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Leaving ‘Green’ Footprints

Eco-friendly shop goes Web-only and finds a global customer base.

When Valerie Reddemann started a “green” store in a small Northern California city, a lot of the locals thought she was crazy.

“They thought I was a hippie, but I wore a suit,” recalls the owner of Greenfeet.com. “Quite frankly, I wore that title like a badge of honor.”

Greenfeet.com opened online in 1997, and later became a brick-and-mortar store, offering an array of products to local shoppers who sought to better their lives without harming the earth. While the brick-and-mortar store is no longer, the online shop remains, and now sells 3,000 to 5,000 environmentally friendly items every month to buyers around the world.

“It kind of trips me out when I look back,” Reddemann laughs.

Green beginnings

Reddemann got into natural and environmentally friendly products purely by accident, she admits. About 15 years ago, when she lived in Southern California, Reddemann was headed to an appointment to help a client—an aromatherapist—develop packaging for a line of essential oils. On the way, she just missed being in a bad car accident on the freeway. The experience left her in a panic attack.

When she reached her appointment, the client soothed Reddemann by putting Vetiver essential oils under her nose. “It really calmed me down,” the seller recalls.

After learning about the relaxant and seeing its effects, Reddemann shared the experience with her husband. At the time, the Internet was in its infancy and the two decided to explore the idea of selling the oils online, feeling they could help others, too.

The couple began by selling cleaning products that contained essential oils, and as Reddemann learned more about them and other products for healthy living, she increased her inventory.

“I started bringing on accessories and then there were the reusable items,” she recalls.

In fact, Greenfeet.com was one of the first companies to offer reusable products like ChicoBag shopping bags and Klean Kanteen water bottles.

“Think about it, if you’re in a room with someone who’s kind of stuffy, you don’t want to pull up a chair and talk”

Building an inviting site

Shoppers who visit Greenfeet.com will find an array of healthy living products and sustainably sourced foods, including coffee and tea accessories, organic cotton towels, recycled glass, reusable containers and more—and they’ll notice Reddemann’s sense of humor sprinkled throughout the store. For instance, customers who need help with an order or have a question can get live support by clicking on a chimp donning a pink blouse and pearl necklace.

Incorporating fun elements like this and throwing in an occasional joke “allows people to engage with us,” Reddemann says. “Think about it, if you’re in a room with someone who’s kind of stuffy, you don’t want to pull up a chair and talk.”

It’s the same online, and writing humorously helps shoppers feel comfortable and more likely to return. So Greenfeet.com’s content writers throw a few “bad jokes” into the product descriptions and on the site. The humor even makes its way into auto emails the store sends out, the seller notes.

Customers appreciate it, and they feel that messages are meant just for them, Reddemann says. One customer thought the message he received was, literally, written just for him, so he called Greenfeet.com to ask about it. The email he received informed him that his package was on its way and that, to celebrate, the staff was eating tacos in his honor.

“He asked for me by name, (and) asked, ‘Did you seriously have lunch in my honor?'” she laughs, adding that she felt a little badly about confusing the man. But she adds that most buyers get it.

When we asked Reddemann how other merchants can add a similar, friendly tone to their sites, she said they should be themselves and let the copy reflect their personality.

“Be authentic and let your personality come out,” she recommends. “Don’t fake it. It will not work.”

The good and the bad

The best thing about being an online shop is that Greenfeet.com stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365—sometimes 366—days a year, Reddemann notes.

“I love it!” she says. “The store is up and running all the time. We have a broader reach. We sell to people around the world.”

But there are challenges with selling online, as there are with any business. For instance, she has to compete with big-box stores that can offer products at lower prices.

“Competition doesn’t scare me,” the seller explains. “I think it makes people up their game.”

However, she adds that the cost of housing 75 percent of her inventory on site, paying employees livable wages and covering other expenses make it difficult to offer the same prices as large retailers. The seller makes up for it by offering customers quality, personalized service.

Customer support representatives are more than this job title suggests. At Greenfeet.com, they’re considered “ambassadors of customer happiness.” Indeed, shoppers “crave” good service, Reddemann continues, and it’s been the key to the company’s success.

“We have awesome, winning service, and we’re very proud of that,” she adds.

Pairing this with branding efforts, social media campaigns and unique, quality products has helped the shop grow “organically.” But that’s not the only challenge Reddemann faces. The seller notes it can also be tough showing items in the best light.

“Some products show best in person,” she says, explaining that it can be difficult to describe how soft or how functional a product is in a photo or text. Luckily, years of practice and listening to customers have helped.

Customer comments and questions help, too, letting her know if a detail needs to be added to a description or a question needs to be addressed, Reddemann notes, adding that she still loves what she does every day. She enjoys it so much that she still pitches in at the warehouse, takes customer calls and reads all the reviews buyers submit.

“We’re very open on reviews,” Reddemann continues. “Our attitude is ‘Bring it!’ By hearing (the bad), it lets us know if we need to fix something. If there’s a product that doesn’t function properly, we need to fix it.”

She even encourages shoppers to drop her a line if they have any questions.

“There’s this myth out there that having an online store is easier than having a brick-and-mortar store”

Having ‘a blast’

A regular podcast that focuses on green ways has proven to be another great way to connect with buyers and market the store. The podcast was an idea from Reddemann’s husband, who first introduced the medium to her.

“(I thought), ‘How cool is this!'” she recalls saying before quickly starting to look into creating her own. She brought on a friend, a local DJ, to help, and the two have been broadcasting for six years to listeners in the Netherlands, Australia, Central and South America, and throughout the world.

During the summer of 2011, they reached their 1 millionth download, she notes. BBC has even interviewed the duo.

“We thoroughly enjoy it,” she notes. “It’s a very engaged audience.”

So engaged, in fact, that for a regular segment in which the hosts taste test chocolate and beer, audience members now send beers from their own neck of the woods to savor. Some fans even make trips to Northern California to meet the podcasting pair.

“I can’t tell you how awesome that feels. The podcast has been a great way to connect with like-minded people. (It) reaches a whole new audience,” Reddemann notes, adding that when it comes to marketing, “you have to have a multipronged approached. It’s a blast.”

Words to live by

Making Greenfeet.com into what it is today has taken work, research and more work, the seller notes. The advice she has for those thinking of opening their own online store is the same as what she would tell anyone thinking of starting any business: It’s going to be much harder than you think.

“There’s this myth out there that having an online store is easier than having a brick-and-mortar store,” Reddemann says.

That’s not the case. Online stores come with challenges just like any other business, she notes. And with no physical location, it’s up to merchants to spread the word about their shops and listings, and get buyers into their virtual aisles.

“You’ve got to stick it out. You have to do the work,” she says.

To spread the word about her business, Reddemann and her four employees rely on social media, partnering with other organizations and providing excellent customer support.

“We don’t have a rule about how long someone should stay on the phone with a customer,” she notes. “If they need to be on the phone for an hour, they need to be on the phone for an hour.”

Reddemann also says it’s important for sellers to be able to “step back and figure out the bottlenecks (in procedures) and be able to step in and correct them.”

Looking to the future

Reflecting back on all she’s accomplished, Reddemann says she’s “proud and happy.” But she’s quick to focus back on the future.

“We have a lot of work to do in educating people and reaching audiences,” she notes.

The company is looking to “continue to have a really fun, engaging customer experience,” she adds. And Greenfeet.com aims to upgrade the current STELLA Service customer service badge on its site from excellent to elite.

Visit Greenfeet.com.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • sara

    I love greenfeet.com but I was surprised that their website today was not found when I typed it in- the computer saying invalid hostname.  When I googled them they did not show up which makes me wonder if they went of business.   I hope you might be able to clarify that for me.



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