Luke Tracy started OrganicEase in 2017 and has been quietly delivering boxes of some of Victoria's best organic produce to the homes of those in-the-know since.
When COVID kicked off, so did Luke's business. We touched base with Luke on his 54th day of working straight and heard a story that not only gave us hope, but was also nothing short of refreshingly positive.
What did an average week look like for you before COVID-19?
It used to be just me and two others helping with packing and delivering - those days seem like a lifetime ago. Our average weeks look very different now. It’s been amazing, but very challenging.
What sort of growth has Organic Ease seen in the last 4 - 8 weeks?
The business has tripled over the period since COVID started. We now have 6 casual staff members helping over the three fulfilment days - almost all of them from the hospo industry! All the challenges associated with growth came from out of nowhere - normally growth is a slow burn so there’s time for planning.
How did you initially change your business model to be able to keep up? Have you had to continuously pivot to manage the demand?
We had to make changes literally within a few days. We hired an extra cool room, we were fortunate that extra space in the warehouse behind us came available. I called upon friends and family who had lost work to help out, I hired a couple of vans, and really stepped up a few gears to take care of our new customers, many of whom were in need under the circumstances of the lockdown. It felt like fast-tracking the business by 2-3 years within a week. We’re very grateful for this and that we had been implementing systems over the last six months that meant we were able to cope with the load.
How have you managed your relationships with suppliers, old customers and new customers? Whats’ been the most difficult aspect of maintaining solid relationships?
Establishing connections with people is one of my main priorities. Be they local organic farmers, wholesale suppliers, or new and old customers. Due to the extreme imbalance of supply vs demand in this time, having existing relationships in place has been critical in being able to source great produce. We have always kept within our means to ensure the sustainability of the quality of both produce and service. This has meant we’ve had to cap orders numerous times over this period, in order to maintain this goal and look after longer-term subscribers first and foremost.
What has surprised you most about your customers during this time?
All of our customers have been so incredibly supportive and understanding of our situation. We've been absolutely inundated with new orders, so their patience as we keep up with them has been super appreciated. On a daily basis, we continue to receive wonderful feedback from our customers - new and existing. We’re so grateful to receive these positive messages - they keep us going as the days have often been quite long!
What has surprised you most about your business during this time?
It’s not so much of a surprise, but I’ve been super grateful to see so many people in this time have really rallied around local farms and small businesses like mine.
Personally, how are you feeling about our industry?
I’m kind of on the fringes of hospitality, but I’m working really closely with people and businesses who supply restaurants and the like. They’ve been incredible over this time, under extreme pressure to get produce to everyone, and that’s still under the extreme conditions they have to constantly work under. They get a break with a big upswing in business, but then they’ll get heavy rainfall and lose an entire crop of leeks - we really need to appreciate what our farmers go through a crisis or not, and I’m glad Organic Ease gets to support them.
It’s incredible to see business exploding after a few years, but is there an element of guilt given the current circumstances? If so, how do you rise above it?
Yes and no. I know I’ve been slogging it out over the past 3 years, pushing really hard to make this business move forward, so there is definitely a part of me that is very grateful for the upswing in business. The other side, and far from what doctors, nurses and people really on the front line are doing, is that we’ve been able to help people to get food to their door, and support them in a difficult time of isolation.
When things return to the ‘new normal’, what’s your forecast for your business?
I’m not sure anyone is going to answer that question. I’m hoping people love what we do, and stick around. Things might change dramatically, things might return to normal. We’re sticking to what we believe in: supporting local and organic farming and connecting these incredible producers with lucky people in Melbourne with fresh produce to their door within 2 or 3 days of picking.
And what is your forecast for the food and beverage industry?
It’s going to change, right? I’m hoping for the better. I’m hoping people are more thoughtful around how they eat, how they spend their money and generally be more considered about how they approach everything food and beverage. For me, local and small business is everything, it’s important how we spend our money and now more than ever is the time to get around them. I love being around people so that beer at my local with friends and family couldn’t come any sooner.
Support Organic Ease and the farmers, makers and producers that they rely on today. Visit https://organicease.com.au/