for seedlings.

On Monday 23 March the country went into Level 3 and we came into work to find 10 times the number of orders we would normally process on that day.  Everybody who had a garden seemed to have placed an order over the weekend and then the rest placed orders over that following week as we moved into Level 4.


ESSENTIAL SERVICE

The day before going into Level 4, Kings Seeds was advised by the NZ Grain & Seed Trade Association that MPI had classified seed companies as an essential service, being involved in food production for NZ. The text went out saying "come into work on Wednesday".  Well, that put paid to those of us that were thinking we were going to spend the next four weeks in our gardens and catching up on some reading and movies!

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On Wednesday 25 March we all turned up for work knowing that we had a huge stack of orders to pick and pack.  The first thing we had to do was create new workspaces and alter procedures to ensure we met the new requirements, especially around social distancing.  Even the lunchroom got a makeover to create distance, provide individual cups and hand towels.  It was all so quick and a little surreal but necessary as we were audited by MPI, checking that we ticked all boxes for trading during the lockdown.

And the orders kept on rolling in ...

We just got on with the job of picking and packing orders.  Being a small team, it was pretty daunting as we struggled to get ahead and were unable to bring on extra staff, protecting our bubble at all costs.  For the first time ever, we were not getting our orders out the door within the day or even the next day.

And the orders kept on rolling in ...

As we moved into April and got further and further behind we shut down our phones and redirected everybody to our website and email communication.  We increased the hours we were working and just kept ongoing.  It was a good problem to have, but a 10 times increase in orders was taking its toll on us and our seed stocks. 

Like the supermarkets, we were experiencing panic-buying.  People who had never placed an order with us before, let alone ordered online were doing so.  Then the unprecedented decision was made to shut down our website for 10 days.  We collectively breathed a sigh of relief and then carried on answering the huge number of emails this generated and processing orders.  After these catch-up days, we completed a big stock take before getting on with reopening the website.

And the orders kept on rolling in ...



CATALOGUE DISTRIBUTION

During May, June and July, we were still busier than normal and also had to focus on getting our new catalogue out for the year.  We printed 30% more catalogues than usual and chose to send them out 3 weeks later than normal to delay our spring rush a little.  Orders increased at a faster rate again during August and September, creating a new spring normal.  We are only just starting to slow up a bit now.  Without lockdown complications, we were able to get much-appreciated help in the form of casual staff, making the spring rush entirely manageable compared to the lockdown rush. Our systems have held up well which is very pleasing.


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SEED STOCKS

Just as COVID has affected everyone, it has also delayed, complicated and made more expensive the importation of seed.  Consequently, the number of "out of stock" items has more than doubled this year.

container ship

The majority of our seed is imported.  We had placed our seed orders following the end of the last spring season, as is our normal procedure, to refresh our stocks for the coming spring.  Only some of this stock was delivered prior to the pandemic.  With the unprecedented amount of orders we received, our existing stocks were drastically depleted, meaning we started our spring rush with much lower levels of stock than normal.  We have been busy sourcing new suppliers, placing larger orders and waiting patiently (?) for our shipments to arrive.  It sure makes our hearts sink when we find out more than one of our shipments had been off-loaded in another country and is on a foreign wharf waiting to be reloaded onto a ship bound for NZ.  The cost of air-freight has become frightful with worldwide flights being so compromised.


FRIDAY CUSTOMER VISITS

We open on Friday mornings for locals to be able to come and purchase seed directly but the door was firmly locked during Lockdown.  Due to social distance requirements in all but Level 1, we actually had to remain closed to the public as we were unable to keep staff and visitors all at a safe distance.  Then the recent lockdown in Auckland meant you were once again unable to visit on a Friday but we are all systems go now and have had a steady flow of customers through the door each Friday morning.


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IN SUMMARY ...

Business is booming due to renewed levels of enthusiasm for gardening.  We love that you're all coming back to us and welcoming new gardeners too.

Seed stocks are low, but orders have been made with our suppliers and we hope to have something closer to normal levels by the end of the year.

We are all beyond tired and looking forward to taking a few days off between now and the Christmas holidays.

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Our usual "busy spring season" will forever be eclipsed by Lockdown mania.
 

 

 

Karen
 1 comments
Published on

1 Comments

Janet lacey says ...
I can’t thank you all enough for your hard work. This spring I have attended two gardening seminars which have been great and your name always comes up. I have so enjoyed your seeds and your cheerful little notes when you send them ❤️❤️
KINGS SEEDS says; Awww thx :)

Oh dear!

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