How a Hobby Flourished into an eCommerce Success!

The story of Seeds for Africa is one of purpose, passion, potential and perseverance!  It’s a grassroots story, set in Cape Town, yet offering nationwide supply, service and expertise in the area of growing plants from seed. 
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In early 2011, Grant Muller, was looking for seeds to satisfy his hobby of growing rarer and more exotic plants.  He stumbled across a couple of businesses and websites in South Africa selling the type of seeds he was looking for but was astonished at the prices being advertised.  He did a little further research and found that the seeds could be sourced in bulk and perhaps resold at a reasonable markup to make a small business out of it.  Initially, it was something of a passion project and simply to supplement his income, however he quickly became aware of the potential to grow the business, which saw him leaving the corporate sector he was in, to wholly focusing on this new entrepreneurial venture.  He originally opened an online store on Bid or Buy (now Bobshop) at the end of January 2011 and converted a room in his apartment to an office/seed room where he would pack seeds and make up orders, which were sent with the postal service. 

A month into the venture, it became apparent that help was needed and the first staff member, specifically responsible for counting out seeds, was employed.  The response from the online store was overwhelming and had customers requesting even more new seed varieties as well as contact from contract growers offering to grow seed specifically for the business.  Seeds for Africa continued to grow rapidly and soon overtook the space in Grant’s house and also necessitated the employment of 2 more staff members.  Not only were they selling on Bid or Buy but had also started selling on eBay, whilst continuously adding new exciting seeds to their catalogue.  In late 2012 it was decided that they needed their own presence on the internet and officially opened the Seeds for Africa website. Growth from this new additional sales channel necessitated the employment of their customer service expert, Kelly, who is still with them today, as well as a logistics expert, previously from the courier industry. It was also during this time that they started only using courier companies for delivery, as part of their obsession to offer outstanding service to customers.
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The business continued to grow organically and Grant saw an opportunity to add allied products to their offering which would assist their customers in getting everything they needed to grow from seed from one supplier. They continued to work with farmers to grow their seed and constantly added contract growers to their supplier database. In 2014 Seeds for Africa was rated in the Top 30 eCommerce websites in South Africa and won the 2nd Runner up award in the 2014 South African eCommerce awards.  These accolades boosted staff morale as well as their exposure and online presence, which ensured further awards and recognition followed, namely 2nd Runner up in the 2015 South African eCommerce Awards, Best Small eCommerce Business Category – the only gardening related website as part of this exclusive list.  2017 saw the last of the South African E-Commerce awards being held and that year they were nominated in 4 categories, Best Customer Service / Best Niche Shopping Service / Best Small Tech/E-Commerce Business and E-Commerce Service of the Year. “It was very rewarding for our team to have been acknowledged and to have been nominated for these prestigious awards”, Grant said.
In 2017 they had once again outgrown their premises, which saw them moving to their current location in Rivergate Office Park, which gave the necessary space to stock even more products and offer even better service to their customers.   In 2019, in keeping up with online trends, Grant redesigned their website to what it is today, giving the company a fresh new look and feel that matched their office park presence of distinction and professionalism. 
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The Covid pandemic in 2020 was an incredibly unprecedented experience – lockdown levels saw an increase in the home gardening sector and being an online store meant that they were able to continue to operate selling essential food growing seeds and supplies, however the limitations on movement of stock made supply scarce and new local suppliers needed to be sourced.  The unforeseen increase in growth brought about the assistance of a General Manager in Michele, who found herself a Covid casualty of her previous employment.  Her experience in the courier and logistics sector, combined with her customer service expertise, made for a great fit and together with Adele as Ops Supervisor, the team was now well established to handle the increased demand and logistics challenges, as eCommerce and online purchasing became more and more popular.
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In 2021, Grant saw an opportunity to establish the business as a complete Horticultural solution, which resulted in the warehouse being transformed into a walk-in store, with the addition of H2Gro – their Hydroponic and Horticultural Supplies department.  This was incredibly well received by customers, who were able to pop in and would find themselves on the receiving end of invaluable expertise freely offered by our Hydroponic expert, Christoff. The focus of H2Gro was to source the best global brands to give customers the best possible recipe for success in their hydroponic growing journey, another niche market that opened up with the country’s current spatial limitations and climate change, as well as assisting new small businesses growth, for example, micro-green suppliers.
In 2023 the need to increase their warehouse space again became apparent and subsequently they were able to take on the adjoining warehouse, which gave way to a bigger, bolder offering of retail space, coupled with additional space to stock even more exciting products and fulfil new agent and distribution partnerships with the likes of Barenbrug, Greenhouse Technologies and Sanlight.  
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“Our primary goal has always been about sharing in the success of our customers and suppliers alike, and this has seen us grow from a tiny hydroponic and horticultural grow store to the largest Hydroponic Grow Shop in the Western Cape”, Grant added.
For Seeds for Africa and their incredible team, this is just the start, as they promise to have many more exciting things still to come.  Grant maintains that the business is built on the pillars of customer service, passion, incredible products and a dedicated team.  “Obviously without the continued support from our amazing customers and supply partners, we would not have reached this point in our journey”, he says.
It goes without saying that the success of Seeds for Africa translates into our own success, not only as a city but a nation, and we look forward to what the future holds for the Seeds for Africa team!

About the Author

Carolyn Muller is the Seeds for Africa Media Manager.  She has a passion for story telling through writing and a keen interest in business. Previously involved in Logistics for a Wine Distribution company, she maintains her focus on the customer experience!