Meet Judy Seaborn of Botanical Interests: Her Labor of Love8 months ago -
With a lifetime love of gardening, this Colorado transplant and co-owner of a company that offers both organic and conventionally produced seed, is living the life she has always envisioned.
One could say that gardening is in Judy Seaborn’s blood — literally. Not only were her mother and grandmother avid gardeners, the city Seaborn grew up in — Los Gatos, California — was named by Sunset magazine as one of the top three best places in the world for gardening.
“The house I grew up in had a lathe house in the backyard where I ‘played’ for hours on end,” Seaborn recalls. “My grandmother taught me how to take cuttings of daisies and geraniums, and I was hooked from there on. One way my parents encouraged me to read was by purchasing a magazine subscription to Organic Gardener.”
After graduating from Chico State University, with a degree in communications and taking a job in that field, she realized that this was not where her heart was.
“So, I went back to what I loved — gardening,” she says. “I got a job in Chico at Box Brothers Garden Center as a water girl, quickly became one of their best sales people, and then later managed a garden center in Saratoga. I became a road rep for El Modeno, where I serviced garden centers in the Bay Area.”
When Seaborn moved to Colorado in 1989, and was interviewing at garden centers, she noticed how many products she had seen in the Bay Area that were missing from Colorado garden centers. And since she had been a successful road rep, she decided to take the leap and venture out on her own by starting Earthworkers Emporium, a garden center sales rep company.
“I represented over 60 lines of garden gift type products and 14 publishers to garden centers along the front range,” she recalls. “I offered products that were not found at Home Depot — products that helped garden centers differentiate themselves from the hardware store. However, I sold Earthworkers Emporium after I had my first baby, Catherine.” She later had a second daughter, Sophia.
In 1995, her entrepreneurial spirit rose again and she and her husband, Curtis Jones, started Botanical Interests in Broomfield, Colorado, out of their garage, and sold seed packet lines to independent garden centers.
“We wanted to offer a seed packet line to garden centers that was different from anything offered in chain stores and one that taught consumers how to garden.”
In 2008, the company expanded its offerings and started shipping seeds directly to customers. Today, Botanical Interests sells more than 650 organic seed varieties, has 48 employees and ships to 12 million across the country to 4,000 outlets that include garden centers, gourmet grocery stores, and some hardware stores.
“Botanical Interests has always been a labor of love,” Seaborn stresses. “We wanted a line that was special, educational and beautiful. And we wanted to offer our stores marketing support and options. Also, we wanted to create a place where people enjoyed working. We’re very lucky to have a staff that shares our commitments. At a certain point in any company’s growth, it’s no longer about the founders, but about the talent within the company that continues to propel it forward.”
Getting Botanical Interests to the success it is today has not been without its obstacles. Seaborn cites change as the main challenge over the past two decades.
“I feel like I have led three different companies,” she says. “The startup, the growing company, and the mid-sized company. And each has had different needs. It was sometimes a painful learning experience. I have had to restructure the company each time. But, each time we came out better and stronger. We have been able to embrace change as a constant.”
Seaborn smiles and likes to say that problem solving is easy… once you know what the problem is.
“You can’t come up with the answer until you know what the correct question is, and that as soon as you correct that problem or bottleneck, you need to be looking for the next one. I also like to tell my coworkers that if our hair is on fire, we are doing something wrong. There is no reason to be stressed out if we are working from a good plan.”
As for what is next for Botanical Interests, Seaborn says she is especially excited about the upcoming season.
“We will continue to invest in what we believe in. We have so many improvements that include launching a new packet design, as well as non-GMO verified certification. We will soon be launching a special-order program that allows consumers to order at the store from our entire selection of seed and products, and have the order delivered to their house. No need for our customers to go to Amazon! We will continue to be cutting edge for our stores, and fun, inspiring, and educational for our consumers.”
Seaborn does stress that she would not be where she is today if it were not for her father’s fortitude — which she definitely inherited.
Tragically, her father died in a plane crash just two weeks before her wedding in 1992, but she says, “The thing about him was if he wanted to do something, he did it. So, I learned from him. You may die a pauper or you may die with a few toys in your position, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is, did you try?”
She adds that there have been more than a few times that she worried Botanical Interests would fail and that she would end up a pauper, “but even if that was going to be the outcome, I was happy that we tried.”