Peter Stein, Owner | New Suffolk, NY | B2B / Food Services
PETER STEIN, OWNER
Oyster farming is a tough business. It carries hours of day-to-day farm responsibilities coupled with the complicated logistics of actually getting oysters to customers — largely restaurants. New to the industry and with little cash on hand, Peter leaned on a range of low-cost and free digital tools to get Peeko off the ground. He began using FarmersWeb to manage the day-to-day logistics of running a small farm and moving his product to market — everything from order fulfillment and invoicing to accounts receivable. He turned to Google Docs to help manage e-commerce as well as the significant amount of regulatory reporting that a farm requires; he developed a centralized, customizable Google form that every employee could update in real time and send to respective agencies. Then, to market his new venture, he advertised on social media platforms such as Instagram and via digital newsletters.
They experienced effects across the board: 43% reduced hours of operation, 30% saw reduced customer demand, 28% had disrupted supply chains, and 20% laid off employees.
“Like many small businesses, I had to do everything on a shoestring budget,” Peter recalls. He also wore all the hats, secretary, CFO, chief marketing officer, farmer and delivery guy. “I cannot envision a world in which I could have gotten my company up and running without these tools at hand,” he says. Before long, things were looking up for Peeko Oysters. Projections showed 2020 was likely to be a banner year for the company, with double the revenue of 2019.
And then, the COVID-19 crisis hit. Restaurants closed their doors, and Peter’s business skidded to an abrupt halt. “We went from doubling our sales to taking in nothing just like that,” Peter says. His solution? Switch to selling directly to customers and changing his business model on a dime. It sounds impossible, but digital saved the day. Peter says he, “basically got a door-to-door oyster business up and running overnight using a few free and low-cost digital tools.”
From the planning and routing of deliveries to customer service and order management, Peter was able to handle it all using smartphone apps like Venmo. He integrated Shopify into Peeko’s existing website to streamline payment processing and customer communications and, because he couldn’t afford an expensive CRM at the time, he simply created his own using Google Forms and a mail merge add-on that cost $5 per month.
Most SMBs (53%) also plan to continue to use more digital technologies in their business, even after the pandemic.
Then came the challenge of letting potential customers know what he was offering. Turning to his extensive network of contacts in the local community, as well as the then-shuttered restaurant industry, he asked them to consider mentioning his new venture online. Soon, organic posts on Facebook and other social networks confirmed Peter’s hunch that a large untapped market of hungry bivalve aficionados was locked in quarantine. Before long, interest — and orders — poured in.
When customers had questions, he turned to YouTube, creating a channel to answer those questions and post additional content to attract new ones — like the weekly inspiration videos he now produces, and guest content from chefs.
“When COVID first hit, it seemed like Armageddon for my business. In a previous age, it likely would have been,” Peter says. “While I never thought an oyster farm would need so much technology to stay afloat, digital tools are what allowed us to adapt and survive. Now, we have hope for the future again.”
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