By Erica Bray
Lynette Miller is building a business that smells ... well, pretty amazing. She is the co-founder of Country Garden Farm, which grows fields of lavender to produce artisan aromatherapy and beauty products, and surrounds herself, day in and day outside, with the purple-hued plant beloved for its sweet aroma and therapeutic uses.
“It's not a bad job to go out in June and July and be in the middle of a lavender field,” Lynette says of the hand-harvesting in which she participates each year from her family farm in Ellensburg, Wash., alongside her husband and business partner, Bill.
Many might swoon at that romantic imagery attached to that job description. But it almost didn’t happen for Lynette, 53, who stumbled upon the business after dreaming about growing lavender for years. “I don’t know where it came from,” she says. “I just thought it would be cool.”
Her dream was reignited with a visit to the Sequim Lavender Festival with her family, then transformed into a reality at the insistence of her hairdresser, who ran a small lavender business that she was looking to sell. In 2013, she sold it to Lynette. And just like that, the wife and mother of three was running a lavender business.
“Our learning curve was straight up because there was so much we were learning about,” recalls Lynette of the stressful first few years. “Developing a business, developing a pricing, wholesale, actually harvesting the lavender, distilling the oil. All of it was brand new to us.”
One of the first things she did was give the business a new name. Lynette inherited the business as Country Garden Lavender, but changed it to Country Garden Farm because she says it’s a more “all-inclusive” name that would fold in other things their family farm might offer. (It currently raises sheep and has also produced honey.) “It basically made us more diversified,” she says.
Lynette also knew that e-commerce would be integral to their business strategy, since her family lived in a small town without enough steady traffic to warrant a brick-and-mortar store. That meant Country Garden Farm needed a website – and a new domain name. (The old domain was countrygardenlavender.com.)
This step proved trickier. When Lynette typed in a few ‘dot-com’ (.com) options to see what was available, she found one that she liked for $14.95 per year. When she returned to the website the next day to purchase it, that price had shot up to $3,000.
“I was just stunned,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. I was so frustrated.”
A solution to her domain dilemma fell into her lap, however, when her website developer mentioned the new ‘dot-farm’ (.farm) extension. She seized the opportunity.
“Our domain actually helps identify us much better than a ‘dot-com,’” Lynette says of her domain name, www.countrygarden.farm. “It’s really clearly identifying what we are: We’re a farm. It’s so simple. It’s so easy.”
The 'dot-farm' extension is one of hundreds of new domain options available to better brand a business online, as many of the newest options are specific to particular industry -- such as 'dot-legal' (.legal) for lawyers and 'dot-photography' (.photography) for photographers. The 'dot-farm' has gained momentum with the agricultural industry and farms looking to stay digitally relevant.
Country Garden Farm's "not-com" URL, which is printed on all Country Garden Farm product labels, also gives customers an immediate place to go when they are ready to order more merchandise, no matter where they are in the world.
Lavender essential oil, lotions, body sprays, soaps and bath salts are a hit with Country Garden Farm customers, many of whom first discover the brand in Washington state, while visiting a local boutique or farmer’s market, and become repeat customers.
Country Garden Farm even sells a lavender beard balm, part of the business strategy to expand the scope of product offerings. “I could not stay on top of that for Christmas,” Lynette says. “From November to December, whatever I made was gone. It was just a really hot ticket item.”
Business has tripled in the past several years, says Lynette, and she attributes customer loyalty to the boutique nature of their business. The lavender is harvested by hand by friends and family, which includes Lynette and Bill’s three children, all of whom are now in their 20’s. The family has its own steam distillation still, which allows it to make essential oil from the 1,000 plants grown across the farm.
“Right now, we're also riding that wave of essential oils and all these people who are into essential oils and the therapeutic benefits of essential oils,” says Lynette, who uses lavender to treat headaches and burns.
Lavender is among the most popular of the essential oils, which are natural oils that come from flowers, bark, seeds, stems and roots of plants. Among the world’s oldest remedies, used by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for cleansing and healing rituals, essential oils are making a big comeback thanks to the marketing prowess of popular brands such as Young Living.
How Country Garden Farm stands out from these bigger brands: It is the small-batch, non-corporate, family-run alternative.
Advantageous market timing aside, Lynette is quick to point out that they’re still in the early stages of their business – and with it comes growing pains. “We breathed a heavy sigh of relief when we made it through one year and then the next year and the next year," recalls Lynette.
The focus for 2016 includes growing wholesale partnerships and the website business. Country Garden Farm is already seeing the benefits of an online presence with their ‘dot-farm’ domain -- and not just in sales.
Says Lynette: “There was a little 92-year-old woman who left a comment [online] about our lotion, 'This is the best lotion I've used in my entire life.’ That's pretty high-praise from someone who's 92."
To learn more about this visit and purchase lavender products, visit www.countrygarden.farm.