By Martha Kang, Editorial Manager
Seed a lavender farm from the ground up, grow it into a thriving business, and you’d think you know it inside out.
But as Dave Belt recently learned, even years of tracking data with QuickBooks and Excel may not paint the full picture.
On the northern shore of Nova Scotia, Dave and his wife Suzy grow 3,000 lavender plants. These flowers go on to become 65 different products—things like lavender creams, lavender honey, and even lavender shortbread.
The Seafoam Lavender farm opens to visitors during the warmer months, but much of its sales take place elsewhere. (“Due to the severe weather in this rural area, not very many people live here,” says Dave.) The business relies on internet sales, wholesale orders, and holiday shows to bring in revenue. There’s also a second retail shop in Halifax that sits on the cruise-ship route.
All things considered, the family-owned business is a small operation—small enough that Dave himself has kept the books since starting the farm six years ago.
But even with Dave’s diligence, not all insights were within reach. Dave could only look at two years of data at a time, and only as a table, a pie chart, or a bar graph. Dave was stuck with what he calls “parochial” data analysis.
Then one day, Dave’s son, Collin, suggested exploring the data in Vizable. So the two gave it a try.
“Dad sent me the data, I put it into Vizable, and boom, there it was,” says Collin. “Dad’s reaction was, ‘Wow, that was fast.”’
Dave had seen the data many times before, but seeing it displayed visually lent a whole new perspective. Suddenly, the insights began to jump off the screen.
With just a few swipes, Dave saw that he’d been right to expand wholesale operations back in 2013. What he’d considered “a major gamble” was paying off big time.
A few taps more, and Dave saw that online sales had nearly tripled since the farm revamped its website.
“We intuitively kind of knew what was happening at each cost center, but it was Vizable that gave us the facts,” says Dave.
Once he saw the possibilities, Dave wanted to dig deeper. He was especially curious about the sales at the Halifax shop. His lease was up, and his landlord had presented him with a new agreement at a higher rate. But wasn't so sure he should sign the lease. He knew the store's sales were down.
Dave wanted to know just how badly the numbers had dipped. So he compiled the data from the store’s receipts. Then he factored in all the costs associated with maintaining the storefront.
“Halifax is a two-hour drive from our farm. There’s a big hill and you can’t get over it in the winter. So then we have to stay over to man the store,” says Dave.
Once he visualized the data, he was shocked by what he saw: “Freefall.”
“The past two years, we lost money. In 2014, it was nominal—something like $300. But last year, it was five figures,” he says.
Dave was so surprised that he showed the viz to his landlord.
“Her eyes got wide and her jaw dropped,” says Dave.
Using the data, Dave explained that he could not sign the lease. And having seen the viz herself, the landlord did not argue. Instead, she offered him a smaller, kiosk-style storefront that he could open just two days a week. This way, Dave could save on labor costs while maintaining his customer base.
“The data spurred me to act. I might have eventually figured it out, but it would’ve been a lot more difficult,” he says.
The difference, says Dave, was seeing his data visualized and asking his own questions. Finally, after six years, he could see exactly where his business stood and where he needed to go. And he could make data-driven decisions to reach that next level.
Now that he has the full picture, Dave plans to use Vizable to better understand the smaller line items that make up his business. For starters, he’s going to track the production costs of each product to ensure his profit margin stays consistent.
“It’s one thing to have all the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, but it’s another thing to have a visual representation of the numbers that you can explore,” says Dave. “With Vizable, I can make better business decisions.”