To understand where we started our journey we have to go back to 2001. Three long-time friends were working on a website for their local football club. They were only 18 years old and played in the same team and felt their club needed a website. So they built one, voluntarily.
After completing this website a local company asked the 3 friends to build them a corporate website. After finishing their second website, another company called them. And another one.
The friends decided to start an online marketing agency called Bratpack even while they were still studying at the uni.
Buying-group of garden centres
After a few months in business, a relative of one of the founders spoke his IT-manager and learned they needed a company who could build websites. This IT-manager happened to work at the biggest buying group of garden centres of the Netherlands with about 300 members.
So Bratpack built a website for one of their members. And a few more. Two years later, 18 centres had a website provided by Bratpack.
Problem was: the buying group didn’t fancy offering online marketing services to their members and they decided to cancel this service. Bratpack took it over from them in 2006 and started to deal with their members directly.
A few years later, over 60 members from the Netherlands and Belgium were having a website from us and the 3 friends envisioned they could offer services to garden centres abroad.
During a trade event, someone introduced them to an e-mail marketing provider in the UK, focussing on the garden industry. The 3 friends had a joint venture for 2 years but decided to buy the shares in that company and run it themselves.
The only problem: the company had to be rebranded and no one in the UK would understand Bratpack.
All 9 team members of Bratpack were invited to send in suggestions: Garden Connect was born in 2011 as a sister company of Bratpack.
Since Garden Connect started officially, the company kept its’ focus on garden retailers.
The 3 friends were able to grow the company from 70 to 150 garden centres in a few years time and at that moment one of them decided to leave the company, looking for other adventures.
That’s when Peter left the board. Edwin and Frank decided to invite Jeffry, who was working for us since 2002, to join the board and become a shareholder of the companies. So we’re still with the 3 of us and in fact, we all have bloodlines with each other.
That’s what happens when you grow up in a small town.
To Wordpress or not to Wordpress?
The question has been asked many times but Garden Connect values its’ flexibility and ability to make the impossible possible. The Garden Connect platform hosts over 450 websites and webshops - including many of the leading garden centres in Europe. It is’ integrated with over 40 partner-platforms, many of them don’t have standard plugins.
From day one, we tried to avoid talking about technology, whether it’s Wordpress, Joomla (we were found in 2002, remember?), or something else. When we talk to customers, we’re talking about goals, ambitions and the marketing we need to do.
We don’t want to talk about which Wordpress plugin or template is best to use.
We want garden centres to excel and believe our own platform is the best solution to do that. And we agree to disagree if you have a different opinion: everyone isn’t our customer.
Completely aware of the culture of the garden industry, Garden Connect tries to be professional yet laid back and relaxed when possible. We only wear ties if we need to go to a funeral.
Even with 300 customers, we know all customers & contacts personally and wouldn’t dare to change our company culture.
We feel very fortunate to be surrounded by successful innovators and partners in the industry. In all countries we have excellent relations with the trade associations, we’re part of the EFSA network and happy to connect with industry-leaders via the IGCA.
The owners are also very Dutch: “If you act normal, it’ll be crazy enough” is what we say over here.
So back to square one. Garden Connect wasn’t started as a business. Our first website was a project we did voluntarily, just because it was the right thing to do for us. And we still support many local charities in our community since we know how important it is to help the people around us.
One never knows what happens if you do good and spent some time on things without getting something in exchange for it. If we hadn’t done that in 2001, we wouldn’t have Garden Connect today.
Every time we have to make a decision we just ask ourselves ”Is it the right thing to do?”.
That helped us to grow since 2002 and so it will in the years to come.