Ecommerce Shipping BlogPodcastGet Ship Done: Episode 1: Harmony Harvest’s Dirt-to-Door Business Model is Coming Up Roses

Get Ship Done: Episode 1: Harmony Harvest’s Dirt-to-Door Business Model is Coming Up Roses

Posted on April 5, 2022 by

Harmony Harvest is a flower farm that grows more than flowers. They have recently grown into a booming ecommerce company. Owner Stephanie Duncan —who joins us in this month’s episode—along with her mother and sister are the women behind the bouquets. Based in Virginia’s Shenendoah Valley, they control the entire business process from growing, to selling, to crafting their own flowers into bouquets that they then ship directly to their customers. Originally, they would wholesale bouquets to brick-and-mortar stores like Whole Foods. But they have pivoted more towards a direct-to-consumer ecommerce model in recent years. They are as hands-on as it gets. So, when “Get Ship Done” host J.B. Hager referred to their business model as “dirt to door” it stuck with Stephanie. When something is a labor of love, you gotta get your hands dirty! COVID definitely impacted many Harmony Harvest is no different. Discover how they were able to pivot their business into a thriving B2C business by listening to our first episode of Get Ship Done. 

Full Transcript: Episode 1 – Harmony Harvest: From Dirt to Door

J.B. Hager: 

Hello, it’s J.B. Hager. And you’re listening to Get Ship Done, a monthly podcast where we dive into the inspirational stories behind e-commerce brands, big and small. We learn more about their unique journey to e-commerce, what they faced along the way and how they’ve used those lessons to grow their business. On today’s inaugural episode, I’m excited to speak with Stephanie Duncan about her family’s Virginia flower farm and the two direct-to-consumer businesses they’ve catapulted into success and really over the course of the pandemic. It’s a story about being in the right place at the right time, adaptability in the face of adversity and a heartwarming nod to the phrase, “Mom always knows best.”

Stephanie Duncan, how are you?

Stephanie Duncan:

I’m doing great. How are you?

J.B.H:

I’m doing good. I’m doing so good. Because I am excited to talk to you today because your company just seems like it’s so much fun. Now you are selling flowers direct-to-consumer, which apparently not a lot of people do this. There’s always a process of going to wholesalers and all that. We’ll get into that in a little bit, but I’ve got to hear the story about this company starting, how it started, how it all happened and you run it with your sister, Jess, who can’t be with us today, but go through the story of this company starting and your mom’s involved too, I believe.

S.D.:

Oh yes. So it is my older sister and I, and our mom who we lovingly know as the Lady Monarch, and we call ourselves the trifecta because we’re bougie like that. But yeah, so the farm has a really interesting backstory. I actually was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had a great marketing job. I was living that pro life. And my sister was working for a greenhouse distributor and she’s always been a super creative and just like this really futuristic visionary person and knew that corporate life wasn’t really for her. My mom, at the time, was working in healthcare and the two of them decided, ‘Well, let’s start something.” And we came from a long line of farmers. So farming is in our blood. My parents actually have a sheep farm still.

So we have always been farmers. And so they bought a piece of property and said, “We’re going to turn this into something.” And then they weren’t really sure at the time and when they bought the property, what it was going to turn into, and my sister started with green beans, which in our area, going to market with one little box of wax box of green beans is not suitable when you’re looking at wagon loads from other farms coming in. Okay. So now what? And it was at a family beach trip. We were all sitting in the sand and my mom, just out of nowhere, says, 

“Well, where do florists get flowers?” And my sister was like, “I can grow flowers.” And I was like, whatever you all have at it, good luck.

And fast forward a few years. I was ready for a life change. I always knew I was supposed to be an entrepreneur. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I definitely said multiple times that I am not moving home to work on the flower farm, yet here I am living my best life. And it started out as this flower farm that was doing weddings and arrangements here and there for local people. And it was a really good thing, but it wasn’t quite there. And so in 2017, I had to think about that. In 2017, my sister had this bright idea, “I want to ship flowers, because I see all these flowers come into me. If I have to order in something special, I see them come into me and how come I can’t put flowers in a box.” And not a lot of people were doing it, really flower shipping is known to be done by all the big wholesale production farms.

Certainly not the little flower farms in Virginia, but my sister was like, “I want to try this.” And of course, the marketing, her personal board member still in Charlotte, still living my life, said, well, you’re going to have to have some kind of e-com. You’re going to need a website. You’re going to have to be able to sell this online. And that’s really, really hard. Jess, are you sure you want to do it? And she was like, “Yeah.” So that’s what I-

J.B.H. :

Nobody, no one to be more direct to you than a sibling, huh?

S.D.:

Yeah. I was like, literally, you don’t even have skis, that it’s not even that you’re over your skis. You don’t even have these skis. So of course, that’s when I really started to put my little hands into the pot and really working with her. And then after a year I was packing my U-Haul truck, selling my house, and moving back home to work on the flower farm. We also ironically in 2017 bought another company together, which is a whole different story, because we’re that crazy. We actually have two companies. And so, I mean, everything just made sense to come back to the farm. So, we were doing pretty well with shipping flowers, but we were only shipping a wholesale. So we were shipping to florists and event planners throughout the US and it still wasn’t quite there. And we were really kind of struggling. I’ll be honest, we were struggling a little bit to figure out, how do we really break into this market?

J.B.H.:

Were you making a living at this point?

S.D:

No.

J.B.H:

I mean, were you able? No.

S.D.:

No, no.

J.B.H.:

It was tight.

S.D.:

We were making it, but it was just, when you think about a farm, when you think about 20 acres and all of the things and the labor needed to support a farm, that’s a lot of flowers you have to sell. And we just weren’t quite there yet. So then March of 2020 happened and everything turned around and at this point we’re shipping to florists who were doing weddings and we had our own weddings and everything got canceled. So all of our revenue streams stopped and we were-

J.B.H:

-Yeah, my wife is in the event business, everything stopped.

S.D.:

Everything stopped. Yeah. So you get it. And it was terrifying. Now I will say we were also shipping bouquets to Whole Foods up and down the East Coast, but then people weren’t going into grocery stores. So all these new business lines that we had added, all of them had stopped. And so we were like, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?” And we all looked at each other and like, this is it. This is the make or break. We got to fix this or else this thing, the whole thing evaporates and it’s over. So because we weren’t really sure how to keep everybody safe and do all the right things. We actually furloughed our entire crew for 30 days, which is terrifying in March because of flower farmers in March are just gearing up to get their spring, summer, fall crops in.

And there’s just a lot happening. So what we knew we had to do something. So we furloughed them for 30 days. And right before we made that decision, at that point, the schools had just closed down. My sister has four children that live on the farm and we knew that we weren’t the only ones that were like, okay, I have kids now, what do I do with them? And how do I keep them learning? So we actually just said, you know what? We’re going to put something together. That’s going to get, that hopefully can help people get through these next few weeks. Because that’s how long this is going to last. Yeah, that’s hilarious, isn’t it?

J.B.H.:

I think we all felt that way at that time we thought maybe a month. Right, sure.

S.D.:

Yeah. So we actually just grabbed a handful of daffodils, that was the only thing that was blooming. And we worked with a teacher in Pennsylvania who is a dear friend of ours and she teaches fourth grade science and we put together an interactive flower project where you put food coloring in the water and watch it change the petal colors. And then it talked about xylem and phloem and all the stuff. And it was like a lesson, but it was also fresh flowers and activity. And there was coloring pages. And we also included a little flower holder in it. So it was like this thing that could help people and it was called the Happy Box. And so we launched it and then the first day sold 100 boxes and we’re like, oh. Now, before-

What would it have been before?

S.D.:

Eight.

J.B.H.:

Wow!  

S.D.:

Right?

J.B.H.:

Eight to 100 overnight.

S.D.:

Right. So, I mean, we were probably shipping maybe 10 boxes a week. It, again, it really wasn’t. We had just started shipping flowers. We were really trying to build that up. And then all of this happened then we got bombarded with orders, and I was like, all right, we got to do this. So it was really funny because we put these boxes out there, everybody bought them, and then people started coming back being like, “Can I send a bouquet to my friend? She just said a baby. I can’t go see her.” “Can you send a bouquet to my mom? It’s her birthday. Can’t get together.” Can you send-

J.B.H.:

Yeah. You want, you want to cheer up grandma during COVID who’s alone maybe or something, right?

S.D.:

Yeah. And it was like, in that moment, here we are, right? Handwriting notes that go in all these boxes and I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it because that was the moment that we realized, this is what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be giving people a piece of the farm and not just florists, and this isn’t just for event designers and floral professionals. This is for everybody. And so it was a big awakening. And so one of the first things I did was I went www.shipstation.com, because I’d heard of it before. I went in, I immediately installed it, set up everything I needed to set up. I’m not kidding when I say I set it up in 30 minutes and changed my life. Definitely one of the best tools that we use.

J.B.H.:

Just, did it changed just to keep up with this growth?

S.D.:

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Because let me guess the old model wasn’t going to work-

S.D.: 

Oh, no. We were-

J.B.H.:

… with this volume coming in.

S.D.: 

… literally, almost, I’m just going to say it. I would say I’m embarrassed, but I’m not an embarrassed person at all. We were literally printing our orders out of Shopify and then going to fedex.com, manually entering in all the addresses. And we did that for a long time. I knew that I can’t do that. First of all, it’s just me filling orders. Jess is out planting, whatever seed she can find, trying to get anything in the ground and taking care of the farm. And then we quarantined moms. So we just like, she’s just answering the phone and ordering supplies. What felt like every day.

J.B.H.:

Which were hard to get when COVID hit, right?

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Everybody started buying.

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

I was trying to buy vegetable seeds online and couldn’t find them. It was just so weird, anyway.

S.D.: 

It was so weird. So we just built this thing out of complete adversity, I guess. And it really, we found our passion in that moment. I mean, COVID is a horrible, horrible, horrible thing that happened to us as a society, as humans, but for our business, it was probably the best thing that ever happened. And I hate saying that because I feel like of everything we’ve all been through together in COVID. I hate even saying that there’s any kind of positive to it, but for us, it made us realize who we were as a business and what we really wanted to do and what our passion was. And our passion was to make people happy. Our passion was to spread joy and make people feel warm and loved and thought about and appreciated, in general, and our vehicle for that is flowers. And what better way to say it than flowers, right? No better way, if you ask us.

J.B.H.:

And one of the things, I didn’t understand how the flower business works, we probably, everybody’s probably ordered from a flower shop locally or something online, and most of those, if not all of them aren’t direct to the consumer. They go through a wholesaler, they’re arranged, they’re doing… The people making the flowers, don’t do the arrangements. You guys do everything-

S.D.: 

We do.

J.B.H.:

… from beginning to end.

S.D.: 

We do. And what a lot of people don’t know is that actually 80% of the flowers in this country are imported. So like-

J.B.H.:

Really?

S.D.: 

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, you got to think about it. They’re coming from Holland, or Ecuador, Columbia, which all have super ideal growing climates. Holland’s really good for cool flowers, like tulips; your early spring, late fall flowers. It’s really a good environment, climate for that. And then, Ecuador, Columbia, those are great year-round growing climates. And in the United States, yes, we have California. That’s where a majority of domestic grown flowers come from. But in Virginia we have four full seasons that are very distinct, and we have a winter. And so you can’t grow flowers year-round. And that in addition to so many or reasons, whether it be cost of labor, cost of land, all of these reasons why the United States just doesn’t have the domestic producer community that it used to. So 80% of the flowers in the country are imported. And-

J.B.H.:

So what I’m hearing is this is the quickest, freshest from dirt to door.

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

I don’t know if that’s an expression. You can use that if you want.

S.D.: 

I might use that.

J.B.H.:

If you don’t already.

S.D.: 

I say, from our field to your door, but I like from dirt to door better. So thank you. These are great.

J.B.H.:

But it’s not getting there this fast, any other way, when you talk about coming from another, I had no idea that any flowers might be from another country.

S.D.: 

Yeah. And then they’ve got to go through a wholesaler, and then they’ve got to go to the florist, and then they’ve got to go to you. So if you think about it, if you look at the floral landscape and grocery, and a lot of florists, what you’re going to see is your usual suspects. You’ll see mums, you’ll see lily’s, you’ll see roses. You see the same things over and over again. And that’s intentional because those are the flowers that can make it through the supply chain. Those are the ones that are really sturdy. They can handle the stress, they will perk back up. They are just super durable flowers. And one of the really unique things about us is that we can send flowers that normally you would never find in those places because the supply chain is cut down so, so much.

S.D.: 

So literally, that’s coming out of our fields into the cooler to just perk up and drink. And then it’s going out the door to your house. And so, shortening the supply chain so much allows us to provide just enormous amounts of variety that you’re just not going to get anywhere else. I would really, you probably aren’t going to see sweet peas and zinnias, dahlias. None of these things are going to come from a grocery store. And I would say some florists. Now, there are a lot florists who really support domestic farmers. So they are going to their local farms and getting these beautiful flowers. And you can tell, their work definitely stands out because they are using really fresh product that is seasonal and came straight from the farmer. So it didn’t have to live in the supply chain. And it’s just beautiful.

J.B.H.:

Wow. And not to mention that, by using your company, people are supporting farmers, American farmers, which I’m a big sissy. I live in Austin, Texas, but my relatives, a lot of my extended family, is in Kansas where I was born, and they’re farmers and they work hard. It is hard ass work.

S.D.: 

It is.

J.B.H.:

Right. We got to talk about your socials, which I’ll get to in a second, which is just mind-blowing, but let’s get into this. How are you able to keep enough in inventory? Like you said, it’s seasonal and looking at your socials, you got snow in Virginia, right?

S.D.: 

We do.

J.B.H.:

But how have you been able to grow and keep supply all year round? I mean, I think you had some stumbling blocks, but until you could start growing indoor, right?

S.D.: 

Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, that’s a new, that’s the gap we’re trying to close. So we have what are called high tunnel houses, and high tunnel houses look like a greenhouse, but they’re not heated. So having things indoors allows us to extend our season even more. So let’s say the last frost is October 15th, whatever. We can still grow flowers until about mid-November with those high tunnel houses. So we’re about mid-November and then they start coming on as early as March, even though the last frost isn’t until May. So we’re able to extend, but then there’s still that block, right? What do you do between mid-November and the end of February? And there’s a couple things. So the first thing that we’ve done is we, usually around the holidays, we’ll transition to greens anyway. So we do get Virginia-sourced greens, and we start making reads and swags and really kind of transitioning.

S.D.: 

We really embrace the holiday. Flowers are awesome year round, but we really like to embrace the seasonality of flowers and foliage in plants. And so while we probably will have some kind of December flower offering next year, we’ve really tried to focus on really driving home, the beauty of seasonality. And that does include green. So then fast forward into January, right now we have is we have what’s called the American Grand Bouquet. And then we have a Tulip bouquet box and those flowers or those bouquets. Yes, they do include some flowers we grow. And I’ll tell you about that in a second, but they’re sourced from other American farms. So we have a network of really awesome flower producers in the US that can give us product when we don’t have it.

S.D.: 

And that’s intentional, right? Because of the fact that, yes, Harmony Harvest is a physical farm, but the Harmony Harvest brand is all about American grown flowers. So we don’t want to limit ourselves to a physical plot of land. We are a brand that likes to spread joy through American grown flowers. And that is our calling card; that’s what we do. So while we always want to try to have it be our flowers, it doesn’t have to be. I mean, we’re still supporting our mission by supporting other domestic producers.

J.B.H.:

So you heard it here first, cactus’s coming to the farm here.

S.D.: 

Maybe, do not be surprised. But we were really lucky because in 2021, we were actually one of the FedEx-

J.B.H.:

Actually that was cacti, right?

S.D.: 

Cacti. Yeah, I think it is actually cacti.

J.B.H.:

I sounded really stupid there.

S.D.: 

Yeah, you didn’t I was just going to gloss over it and not like pay attention, but you, okay. So in 2021, we were actually one of the FedEx Small Business Grant contest winners, which was amazing.

J.B.H.:

Congratulations.

S.D.: 

Thank you. We were shook, but we did it and we got it. And we were so excited. So we actually used that grant money to retrofit one of our high tunnel houses to be a heated greenhouse. So the idea is that we will be able, this is our first year, we’re doing one to test it. Thank God we did, because let me tell you, this whole, growing in a greenhouse is a whole different world than growing in a field or growing in a high tunnel. It’s just learning something totally new. And so it has been an adventure, we’ll call it, but we have flowers.

S.D.: 

We have flowers. Do we have enough to fulfill the demand that we have? No, but we have flowers. So the goal is over the next few years to really do what we can to close that gap. But we also know that we have other farms in California and actually in Virginia, there’s an amazing Tulip producer right here in Virginia that grows indoors. And they are just the most beautiful Tulips that you’ll ever see that we can use to continue to provide flowers to people. Because at the end of the day, it’s about spreading joy through American grown flowers, that’s what we do.

J.B.H.:

Hey, Stephanie, explain to us something, because shipping perishable items, which is gaining popularity; everyone just likes things coming to their door now. There has to be some extra stuff, ups and tricks to do that well. If it’s your flowers are coming from you in Virginia, to me, in Texas and in Texas, it’s 105 degrees. There’s got to be some different challenges shipping perishables. What did you learn to overcome with that?

S.D.: 

One of the things that I think people, if you’re one wanting to of ship perishables that we did was that just start. Don’t worry about all the fancy packaging. Don’t worry about all this stuff. You’ll figure that out. You will add stuff in as you get there, get a box, put your perishable in it. If it needs to say cold, put an ice pack in it. If it needs to say hot, I don’t know what the hot version of the ice pack is, but I’m sure there’s something; put one of those in there and ship it and test it. We’re also really lucky because we have a organization that we’re a part of that gives us a really good shipping rates through FedEx. Really good discounts on priority overnight because obviously it’s perishable it has to go priority overnight. I would check with national organizations around whatever perishable you’re shipping so that you can see what kind of resources they have to offer.

A lot of times you can get reduced shipping rates through carriers. You can get even packaging webinars, different things. I mean, we created our packaging from scratch. It’s not anything super sophisticated and fancy. We have a regular box that, I mean, there are custom boxes, but we have a box and we put some insulating foam in it and we use ice packs and we put the flowers in and to get to that point, well, the first thing we did was we put flowers in a box and shipped it somewhere. I will never forget the first box of flowers. My sister said to me and Charlotte, it was hilarious. It was this giant box. And I opened it up and there’s this like little tiny bouquet under all this paper, like newspaper. And it was just hysterical. But I was like, the flowers made it, they made it.

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J.B.H.:

It probably felt like a prank.

S.D.: 

It was.

J.B.H.:

You just keep going under the flowers are this pink.

S.D.: 

Yeah. It was funny, but so then we started being like, okay, who else do we know? So we have cousins in California and Florida and Texas. And we just started sending them flowers.

J.B.H.:

That’s brilliant testing,

S.D.: 

Yeah, testing. Test everything.

J.B.H.:

Testing, don’t test with your customers.

S.D.: 

No, don’t test with your customers. No, no, no. And I mean, honestly, if you’re building a plan to do it, pat in some returned stuff because stuff isn’t going to make. It’s going to get delayed in transit as much as listen, you want to get mad at FedEx. FedEx is ran by a bunch of people, a bunch of human beings doing their best to do what they need to do. They don’t have a personal vendetta against you and your flowers. They’re really honestly trying to get that package where it needs to go at the right time. And sometimes, just like all of us humans, it doesn’t happen, but you have to plan for that. It’s not going to be perfect all the time. And I think testing, testing, testing, testing, and just being prepared for something not to make it is the way that you have to go.

And you have to build out your products and build out the way that you talk to your customers and set expectations very important correctly, so that they don’t, if we send a 100-stemmed bouquet to somebody and one of the flowers gets broken, they already know what to expect in that situation. So we try to really set expectations. Test, test, and be prepared for when things don’t go right because it’s inevitable.

J.B.H.:

Let me ask you this, Stephanie, and then we are going to get into your socials, which everyone should follow. What do you think would’ve happened to the farm business if had COVID not hit, you touched on how it changed your world, basically, but what would’ve happened had this not taken place?

S.D.: 

Well, I like to believe, this is what I’m going to, I like to believe that eventually we would have listened to our mother, who has said, we need to ship bouquets for years. And me and my sister were, I’ll be honest, we were terrified of retail, absolutely horrified. We were like, that’s just the customer service and the expectations. And all these things you just need, that is such a big machine. We were terrified of it. And I think that, for us, COVID was the thing that literally we were standing on the edge of a cliff and it just pushed us right over. And we didn’t have parachutes. We just had to flap our little arms and hope that we flew, and gratefully we did. But I like to believe, I’m going to go with the answer. I like to believe that eventually we would’ve listened to our mother.

J.B.H.:

When we come back, we’ll chat with Stephanie about her and her sister’s other direct-to-consumer business, Floral Genius. And how a sustainable product idea turned into an unexpected leap into the world of manufacturing. Stay with us. I’m J.B. Hager, and you’re listening to get Ship Done. Online shopping isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In fact, it seems like I can’t go a week without an online order showing up at my front door. And if you run an e-commerce business, you want to make sure that those orders reach customers quickly, affordably, and with minimal effort from you and your staff.

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Now, if anyone’s listening to this and you like to arrange yourself at home with flowers, I guess there’s a lot of hobbyists that do that.

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Right. You guys rolled out another business as you’re growing this too, right? Tell us about that.

S.D.: 

So yeah. So the other business. Oh, my goodness. Okay, so-

J.B.H.:

Floral Genius, right?

S.D.: 

Yeah. It’s Floral Genius. So in 2017, right when my sister was like, “We should ship flowers.” She also was like, “Hey, I’m thinking about buying this other company. I want you to buy it with me.” And I said, okay, what is it? And she like, “We’ll be making flower frogs.” And I’m like, what’s a flower frog? But it turns out they’re really awesome. They are actually like, so when you get a floral arrangement, normally it has that green foam in it, right? That stuff is real bad for the environment. It’s not biodegradable. It creates a green water and that water, when you dump it down your drain has microplastics in it. Those poor fish and frogs and everything else. It’s just not good for the environment. So flower frogs were actually the tool that florists used before floral foam was invented.

And it’s basically a reusable metal flower holder that you put in your base and you arrange flowers in it and it holds your flowers up. That’s the very simple way to look at it. So she was like, “Yeah, let’s buy this company. We’re going to make flower frogs.” And I’m like, I don’t know anything about manufacturing, but I always wanted to have companies. So sure. And if you would’ve asked me 2018, 2019, if I regretted that decision, I probably would’ve promptly said yes, but today it’s awesome.

We’ve just learned so much. It’s just like growing a greenhouse. We had no idea how to do that and we did it. And honestly, I knew nothing about melting metal. We’re literally casting metal in our shop and it was a whole learning curve and it was a big, big process. But yeah, so we were doing that, and that actually led to one of the reasons why Jess wanted to ship flowers because she kept seeing us ship frogs. And she’s like, “Okay. The FedEx guy shows up here and we put stuff in a box and the FedEx guy takes it. And then somebody gets it. I don’t ever want to leave the farm. Can we just do the same thing with flowers?”

And so, I mean, the answer is, yeah, you can. And the reality is, yes, anyone can put flowers in a box and ship them. It’s not, I mean, it’s not that simple, but there’s just so much. As you guys probably know, there’s a lot with fulfillment and e-com, and all this other junk that comes along with putting something in a box and sending it out the door, that you really have to have the skill sets to do. So before we joked because the farm was being ran by my sister, who’s a super creative, visionary type person. My mom, who’s like a finance junkie and there wasn’t the third pillar. So we called it the two-legged stool. It was like, when I came in with sales, marketing, operations, I was director of account services at a big marketing agency. I had the organization, I’m like the, what do you call, the… Well, okay, it’s not executioner, but I sometimes say it that way, the enforcer.

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J.B.H.:

It sounds violent.

S.D.: 

The integrator, that’s the better word. Okay. So I’m the integrator, she is the visionary, and mom makes sure that we have the money to pay for all of it. So it worked out really well. And since we, the three of us, have really come together and learned a lot about ourselves and each other working together; that’s been another adventure, we’ve really been able to hold this thing up and continue to push it upward. So it’s been awesome.

J.B.H.:

Yeah. You’ve gone into what my next question was, but one, there’s the dynamic of siblings.

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Working together, I can’t imagine. I have three sisters, love them dearly, could not work with them. No way. So let’s talk about that first.

S.D.: 

Okay.

J.B.H.:

How is that? If you follow Stephanie and Jess online, you guys look like you’re having so much fun.

S.D.: 

We are. We’re having the time of our lives.

J.B.H.:

Or you’re great actresses-

S.D.: 

No, no

J.B.H.:

… on Instagram.

S.D.: 

No. And that’s the thing about our Instagram, which we’ll, again, like you said, we’ll talk about, is that we don’t act. I mean, okay, lightly, maybe with reels. But in general, no, it’s so much easier to be authentic and genuine, and we just are, like it or not. All right, me and my sister were forced to work together growing up because we were on a farm and we had to do all this stuff together and we hated it and we hated each other and vowed that this, we cannot wait to turn 18. My sister leaves and then I turn 18. I can run away and never come back.

I’ve eaten a lot of words in my day, I think. But those are probably the biggest ones I’ve ever eaten. But if you would’ve asked, this is another, if you would’ve asked me, but if you would’ve asked me ever at any point in my life, if I thought that I would, that our family was the type of family to have a business together, I’d say no, but this is the cards were dealt and we willingly picked up the cards.

So here we are. And I think the biggest thing that we’re very, I will say, we’re very, very good at is being self-aware. That is so key. You have to be self-aware and you also have to remember that literally. And this is for anybody who’s thinking about getting in a family business, getting a partner, whatever it is. Whoever these people are before you start a business is the exact same people they’re going to be when you’re in a business with them. They don’t change just because you’re owners of something.

And so I think that’s really important to remember, you just have to remember who these people are, what are their strengths, and focus on the strengths and how to use the strengths. Weaknesses are another thing. But focusing on weakness is so counterproductive. You just have to set everybody up in a way that they can really have their strengths utilized and understand. We have lots of conversations about, well, when you said that, I felt like this. And I’m like, oh, I didn’t realize that came off this way. That’s not what I meant. This is what I meant. And it’s very like therapy session, a lot. But we have to do that.

J.B.H.:

That’s why I was saying somebody’s been in therapy if they’re phrasing it like that.

S.D.: 

Oh, my God. Well, kind of, we’ve been through a lot of accelerator programs who made us take the CliftonStrengths test. We’ve gone through that so many times. And those are also phenomenal. We’re actually thinking about buying them for our whole team, just so that we can figure out what those people are like, because we know on the surface, but for real, they bring out some stuff in that test and it’s good to know. It’s good to know. It’s good that when we realize that my sister and I don’t work the same way, just knowing that. Okay, but she knows how I work and she knows what I need, if she needs something from me, how to present it in a way that I can work with, and vice versa. And the same thing with mom, and it’s difficult.

And I would have to believe that it’s probably hardest for mom because we’re her kids, but we’re also her business partners. So as much as she wants to like, say, I know what the answer is and do this, and this is the right way. She doesn’t do that. And I respect her so much for having that self-control because I can imagine there’s got to be plenty of times where she’s just like, my way or the highway because I’m the mom and I’m the boss and like the bus or get off the bus and she doesn’t. She’s just really great. She really respects the fact that we’re grown adults most of the time and that we are smart and have our own set of things that we do and strengths and she lets us run with them and doesn’t try to parent us as business owners. So I would just have to imagine it’s probably hardest for her and she’s the freaking best.

J.B.H.:

Stephanie, I think you’ve touched on something because I think, probably a lot of people listening to the show might be in a situation they’re not as far along as you guys are. And a lot of people, with their partner, their spouse, where they try to keep one foot in the traditional working world while one partner tries to do it at home just to have that safety net. But what I’m hearing from you guys is how your skill sets just compliment each other so well. And a lot of people are one partner at home trying to do everything, right? And very few people have all the skill sets needed to do every piece of a startup that’s direct shipping, right?

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

What is your advice to them?

S.D.: 

Surround yourself with people who are way smarter than you are, always. I mean, and the thing is if you have… It can’t, I’m not going to say it can’t be that way. Because people are amazing and they’ll do amazing things. But I really think that it’s important to just sit down and find out what our strengths are between the two people and create very clear responsibilities, job duties, roles for each of those people. And they don’t cross. That has been like stay in your lane, stay in your lane, stay in your lane. Granted, yes, communicate across lanes, but stay in your lane, trust the person to do what their skillset is.

S.D.: 

And I think that’s really important, too. I mean, we go through and we probably reframe our job descriptions for our employees every, it feels like every six months, but because we feel like, for us it helps and for them it helps. And we, again, we do this for ourselves too, but knowing exactly what balls are in my court and not just expecting that if a ball comes in I’m here, I have to get it. No, that’s never going to work. And so I think, yeah, I mean, just creating very distinct, like I’m going to do this, you’re going to do this. It can be super basic. I think that’s important.

J.B.H.:

And don’t you think a lot of people don’t acknowledge when they’re in over their head on a certain aspect of the business because that ego gets in the way, right?

S.D.: 

Oh, I have no problem saying when I have no idea what I’m doing. Yeah, maybe. I’m not one of those people because I will scream for help every day of my life. Because I want to go on vacation one day. Yeah, no, I think sometimes it can be. And I think that they… I will say actually, when I was younger, I was, oh, I want to be an entrepreneur. And I worked for small businesses and the business owners. I admired them so much because I was like, oh my gosh, they have everything figured out. So not true. Honestly, as a business owner, I spend 90% of my day trying to figure out what I’m actually doing. And that’s because I’m always growing. I’m learning new things. Okay, if I’m sitting there constantly doing something that I’m comfortable with and I know, and this is what I do. I’m not growing. The company’s not growing.

That’s not helping anybody. I learn something. I master it to as much as I really need to master. And then I pass it on to somebody else and make them the master. You’re the dedicated master of this. I’ve kind of started it. I figured it out. I did all the stuff that’s hard, I don’t want to say the hard stuff, but the annoying stuff. I figured it out. Here’s the thing, pass the ball. Now give me the next ball. Then I got to figure that one out. So yeah, pretty much I spend most of my days trying to figure out what I’m doing. And I think that’s a misconception for business owners. I don’t think that a lot of people realize when they start a business that it’s not going to be like you walk and you master something and then you do that for the rest of your life.

And maybe for some people, it is because they want to do this one thing and they’re happy and content in that space, and that’s fine. I am not happy if I’m idle. I don’t idle well at all. So I’m always looking for the next thing. And I thrive in that. So I mean, yeah, I don’t think that ego is going to help anybody and just, you got to… I build networks and I use the crap out of them. I call people all the time. I don’t even Google stuff half the time anymore.

I reach straight out to the person who I know can have the answer. It’s funny because if, we’ll take Ship Station, for example, if mom is trying to get this one report done and she’s like, well, I’ve tried to do it this way. I’ve tried to do it this way. And I’m like, stop, email them, contact them. They will tell you exactly how to do it. And then you’ve got 30 minutes of your life back that you could have sat there and tried to figure this out yourself. I use the resources, use all the resources, local government, vendors, friends, family. I use all of them without shame.

J.B.H.:

All right, Stephanie. Now I want to talk to you about your website and socials

S.D.: 

Yeah

J.B.H.:

So that’s hhfshop.com, and floralgenius.com too, by the way. But what you guys have figured out that I think most people have not figured out is you’ve given your company an online personality. Now, granted you two have huge personalities. Well, I should say all three of you, because your mom’s included too.

S.D.: 

She does too.

J.B.H.:

You guys are just fun people, but you’ve made it so fun. It looked like you were going down this blog path for a while and then you got on Instagram and embraced it and everyone should follow them on Instagram. I’m telling you, it’s so, so fun. And it’s-

S.D.: 

@HarmonyHrvst.

J.B.H.:

At Harmony Harvest. Hrvst. So it’s Harmony, H-R-V-S-T.

S.D.: 

Yes.

J.B.H.:

Just to give you an idea of how they are, here’s a clip off their Instagram.

Jesse:

Look at this. I’m still working on this. Oh, do you hear it? Jingling. So these are going to be our take on the kissing jingle balls, and they have little jingle bells in them, and they have mistletoe in them, and fresh greens, and you can hang those up and also get your smooch on. Yeah, pretty excited about these.

S.D.: 

Yeah, I’m going to hang every room in my house and then just torture my husband.

Jesse:

You know what else? You could hang off at the bottom? Some Listerine.

J.B.H.:

So there you go. That gives you an idea of what they’re like. And it’s nonstop. You guys are so entertaining. How, again, how have you been able to use the personality on your website, the blogs, the forecast as you call it, online and Instagram to drive sales?

S.D.: 

So one of the things that actually helped us in social media and in our brand is that we ripped away all the things that didn’t feel like it was inherently us. We are inspired by the things that we experienced growing up. We’re inspired by each other as siblings. We’re inspired by our mom, who is hardworking. We’re inspired by a grandmother who was also a farmer and very hardworking and very handmade. We’re inspired by our dad who has this like, an extraordinary sense of community and connection. And, people caring about people. And these are the things that make us, us. And this is the company we wanted to build. We wanted to build a company that was us, that we could stand behind because as a business owner, you’re going to pour all your heart, soul, everything you’ve got into this thing. So we wanted to make sure that it represented who we were to our core. And to our core, we’re a little bit quirky. We think we’re hilarious.

J.B.H.:

You are.

S.D.: 

We love 90s music in general because that’s where we grew up. We like farming, but we also like the fact that when we were out in the fields as kids loading hay and everything with the guys, me and Jess were always the only girls and our dad would always say, “Come on, girls, let’s go.” And we’d be like, we just got to go hang out with a bunch of old form dudes. And we did. And we were just surrounded by this picture of what farming was, which was old men in overalls. And that’s fine. That’s where we came from. That’s what it was. And so for us, it’s just really fun to be like, Hey, we can do this thing that we grew up doing.

S.D.: 

And we love so much and care so much about, but we don’t have to look like that. And that’s really, really neat. It’s really fun to be kind of like girl power. And we’ve really embraced that. In fact, our entire farm team is female, and that wasn’t intentional. But our entire tribe of our farm manager, our farm ops manager, our field crew, our fulfillment manager, our designers, all of us are female. And again, that wasn’t really intentional. It’s just how it shook out. And I mean, it’s amazing how strong and how productive and how much stuff that this group of girls gets done in a day. It’s amazing because they’re all in it with us, right? So, the first thing that we did was we, if you look at Instagram, let’s talk about Instagram for a second.

S.D.: 

So Instagram flower farming is a whole thing on Instagram. But if you look it up, it’s a bunch of pretty stuff, right? And that’s great, but we’re not models. Okay. And we accepted that and we’re okay with it. And the other thing too, is that we do have fields and fields of flowers, but we’re cutting them at an early stage. So if you show up, we always tell people, if you show up to the farm and there’s fields and fields and fields of blooming flowers were in trouble because-

J.B.H.:

Yeah. I’m picturing Oz.

S.D.: 

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s like, yes, you’ll get some fields like that. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen because it does. But a lot of the stuff, like peonies, the peony patch, you will never see in full bloom. I’m sure it’s the prettiest thing you would ever see in your life in full bloom.

You will never see it in full bloom. And I think that’s a big misnomer. And so since we’re not, we don’t really have… That’s just not us. We’re not this woo-wee pretty thing. And frankly, flowers have gotten this really stigma to them that they’re this woo-wee pretty thing, but flowers are so real and organic too. They are like, just, I just feel like they’re just the salt of the earth’s beauty. And some of them, frankly, are not the prettiest flowers you’ve ever seen, but they’ve got something about them that just makes you just love them and they’re not all perfect because yes, sometimes that piece of the pedal fell off or this or that. And they grew funny. Those are our favorite flowers. And so we really embraced that. We’re like, well, we’re the compost bin of flower farming on Instagram. Okay, that’s where we are, because that’s where the good stuff is.

And we just started being ourselves. And it’s like me and my sister being stupid, like back in the day when we were little, we used to play gymnastics together. And I was always Kristi Yama Gucci, which is hilarious, because she was not a gymnast, but that’s who I was as a gymnast character. And we would just play, we lived in the country. So it was really just us and we would play together and that’s really what we’re doing now. We work really, really, really, really hard and social it’s our time to play and we love it. We just love to play. We have such a great time doing it. And I think that’s maybe why people gravitate towards it is because it’s genuine fun. We’re just having a good time.

We have to, this is really hard work. Farming, owning a business, working with family. It’s full of a lot of tax and nails and sharp things that you have to work through and be careful of. That when we have the moments, we take those moments and we have fun and we want everybody to feel fun and we want everybody to feel like, I can relate to that because, oh, I have a sister. Oh, yeah, me and my mom are super tight like that or, oh, I like that kind of flower too, or whatever it is. And the whole idea is that farming is not just for men in overalls. Flowers are not just for florists and genuine joy is not just for those who find it. Anybody can have it. And I think, that’s really the big hairy message is that flowers, farming, all of this life is for everyone.

And we want it to feel approachable. And we want everybody to feel like I relate to that. I don’t have a farm. I’ve never had a farm. I don’t want a farm. I think flowers are okay, but this is fun. And I like this. And we found that, yeah, of course, it leads to sales because people, they think about us and they remember, oh, my gosh, I need to send flowers to somebody and oh, yeah, wait, that crazy person on Instagram was eating a flower or shoving it up her sister’s nose or something. And that was when they were talking about this Tulip bouquet and that would be so perfect. I’m totally sending it today.

J.B.H.:

Yeah. Okay. I’m only going to ask you one more thing, Stephanie, because I know as a farmer, you probably need to get back to work, right? You’ve been so generous with your time. I’m going to ask you one last thing. Again, I’m thinking about the person at home, listening with a startup and they’re on the verge of tears, right?

S.D.: 

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Because they’re overwhelmed. Leave them a quick nugget of advice. As if you were calling your friend on the phone who has a business, across the country and they’ve had it. They’re about ready to hang out. What would you say to them to motivate them to move forward so they can get to that moment, pivotal moment like you guys have?

S.D.: 

Yeah. I mean, I would say honestly, the very first piece of advice I would give you is, go to your local SBDC, do the work, do the work that they give you. They’re going to ask you to do all this really basic stuff. And you’re going to be like, I did that seven years ago in my business plan. I don’t need to do it again. Do it. You’d be surprised. Listen to outside perspectives as to how you should run your business. You might think you know everything there is to know about used tires. You know the whole industry, no one knows it better than you do, but your business isn’t growing. There’s something you don’t know.

S.D.: 

So our local SBDC center is awesome. We leverage them all the time and look for more resources like that. Use your network. And I think another really important thing that people, that entrepreneurs need to remember is that without trying to sound depressing, you never reach the top of the mountain. You are always climbing. So what does that mean? That means that stress that you’re feeling, all those things, you have to manage it. And whether if you need to take a week off, take a week off, I promise you-

J.B.H.:

Like your sister just did.

S.D.: 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. God, you just couldn’t wait to bring that back up. Things are not going to fall to the ground because you took time for you. You have to manage the stress. Once you get done with one thing, you’re only at a ledge; you got to do the next thing to get to the next ledge. And I think that a lot of people think that there’s this like point in time where you reach the top of the mountain and maybe you do, maybe, again, you’re a person who’s like, I got this far.

This is where I want my business to be. I’m happy. Good. Me, for somebody who really wants to grow something and make this big thing. You will never reach the top of the mountain. And the sooner that you realize that and realize that it’s less of an issue about where does the next sale come from? Where does this next thing come from? And more about how do I manage this path that I chose for myself? You will become a much healthier person and healthy people make really good decisions and grow great businesses.

J.B.H.:

Stephanie, this has been such a pleasure. I could talk to you all day.

S.D.: 

I could talk all day, so.

J.B.H.:

I know. If I’m ever in Virginia, I want to come see you.

S.D.: 

Yeah, please.

J.B.H.:

This is so cool. So I’m telling you, you can be really inspired by Stephanie and Jess and what’s your mother’s name? We never said her name.

S.D.: 

Chris, or you can call her the Lady Monarch. We had to give her that title because we kept calling her Nana, because that’s what the kids call her. And she was like, “I’m not your Nana.” And so we had to come up with a new title one. So we came up with Lady Monarch.

J.B.H.:

Yeah, go check out their site. Spend some time on it.

S.D.: 

Thank you.

J.B.H.:

You’ll get hooked. You’ll probably become a customer as well, but it’s hhfshop.com, also floralgenius.com, and follow Harmony Harvest Farm on Instagram, you’ll thank me later. Stephanie, thank you so much.

J.B.H.:

That was Stephanie Duncan, co-founder of Harmony Harvest. If you enjoyed today’s episode, we invite you to join us next month for a chat with the founder and CEO of Urban Native Era, Joey Montoya. This indigenous-owned and purpose-driven apparel brand has become wildly popular on social media, with Instagram reels and TikToks amassed, hundreds of thousands of views, and more importantly, a hearty conversation around the importance of the visibility of indigenous peoples around the world. We’ll learn how these viral moments have had a direct impact on Urban Native Era’s growth and find out how it ultimately landed them on the shelves of REIs across the country, until next time.

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