Released on: Thursday, December 1, 2016
The original article can be found by clicking here.
This month we are profiling Local Line- www.localline.ca. They are working on a suite of e-commerce enabled products to help farmers, food hubs, and buyers. Read on to learn more!
Give us a brief introduction of Local Line and what your platform does.
Local Line is an online marketplace for wholesale local food businesses. That means we build e-commerce tools for farmers, wholesalers, restaurants, grocery stores, and distributors to transact and do business online. We came up with the idea three years ago as a university project. Over time it grew into a company, and we’ve worked full time since graduation. Today Local Line has over 400 customers throughout Canada and the United States.
Why did you decide to build a tech based tool for the ag-food sector?
Local Line started in response to a simple question: Why is the food that’s grown closest to us the most difficult to access? We tried finding an answer to this problem by talking to local chefs and farmers, and what we learned was that the existing friction and difficulty in doing business locally was mostly a communication problem. In a food system you have a lot of different kinds of businesses and a lot of moving parts, which makes it difficult to know what’s available, how much, the price, the delivery, certifications, etc. It took buyers a lot of time to find the right suppliers and a long time for suppliers to find the right buyers, and effectively communicate with them.
When we thought about solving a communication problem, technology was clearly the winning strategy. That’s why we built a tech platform that simplifies the communication and commerce processes for food businesses. We make ordering easy for buyers and selling easy for sellers! Our full suite of tools enable simplicity in sales and procurement processes, and that can only really be accomplished through technology.
Can you give an example of a problem the sector is facing, and how your tool helps to solve this?
A good example of a problem on the supply side of our marketplace is the problem of real time ordering. Most suppliers do not have an easy way for customers to order from them. They accept orders via email, text, phone call, voicemail, fax, or others. None of these methods actually provide real time availability, pricing, and inventory. Providing that much real time information can only be accomplished through an online program. There are two major benefits to adopting a program like this: (a) you’re removing barriers and ambiguity from your customers when they order from you. Your products, prices, and inventory are only ever one click away. This makes it easier for them to see your full catalog and increase their order sizes instead of just reordering last weeks’ order. (b) By enabling your customers to order independently you’re leaving more time to focus on your business operations and quality of customer relationships. You may still accept the occasional order through text or phone, but in aggregate this will enable greater efficiencies in your business, all while providing better service to your customers. In short, you’re providing increased customer service as a lesser cost.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing the agri-food sector?
I think distribution is an interesting challenge that will become more important in the coming years. There are tools like ours that enable great communication and ease of transaction, and this is an important step in creating strong local food systems. After that, however, the efficient distribution of products becomes an important second step. The difficult part about the future of food distribution is that it’s going to have to work in a more decentralized system. Shifting consumer demand and changing production means we will see less monoculture, factory-style farms and see more regions investing in growing a greater diversity of products. Today, the challenge is being able to move those products with enough margin for everyone to win. On the bright side, this is a highly solvable problem. Companies like Amazon and Uber are already building unique models to address this changing landscape, and we have our own solutions we’ll be introducing in the near future.
How is the industry reacting to your tool? Can you provide an example of a client’s success?
We’re fortunate to have received very positive reactions from the businesses using Local Line. This is mainly because our onboarding process is focused on education. First, it’s critical that we be educated on the customer’s business and their needs. After that, we spend time educating the customer on how our solution fills those needs. When both parties understand each other and work together, you put yourself in a good position to accomplish your goals.
A recent example of customer success is with a grass-fed lamb farmer in Simcoe, ON. When we connected with them they had three main pain-points that Local Line was able to address and fix:
(1) Providing an amazing ordering experience
They were currently taking orders from their customers through texting, phone calls, and paper notes. They found the constant texting and phone calls from customers asking about inventory and deliveries was interrupting parts of their day on the farm. Of course, you always try to put your customers first, but it’s difficult to always be available when you’re out in the field. When they started with Local Line they were able to provide a more “self-serve” style model for their customers, meaning they could build dedicated product lists, prices, and inventory for different customer types. That way, their customers were only ever one click away from seeing all the info they needed, and placing their order. This gave them the confidence that their customers were getting what they needed while they focused on running the farm.
(2) Reducing time and errors in order fulfillment
After the order from the customer was submitted there was no established process for tracking inventory, invoicing the customer, or managing payments. This meant on top of being available for incoming texts and calls for orders, they had to be aware of which customers were approaching their payment due dates. With Local Line they could define their payment terms and issue an order receipt for the customer’s records. Both parties were reminded automatically about upcoming due dates, and they were able to set up online payment for customers that wanted that option. This meant that inventory could be automatically tracked, and both the farmer and the customer felt that the order fulfillment process was organized and easy.
(3) Finding new customers
This year, the farm was almost doubling the number of lambs from last year and as a result needed to ensure they could connect with new customers and market their new product. Through Local Line they’ve gained a new audience and connected with a couple wholesale buyers as well as new consumers searching for local lamb products.
Moving forward we are really excited to watch this farms success. They’ve taken incredible products and added an incredible ordering experience for their customers. That’s a winning combination!
What does the future of local food look like to your company?
For us the future of local food is an equation that starts with stronger relationships between food businesses. Stronger relationships will drive growth, and growth can be used to create efficient local food systems. When it comes to strengthening relationships, there’s the strengthening of existing relationships, and then there’s the ability to build new relationships. Both are important, and we’ve designed our platform to support both options. As relationships strengthen, local food systems will grow. In Ontario, our local food system has the capacity to double in size, which is incredible. It’s our job to do our part to make this growth a reality. Once you have the growth, you can pair demand with supply to create a truly resilient local food system. This comes back to simple economics- when demand and supply properly match you produce an efficient market and everyone wins.
How can our members reach you to learn more?
If you want to learn more about our services you can visit our website at www.localline.ca. We’re always eager to talk to food businesses and can be reached at 416-402-1126, or firstname.lastname@example.org.