AgriTech North is a first-of-its-kind, year-round grower of fresh produce in Northwestern Ontario. As an Indigenous, differently-abled, and LGBTQ2S-run certified Beneficial-Corporation, Agritech North is driven by its mission to lower produce costs in far-north Indigenous communities by 25% and increase availability in communities that don’t currently have year-round access to fresh produce.
Finding the right e-commerce platform for fresh produce is a challenge for many food systems businesses. “It’s very difficult to manage the fulfillment of [produce] relative to something you can just put in a box and ship,” says Benjamin Feagin Jr., Chief Executive Officer of AgriTech North.
Feagin had already experimented with several e-commerce platforms designed for co-ops and farms but found that with each migration he was only trading one problem for another. Ultimately, the platforms AgriTech North had tested didn’t offer the level of automation that would allow the business to scale in a sustainable way. While orders were processed automatically, team members had to manually process shipping fees separately. This was not only tedious and time-consuming for the business, but it resulted in a customer experience that fell short of what AgriTech North wanted to provide.
After months of experimentation, Feagin had set his sights on Shopify based on exposure to them as a sponsor of Bears’ Lair, an International Indigenous Business competition on APTN that AgriTech North was the inaugural season winner of. The e-commerce platform’s incorporation of third-party apps could be leveraged to help solve and automate many of the order processing challenges AgriTech North was facing, while also enabling customizations. However, migration from one e-commerce platform to another can be challenging and the business needed the appropriate resources to tackle it.
When the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre’s Regional Business Advisor for Kenora, Corey Jones, presented Feagin with Digital Main Street’s Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) Program, he was eager to use the opportunity to help support his business’s migration to Shopify. The DTG initiative provides brick-and-mortar small businesses with a digital assessment, online training, and a $2,500 grant to implement their Digital Transformation Plan.
- Applied for and received a Digital Main Street DTG grant in November 2022
- Created Shopify migration plan with support from ShopHERE program
- Exported customer data from existing e-commerce platform
- Imported customer data into Shopify
- Designed and built e-commerce website
- Installed and integrated third-party apps
- Established customer service framework to help guide existing customers through migration process
With the migration to Shopify complete, Feagin says the impact on his business has been tremendous.
- Increased productivity. “Since we moved to [Shopify], we’ve been able to handle like four times the amount of volume in orders, and [have] not had to hire any additional staff,” says Feagin.
- Improved customer experience. Now that order and shipping charges are automatically processed together, customers are only charged once per order. This has eliminated confusion and improved the overall user experience.
- Revenue Growth. AgriTech North has had substantial growth since implementing its new e-commerce platform. “We’re seeing exponential growth to the point now where we’ve […] cooled our jets on the marketing because we’re starting to get to the point where we’re hitting a capacity limit,” says Feagin Most notably, the business has had three 100% growth months over a 6-month period since launching its Shopify website.
Although the migration to Shopify has greatly improved productivity, business operations, and the customer experience at AgriTech North, there are still kinks to iron out. With an older customer base, creating a simple and intuitive user experience is paramount and with so many third-party apps being leveraged on AgriTech North’s Shopify site, Feagin says resolving the remaining e-commerce hurdles will require a custom solution. He is now exploring the possibility of developing a Shopify app specifically created to address AgriTech North’s unique needs. To prepare for the next stage of growth for his business, Feagin is looking for funding opportunities that will allow him to bring on a full-time software developer to assist with building out this custom solution.
“Launching our own [Shopify] app can even be a revenue stream in and of itself,” says Feagin However, more importantly, Feagin says he hopes that the development of a Shopify app designed specifically for co-ops and farms can help other businesses like his as they work towards the resolution of food insecurity in remote locations globally. “We’re hoping to share […] our experience and help others make similar [digital] transformations because it’s the fastest way to grow in my opinion.”