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Episode 116: James Farmer and Easy Bins are Connecting The Market To Your Door in Northwest Arkansas

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IANWA - Easy Bins and James Farmer

IANWA OPEN [0.11] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we have got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn [0:42] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn and I'm excited to be with you today. I have got an individual that I connected with. I told him this story before recording what I learned about his company, at the basketball court of all places, and somebody was telling me about this company. And I was like, you're talking about Instacart? And he was like, no, not Instacart; it’s called Easy Bins. And I was like, well, tell me more. And so, he proceeded to tell me more. And then I learned about the company, which was really interesting. And to find out that it started right here, in Northwest Arkansas, in my backyard. I said I need to connect with these folks. And finally, because of the serendipity of Northwest Arkansas, we have mutual friends. And Aaron was able to connect me with James Farmer. And James is the founder of Easy Bins. James and I are sitting here in his office, almost off 412. I can't think of the name of this road, but it's the same road that takes you the backway to X&A. Trust me, folks, I'm not good with road names, but I do know where I'm going, so that's the most important thing. But without further ado, and the Aaron that I was referring to is Aaron Marshall. Aaron is with BCS and Aaron is a good guy. I've heard him speak several times. He spoke to our rotary group and we became fast friends and he's just doing some amazing things here in this local community. And really giving back, especially to the homeless community and to those that have less than a lot of us have, and he just has the heart to serve that way. And so big shout out to Aaron. But without further ado, I want to welcome James Farmer to the podcast. James, how are you doing?

James Farmer [2:19] Good. Hey, everybody, Randy. Thanks for having me today.

Randy Wilburn [2:21] I'm excited. Welcome to Easy Bins. I'm sitting here and I'm looking at an easy bin and I'm looking up and you've got some Wrights barbecue back here, which I'm like, I need to swipe one of those before I leave. You have got all kinds of good stuff. It's so funny and I will just share this little story. I texted Jordan Wright, who has been on the podcast, Episode Seven of the Northwest Arkansas podcast. We had Jordan on to talk about Wright’s Barbecue when they first started and opened up the place in Johnson. I said, Jordan, I need some barbecue sauce and of course, they're closed on Sunday. And he was like, listen, I got to go by there anyway at four o'clock, I will leave a bottle outside for you. And he got down there and texted me and said, I'm so sorry. We are out of barbecue sauce. And I'm like, that's a good problem to have. I thought they were his sauce for the longest time, bottled and available at Harps, but it wasn't. He told me it might be available at City Feed and some other places. And if I had known that, maybe I would have just called Easy Bins and paid to have that barbecue sauce because there's just something about it and it is really good.

James Farmer [3:29] Can I tell a funny story about Jordan? Jordan and I are really good friends and he's a special friend. He's so much fun to be around. And Jordan and I went to Colorado a couple of years ago together, and my dad lives out in Colorado. And we were going to stay with my dad overnight. We get out there and Jordan, as a gift for my dad, brings a whole brisket. So, he cooks up a brisket. My dad's letting us stay with him for a couple of days. And Jordan is like, I'm going to bring a brisket for Jim. So, he hauls this thing to the airport and brings it on the airplane. Mind you, my dad's a single seventy-year-old male. He doesn’t eat any meals at home, has no food in his refrigerator. We get out there and Jordan gives him this whole brisket, which costs like $150, and my dad puts it in the freezer. We had a good time and we left. A month later, I called my dad and I was like, hey dad, where's that brisket? He was having a party so why don't you serve the brisket? And he's like, Oh, I threw it away. I didn't want it. I threw it away. I was like, dad, that was a really nice brisket Jordan gave you. He's like, well, it was taking up room in my freezer. The funny part is Jordan kept on asking me, like, hey, how did your Dad like the brisket? [sounds] Finally, another friend told him he threw it away. It's in a dump.

James Farmer [4:38] Jordan hasn't taken another brisket out there since that.

Randy Wilburn [4:43] don't even eat red meat, but that pains my heart to hear it. I used to like a good brisket back when I did eat red meat—that and the candied bacon, burnt ins and all that other stuff that Jordan makes. Every time I walk in there, it's absolute torture. Of course, what I get and don't judge me folks that are listening. I get the salad with some barbecue chicken on some smoked chicken, and their wings are really good. Sorry, Nate, their wings are good. They're up there with yours, Nate. There are only a few people's wings that I like: Lucky Luke's, Jordan’s wings at Wright’s Barbecue, and Nate Walls from Secondhand Smoke BBQ. I always give my shout-out to Nate because Nate is out there feeding the homeless and everybody else and making the food insecure of Northwest Arkansas, hopefully, a thing of the past. So anyway, it's great to have you on. I would love for you to share your superhero origin story. How did you get here to Easy Bins to start this company, and what propelled you to this point? And I would imagine that you've done other things, but I will let you tell the story.

James Farmer [5:52] How I got to Easy Bins was before I was at The Harvest Group. I had two great partners, Bill Waitsman and a guy named Ross Cully. The company was really growing into something special. We could feel like, as partners, we were capping the business out. It's a rocket ship right now. And as we're managing this as a partnership, and we were capping it. And if you ask Ross, he will say we didn't do a good job of planning for that. And so, as we got there, we had a couple of options. As we were growing that business, I wanted to get closer to products and customers. I love retail. I have been in grocery and retail for a long time now, but I wanted to get closer. We were brokering and we were doing analytics and sales management and marketing activation work, but I wanted to get closer, like physically closer to the product and the customer. I love the transaction and the customer reaction side of retail. And so, I was given an opportunity to be bought out by Ross. He bought Bill and me out and I guess it was 2017. I didn't leave Harvest wondering what I'm going to do. I knew exactly where I was going. Easy Bins is not precisely the idea; we moved around for around three years. I knew exactly where I was going and what I was going to do. I took a couple of months to relax and catch my breath. I then went straight into Easy Bins. It was not called Easy Bins when we first started. It was called Night Owl. Our legal name is Night Owl and our grocery sales is LLC. But it's funny, I would go around and talk to people. We changed the name because it didn't work like Night Owl, which was kind of creepy. But then it also sounded like an adult entertainment place. I remember meeting with a representative from the Chamber of Commerce and they thought I was trying to open an adult store in the town of Oklahoma. And so, we had to ditch that and went to Easy Bins. So, things have changed around a little bit, including the name. And so, three years in and here we are today and it's how I got here. I had some great teachers along the way, with a ton of great experiences coming out of college. My background is in Public Accounting. My dad gave me some advice to go into accounting and learn the business language, so it was good advice. And so, I did Public Accounting for a couple of years. The way Public Accounting works is you get exit points should I be a lifer or not. And so, I spent a couple of years auditing all the companies around here because I worked for Hogan Taylor in Northwest Arkansas. In Fayetteville, I still talk to my old boss, Todd Wisdom, who taught me a whole lot in Public Accounting, the only person who had almost ever fired me. But then I got a chance to get into the retail side with Ross and Bill and a guy named Dan Arnsberg, over at Northstar Partnering Group, and that led into Harvest and then leaving Harvest and started Easy Bins.

Randy Wilburn [8:46] Now, how long did you guys do Harvest?

James Farmer [8:48] I was there about ten years, and similarly, as you talk about Zweig, it existed before I got there. I worked there for a couple of years and bought part of the company from Bill and Ross. We had a really good ride together, and eventually, we were like, we either need to sell this thing or one person needs to own it and take it forward because, with the partnership, we are going to cap this thing out, it can't go where it needs to go.

Randy Wilburn [9:13] I would love for you to quickly speak on that because people are listening to this. That pandemic has brought about a lot of people thinking about starting a business, maybe going into a partnership or something like that. What would your advice be to somebody about starting a business if they are working with somebody else? Are you for or against partnerships?

James Farmer [9:34] I can just speak from my experience. Some of my best friendships I have today are from partnerships. And Ross and I went on a walk two weeks ago, and there's something special about somebody you've been through a partnership with. There's just a special connection. You have done all the emotions together. You've cried, you've laughed, you've fought, you've done everything, and when you can just hold space with each other after that, it's a special place, but it takes a lot of work to get there. From my experience, it would just be to make sure you understand the endpoint. As a partner, especially as entrepreneurs, get so excited about the beginning point right now, which is good, like, you got to put a lot of energy into where you're about to go. But having a really clear understanding and agreement, like, here's the endpoint, we are going, it may change. But we need to have a common beginning like the endpoint we're going towards. We need to agree if we are going to change; we need to agree on that. That's the spot I missed for sure and plays I see a lot of people miss. Everything is great in the beginning; everything is fine; you’re starting, energy is exciting, right? You got to have a plan for that other day. If we are successful or if this doesn't work, what do we want that to look like?

Randy Wilburn [10:50] And I tell people this when I do consulting, a lot of times, the mistake that we make, especially with working with other people, is that we don't manage people's expectations properly. And I think you need to always go into something with the understanding of how we will begin with the end in mind; I mean, that’s what Stephen Covey talks about. You have to figure out where we are taking this thing and what are your expectations? What are my expectations? It sounds like you guys have worked that out.

James Farmer [11:23] A good friend of mine says that expectations are premeditated resentments.

Randy Wilburn [11:30] I like that.

James Farmer [11:32] He's really good. But it is getting those out on the table and being honest about those. If this doesn't work, here's what you can expect from me and here's what my plan is to do. It’s always much harder to solve for that at the moment. Whether success or failure, it works; it doesn't work. Either one of those, it's really hard to solve for that at the moment.

Randy Wilburn [11:59] You have said a mouthful. So, you exit Harvest group, you take a little time off, you ultimately start Night Owl grocery sales, and then ultimately, it morphs into Easy Bins. What was the inspiration for you behind where you are now?

James Farmer [12:14] So when we were leaving Harvest, going through transactions, I would be up at night sometimes, just like anxiety and stress. I was changing many things in life, so I wasn't sleeping very well. Sometimes I would just go to Walmart, go to the stores to see what was going on. And I remember being struck by the fact that this was the time and this would be three, four o'clock in the morning. This was the time when McDonald's, everybody had their food trucks there. And I wonder why they're doing that. Why are the foodservice guys unloading right now? A couple of people were on the street when Easy Bins was on the street in the mornings. It's the dairy guys, the newspaper people, and the foodservice people. And I wonder why they're doing it that way. And so, I started looking at the foodservice industry. How do they move food around? We are going to go into the Last Mile business, let's learn from things that work and understand what the best practices that exist are and how can we morph and modify those best practices to suit the consumer and the shopper we go after, but there's no reason to start from scratch. I don't think they're delivering McDonald's because the delivery guy is a morning guy. There are real business reasons behind that. Honestly, one of the biggest inspirations for me was I wonder why that guy's unloading right now. It turns out he's unloading because it's very efficient. It's non-disruptive to the store; there's no friction, and it's efficient from a cost standpoint. Your accident rate goes way down because there are no other cars you can hit on the road. All of the other things that are issues during the daytime are new issues at night, but all those other issues just go away.

Randy Wilburn [14:00] Frictionless like you said. That's interesting. So, you started Easy Bins and I'm assuming that you gave the audience, those of the uninitiated, a little bit of a walking tour of all that you do at Easy Bins. Especially for people that may want to say, hey, I want to try out the service. I know that they're local here and that's exactly something that I need.

James Farmer [14:21] So, at Easy Bins, we like to think of the first movers, companies like Instacart, Shipped, Postmates, Doordash. Doordash is like the restaurant GrubHub, getting into grocery now. They connect a store to your door; that’s the phraseology they use. We connect the store to your door. What we do at Easy Bins is connect the market to your door. And so, instead of being limited by an individual store, I want organic chicken from this store, and I'm only going to be allowed to get items that are in this specific physical location’s assortment. We say to the customer; you’re getting used to getting everything you want all at once. We will offer you and let you buy in a single cart all the different items in the cart so that you're not tied to the proximity of one store. For a couple of reasons, some brands only sell to specific retailers, so if you want science diet dog food, you can't get that at Harps. You can't get that at Kroger. You can't get that at Target; you have to get that at Petco. But you might want organic chicken from Whole Foods, along with Quaker Oats oatmeal. And for you as the shopper, that's like three or four trips. That's a couple of hours. If you're getting it delivered, those are multiple delivery times you have got to schedule now, multiple delivery fees you have got to pay or memberships you have got to have, and it's just cumbersome. So, at Easy Bins, we simply give you one search bar. And you can build a basket and checkout with all those products in different places. We just removed the physical location from the equation so you don't have to think about it. And you only have the assortment of everything you want to buy right in front of you. The other thing we do, which is behind the scenes, and because of the way we operate, we use a technical term and cross pick everything. So, if you're going to order grocery delivery from a store, if you get grocery delivered from Harps, you're going to get delivery based on assortment availability in one store. When our pickers are going out, they're picking everything all at once, and so, if organic chicken is at that store ABC, this person in store DEF can see that it's out and they're going to get it in their store. As a result, if we are out of stock rates, substitution rates go a lot lower than and historically, you would see an online grocery.

Randy Wilburn [16:24] And it’s funny you say that because as you're walking me through this whole process, I'm thinking about my wife; that’s her thing. She goes to multiple places to shop. We shop primarily at Ozark Natural Foods and Natural Grocers- sorry, Ozark Natural Foods. She goes to Whole Foods for some things, and she goes to Walmart. Everything she wants isn't under one roof and that's just the reality of some people’s shopping habits. I think that's always a challenge for her. You have reduced that friction of going to those different places through Easy Bins and making the widest assortment of our collection of items available to an individual. I love that, and just hearing this, I'm going to tell her about it because I think she needs to try you guys maybe and see how that goes because that's the biggest thing she complains about. She doesn't mind shopping; it’s just the fact that she's got to go so many different places.

James Farmer [17:23] So, we like to say we change the what, how, and where. And so, the where and how we made a couple of different pivots and districts. We give our customers a different experience than they would have with other places like Instacart, Walmart, Kroger and Shipped. And that is, instead of having a two-hour delivery, we call the same day, six and six, and we are in every neighborhood every 12 hours, 6 am and 6 pm. The target we go after and the customer who uses Easy Bins do not do their stock-up trip. We don't see $200 baskets, $300 baskets. We see a lot of $40 baskets and that's our average basket size right now. They're stocking up, it's a last-minute trip, and typically they're ordering at the bookend of the days. Before they go to work, it's waiting for them on their porch, or after they put the kids to bed, it's there waiting for them in the morning. Those are the two points of distinction and how we just give the customers a different tool in the tool belt. With online groceries, we have these different delivery experiences. You know that it's always going to be available? There's no question like, is the time slot full? You know that every six and six, it's always available. I order by noon, I get it that day. If I order before 10 pm, it’s going to be there the next morning. As a result, most of our baskets come from multiple stores, and almost all of our orders come in early morning or late in the day.

Randy Wilburn [18:44] At the time of recording this, February 2021, I can't believe that, first of all. We are a year into this pandemic. It’s the big P-word that everybody talks about, the elephant in the room with a pandemic, COVID-19 How much did that fundamentally change your business model, if any, starting last February?

James Farmer [19:09] It definitely fundamentally changed it. COVID pushed our category ahead five, six years, at least. It did the same as billions and billions of dollars in marketing. Because household penetration of online grocery before the pandemic was in the single digits still. So less than one out of 150 homes used online grocery before the pandemic. Right now, it's one in four. And that wasn't projected to happen until 2025, 2027, so it pushed the category ahead in a big way that we never had plans to do. We thought we would just grow with the category, and so it pushed the category ahead in a big way and made us get bigger and expand. We use the pandemic to expand geographically outside Northwest Arkansas. And then, when the pandemic first hit, the volume was astronomical. It took off like a rocket ship. Looking down, it's not operating the same way. March and April were crazy; we had to cut up the volume every day. As some normalcy came in, the fight or flight response wore off slightly, and we saw things normalize a little bit. But for sure, the customers we have today, a vast majority of them, we had no plans of getting any time soon because it was going to take a lot to get them into online grocery- both sides of the population. It's really surprising. The people over 65 started using Easy Bins, never in our target market, but really big. The question is, what happens when the pandemic subsides? How much of this behavior is encoded in us now? How much isn't? What is going to happen? That's the big question.

Randy Wilburn [20:55] I think that is the million-dollar question. And I don't know that we do know. I was listening to the economist, Janet Yellen, our first female Treasury secretary. A smart woman talking about the residuals from the pandemic will be with us for some time to come. This idea that at some point in time, we're just going to flip a switch a few months down the road, and everything is going to be back to normal. I don't know that that's going to be the case. I don't know how long it takes to build a habit, but I don't think it takes as long as people think it does. People will be more comfortable with take-out; people will be more comfortable with having things delivered to their homes more often. I lived on Amazon before, but I really live on Amazon now. I've not been into a store to buy anything from that perspective. It's like we have turned a corner and it will be interesting to see what’s around that corner. What does that really look like?

James Farmer [21:54] I always think it's a special time to live through history. The word disruption was such a popular word that it got disrupted; there’s nothing that needs disrupting now. And so, as an entrepreneur, you got to love this time because it's chaos. If you don't, you have to look at a career change because chaos is where the opportunity always exists but you gotta be calm, cool, and collected to be able to navigate through that chaos, find the opportunity and, and execute on it.

Randy Wilburn [22:32] You need to have a little patience. And I think I mentioned this to somebody the other day as I was talking because when I record these episodes, I record them in all different types of times. But while I was talking with somebody about the simple fact that there's never been a better time. If you were thinking about pivoting and doing something different, this is the time to do it. There's never been a better time when you could just clean the deck, clear it of everything and start fresh. At 20, 25, 30, I'm 51, and my pivot has a pivot. That's how much I have pivoted in the last year, and I just have gone deep and gone all-in on some things that I know I'm good at, like podcasting. I've been doing it before anyway, but this is a new opportunity for me to tell more stories to engage with people, and I'm still figuring out ways to monetize it, but that's all coming. I'm sowing the seed now and as I like to use this old farm analogy, priming the pump on that well- that cistern that's 100 feet below the farm, and you've got to work your arm for a long time before you get that water to come to the top. But once it does, it's hard to stop.

James Farmer [23:44] That’s a good illustration. The pandemic is a good situation to do that and the reason, it gets you out of that comfort zone. It provides some reason. Why did you do that? Oh, it was endemic. It can always be your alibi forever.

Randy Wilburn [24:02] It's called the pandemic pivot. I survived the pandemic.

James Farmer [24:07That sounds like a good book.

Randy Wilburn [24:09] It is a book. I'm going to write that down, the pandemic pivot. I'm actually in the middle of writing a book, and I don't talk about it that much on the podcast, but I think it is appropriate to know to be thinking of it that way.

James Farmer [24:21] This is a great gift. It is very special to be alive. I doubt I will ever be given an opportunity like this again in my lifetime.

Randy Wilburn [24:30] Not where you see your own business accelerate. Typically, when you look at a business and you look at the arc of a business, you're physically watching time unfolds, and it takes a while. You had like four, five, or six years unfold before your eyes in 12 months. You haven't gotten as much sleep, but you're the better for it because you've been able to grow this thing. Tell me a little bit about your numbers regarding the number of employed people, and I didn't realize you were in other locations. I would love to hear about that.

James Farmer [25:07] So, when the pandemic hit, we had this challenge where we wondered how fast we could spin up a market. We operate with a bit of infrastructure. Where you're at right now, we call it a mini-fulfillment center. Some people call micro-fulfillment centers, but it's the aggregation point where everything comes together. So, we need one of these every place we operate, not too much. We had the question: Can we start in five days, and we took Arkadelphia of all places. We had a contact down there, and we're like, let's see if we can start in five days in Arkadelphia, and we did. We spun it up from nothing to taking orders and fulfilling those orders; I think four days. And so, we still actually, and to this day, we operate in Arkadelphia. And we have two great market leaders down there, who it's just a great side business for them, and they love it. That's our labor with our people that work for Easy Bins. We want it to be the best second job you have. We love second jobbers. They are consistent, reliable, they have grit, and they work hard. Nobody has the best second job strategy, so our staff that works in stores, almost 100 percent of them, it's their second job. There's no gig work; it’s all scheduled shifts. Today, we have probably just north of 50 people working for us. We operate here in Conway, Arkadelphia, Tulsa in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Randy Wilburn [26:31] You’re in Colorado because your dad's up there?

James Farmer [26:35] No, we just had a contact out there. We grew really fast when the pandemic hit. We're like, where do we know people? We're not very smart about it necessarily. We have plans to grow into some new markets this year and be a little more intelligent about it. So, we have just over 50 people that work for the company; the vast majority is part-time. And then for full-time, there are five of us. So, James Parnell our CEO. You met James Parnell. He joined us in November and he used to run Instacart from Northwest Arkansas. So, we did a pretty exhaustive CEO search and James came in as our top candidate and there were some soft skills we were looking for. He nailed them, which was to win over people, move around in the saddle, be a builder, and operationally, he makes it happen; he runs Easy Bins. We have Hayley Williams, who runs marketing, Sierra runs customer service, kind of support. And then we have two dedicated overnight ops managers; one is part-time. And so, that's the team. And then, just a hodgepodge collection of people. We have three values at Easy Bins, love people, love food, love work. And part of our love people is we don't want to all look and be the same. So, it's pretty cool our social circles don't overlap too much and it turns out that's really good for business. We get a much broader context of what we're trying to do and a lot better ideas. And so, we would like to not all look like each other. You can just meet really interesting people that work here; they're here every walk of life works here.

Randy Wilburn [28:14] I love that you had some people who took this as a second job. I keep telling people; you got to have a side hustle. You have to do more than one stream of income, and I think we're seeing that because of the challenges that many families face right now because of the pandemic. If the main breadwinner in the family, says it was a mom or dad loses their job, it's always like, what do you do next? And if you can't just bounce into another job, you always have to have something to fall back on. And I'm encouraging more and more people now that they have to embrace the model of having several irons in the fire. You just have to. It seems like you're creating that opportunity for people to have that other irons in the fire. I think it works if you have that type of culture, where it's like, come as you are, do your work, do your thing, serve our clients at the highest level possible and then bounce and do whatever else you're doing, and everybody's happy. I think that's important. There's going to be room for that as more companies take that mindset. For the longest time, it was like, you're here and you bleed blue or bleed green or whatever color of a company and that's it and nothing else. But now it's like, I can bleed Blue Monday through Friday, but on Saturday and Sunday, I'm doing this thing on my own, and I encourage people to do that.

James Farmer [29:43] It works for us. We have had doctors who are in between residencies work for us. I’m proud that some of our original pickers and drivers still work for us. A lot of them don't, but all of our original people still work for us. One of them, this guy named Torrence. Torrence is a mechanical engineer. He drives down to Fort Smith every day works down there and then three nights a week, he picks for us. And we have seen people work for us to pay off cars, save for vacations and just create a side hustle for themselves. It’s pretty cool because it creates this little microcosm where you don't have to bleed Easy Bins necessary. We need you to love people, love work and love food, and that's what draws us all together. You come in. You do that; you’re a person you do the rest of your life. We try not to invade people too much.

Randy Wilburn [30:37] This is exciting. Again, for the uninitiated, if I listen to this podcast and I need to contact Easy Bins, what is the easiest way for them to get in touch with you? The website?

James Farmer [30:52] Yes, you go to easybins.com. There's an app in the App Store, Easy Bin's app.

Randy Wilburn [30:57] Was that domain available when you looked for it?

James Farmer [31:00] No, we had to buy it.

Randy Wilburn [31:03] I always love listening to those domain stories where you're like, we had to buy that one.

James Farmer [31:07] We had to, but it was not that bad.

Randy Wilburn [31:14] There are a lot of domain squatters out there that are sitting on some--- and I wish I had the foresight. I remember back in the days, I had some great ideas for some domain names. I had parableofthetalents.com. I've had some good domains. And some that I've kept. I think I still have bostonareahomeinfo.com, which is a pretty strong one. I've had several realtors contact me to buy it. Those digital domains, there's some real value. I have some friends; all they do is buy and sell domains and make multiple six figures.

James Farmer [31:53] It was not cheap. It was not an easy process and I don't want to go through it again. I’m not changing the name. Somebody asked me the other day if we were open to change the name.

Randy Wilburn [32:05] Why?

James Farmer [32:06] I was in the marketing industry. In the back of my mind, I was thinking there's no way we are going to buy another domain.

Randy Wilburn [32:15] How are people finding out about you right now?

James Farmer [32:17] We use quite a bit of advertising on Facebook and Google. But frankly, like most of our business growth today is through referrals.

Randy Wilburn [32:25] I would say this is a huge word of mouth business.

James Farmer [32:27] We're a raving fan business model. We didn't create that; it’s kind of a business model name. And so, we're always looking for ways to incentivize our customers to tell their people.

Randy Wilburn [32:37] That’s how I heard about it. That person was a customer of yours.

James Farmer [32:41] It's such a tactile interaction with us like you have this bin waiting on your door. It's an exciting experience with the brand. We probably don't do a very good job of unlocking what we could, but then we do some promotional things. We will bring Trader Joe’s in once a month. We did a deal a couple of weeks ago, where we bought two Yeti coolers. And we're like somebody's getting it delivered in this, and you could keep it right.

Randy Wilburn [33:10] It was just a random thing. Listen, Yeti coolers. Those things work really well. So yeah,

James Farmer [33:20] They do. That promotion worked well. It was skyrocketing.

James Farmer [33:25] Everybody wants one.

James Farmer [33:27] We didn't tell operations we were doing that.

Randy Wilburn [33:29] Listen, a Yeti cooler is like a car payment; they're not cheap. I'm always thinking of different ways to extend the brand of the podcast and I'm actually working on a campaign right now where I'm going to be slowly doing an awareness campaign. I'm going to give some stuff away and so I've been thinking about creative ways to do that. I may have to think about a Yeti cooler.

James Farmer [33:55] We rely heavily and we incentivize our customers to tell their friends, and it's a shareable business. Food is a very shareable thing and so far, this has worked for us.

Randy Wilburn [34:07] Everything we have talked about are the highs of what you're doing and how you're moving through this? What's keeping you up at night?

James Farmer [34:19] Well, thankfully, I sleep well right now. I have a lot of friends who think I still stay up all night. I'm like, guys, I’m three years into this. When we first started, it was my wife and I out of our garage. I actually got to bed early and got up early. The thing that keeps me up at night is starting. I always tell people starting a company is like doing yoga. It's just uncomfortable. I'm getting good at this and you see somebody do some pose and you're like, there's no way I can ever do that. I think starting a business is similar to that, especially a company that's a startup like Easy Bins. As a leader, you don't ever get good at something because it is growing and it always requires something different from you. And so, you're perpetually in this uncomfortable state of like, I'm not good at this. Well, of course I'm not; I’ve never done it before. So, if I can get past trying to make that judgment about myself, trying to get caught up, I mean, not being good at it, and just understand what the task is in front of me, that helps me move forward. I've never scaled an online grocery business before, so next time, if I did it again, maybe I should be good at it.

Randy Wilburn [35:43] I think we're too hard on ourselves sometimes.

James Farmer [35:46] Yes, I would expect too much of myself and that's my ego talking. That's not the real James, so if I can let go of that, I can actually be useful to other people. So that keeps me up a little bit and then just growing this business. Grocery is deceptively simple, yet complex and we're always trying to make things very simple. Operationally, that works for us, so when I look at some of our goals for the year revenue, customer counts that keep me up, like, how are we going to get there? But then I take a deep breath, and I'm like, if I look backward, I never thought we'd get here. I don't need to be there today. I will be a different person when we get there. I don't have some of the skills I need to get there, but I'm not there yet. It's today. I didn't think we could ever do this in a month, so if I just take a deep breath and orient myself, then it kind of gives me a little bit of space now to understand how I can be useful and do what the company needs me to do today which oftentimes is not what I want to do.

Randy Wilburn [36:51] Do you ever have any idea if this thing catches fire and takes hold? You mentioned a couple of companies that are now public. I mean, DoorDash is public. It went from nowhere to just a valuation that is astronomical. Is there anywhere in the back of your head where you're like this could eventually be something as far as that's concerned?

James Farmer [37:17] We will not stop the growth of Easy Bins. We are not going to cap it prematurely. We care about revenue, growth and profitability, and it's one of our key goals right now. And as a profitable company, you got a lot of choices that a lot of unprofitable companies didn’t have. But there's not an artificial ceiling that we're going to cap it at. We will let it be whatever it can be.

Randy Wilburn [37:34] You think it helps to be in the backyard, or rather, in the shadow of this little retailer up the road, called Walmart?

James Farmer [37:45] Oh, 100 percent. The ecosystem that exists here, not just Walmart, but in Northwest Arkansas period. You have Hunt, you have Tyson, you have the University of Walmart, but more importantly, they're just as important. You have all the ecosystems that exist around that. So, if you're doing like what we're doing, which is building a retail-oriented logistics company, there's no better place in the country to do this. Because of what Silicon Valley had with technology and Hewlett Packard if you look at the history, it was the ecosystem that could birth these companies. We are not going to have that for technology, but we do have this retail ecosystem that, whether it's food safety, food logistics, food trends, or product prep, everything you possibly could want to know and need about food and retail exists in this ecosystem. We got these bins right here because we started consulting with a company that builds very similar bins for Walmart to move salmon from Argentina to LA. That's where the ecosystem gets powerful, and as a company, these resources are valuable and important as the capital that exists here. Anything related to food, retail and logistics, throw a stone and you can find the leading experts in the world; they're here.

Randy Wilburn [39:08] They're within ten minutes of us. Guess what? We were right up here in Tontitown, right on the Tontitown Springdale border. Anywhere you go in a radius of five miles, you will run into these experts.

James Farmer [39:21] It's great. The only downside is, this little microcosm, it's like the one place in the country that Walmart has like a 90 share of grocery. Everywhere else in the country has a 30-35 per share in the country- you go to St. Louis and Kansas City. Here it's harder for them to conceptually understand Easy Bins because we have these beautiful stores everywhere. But you go somewhere else, you're like, people use all these other stores too. And for a company like Walmart, we see our opportunities to increase their trade area. There are products from Walmart going to homes in Fort Collins that were never going to go there. When it comes to Quaker Oats oatmeal, people don't dictate the location of the brand. They don't say Quaker Oats oatmeal from King Soopers; they just say Quaker Oats oatmeal. And so, that's the really interesting longer-term dynamic of the marketplace we are building.

Randy Wilburn [40:13] Interesting. Not saying that; it’s almost like in my head, I hear the song New York, New York, where it's like, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere because of the market share that Walmart has.

James Farmer [40:23] That’s my pitch. [cross-talking] Northwest Arkansas is our largest market. If we can make it here, then everywhere else should be really easy. But for sure, that is easily outweighed by the ecosystem that exists here.

Randy Wilburn [40:42] So, as we wind down up, I would love for you to talk about Northwest Arkansas as a whole, culturally, and what does NWA mean to you?

James Farmer [40:55] Well, I call it home and I've called home since 1999.

Randy Wilburn [40:58] That's a long time; you’re almost like a lifer.

James Farmer [41:02] But that's what's so great about it. Nobody's from here, yet enough people are. We are surrounded by national forests on three sides. We have unbelievably unique and diverse communities. I live in Fayetteville, but I love how different Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers have been. They all have these individual personalities and they all play a role. It's not that one's better than the other; they each just play a role. But for me, I just love it. It's so easy to meet people. And there's never keeping up with the Joneses; it just seems like performance is not an issue. It's more about connection and community and life and doing that inside, outside in what's a beautiful area that's just great to live. So, I call it home and I have no plans to change calling it home because it's a beautiful place with really beautiful people.

Randy Wilburn [42:03] You’re absolutely right. I've said it repeatedly on this podcast because these are some of the most giving folks that I've connected with in a long time. And I just think there's something in the water here in Northwest Arkansas. And you're right; people aren't constantly, as I like to say, striving. I’ve lived in San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Washington, DC; it’s just different on the coast. But there's something about here and the thing that I also brought up, and I will close with this as I have said Northwest Arkansas could be the next Silicon Valley. Not that it would be another Silicon Valley, but it would be something akin to that. Where there would just be an explosion of growth, opportunity and entrepreneurship, and I think we're actually starting to see that come to pass. And you and Easy Bins are a prime example of that because this is fertile ground for you to develop something special and then take it wherever it's going to go.

James Farmer [43:04] We are an Arkansas story. We will stay in Arkansas story, Arkansas capital, something that could only come out of Northwest Arkansas.

Randy Wilburn [43:11] Well, James, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. I really appreciate it. This was enlightening and it was an encouraging conversation. It was something I actually needed to hear, so I really appreciate it. I hope all the listeners enjoyed your story and those of you that are listening that have an idea or dream; you need to step out and check it out because you never know you may end up like James delivering stuff to people at six and six. Anything is possible. If anybody wants to reach you directly, what's the best way for them to do it? Through the website, or do you have an email? What do you recommend?

James Farmer [43:48] They can reach me directly at james@easybins.com. If it's a customer issue, you would probably get a faster response if you go to help@easybins.com. But if I can be of help or useful to anybody, shoot me a note.

Randy Wilburn [44:01] And what we're going to do is I'm going to work on something. Why don't you give me your quick 15 second commercial for Easy Bins because we're going to share that out and make sure we push that out to our I am Northwest Arkansas community. I know I'm putting you on the spot but you're the man. So, what's the why behind Easy Bins?

James Farmer [44:33] We're trying to change what's possible with grocery. We are trying to change the what, the how and the where. And for you, the customer, what that means is we give you access to everything you want to buy, regardless of store. You're not tied to an individual store anymore. And we give you a different delivery experience. We're in a neighborhood every 12 hours, six and six. So, you place your order from anywhere it can come from. It can come from one store; it can come from ten stores. We will give you a search box to search for milk, see all the milk in the marketplace, and build a cart from multiple places. And then it just arrives effortlessly on your door by 6am or 6pm. You get to pick the time every single day. So, we like to say all the products from every single store each and every day.

Randy Wilburn [45:09] And cut. You are the pitch. That’s it right there. That's good. Well, that will go and I'm going to share that out so folks you heard it here first, James Farmer. Maybe you've heard it before, but you've definitely heard it here on the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. If you reach out to these guys at Easy Bins. If you sign up for their service. If you use them, please let them know because they're going to ask you how you hear about us? Let them know you heard about it first here on the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. I want to be one of their biggest recommenders or referrals for new signups and new customers. So that's all that I have for you today. Thank you so much for listening to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host Randy Wilburn. We are available wherever great podcasts can be found. And you can check us out on Alexa. Just say, hey, Alexa, play the latest episode of I am Northwest Arkansas and Alexa will oblige you. That's all I have for you this week. You can rate or review the podcast on Apple Podcasts. We love reviews. I got an outstanding review a couple of weeks ago. I'm going to read it in another episode. I'm also going to share it on a website because it really moved my heart and it just reminded me of why I do this podcast on a regular basis. I will definitely see you guys soon. Remember, the podcast comes out every Monday around noon, somewhere around there. Don't hold me to the noontime, but it comes out every Monday. Keep looking out for a new podcast of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm Randy Wilburn and I will see you soon. Peace.

IANWA Open [46:36] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcasts can be found. For Show Notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit iamnorthwestarkansas.com. We will see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.


About This Episode:

We recently sat down with EasyBins Founder James Farmer. Known as the Instacart of Northwest Arkansas, EasyBins takes inspiration from the familiar concept of “connecting the store to your door” and offers a unique service, “connecting the market to your door.”

James loved retail and knew he wanted to get physically closer to both the product and the customer.

James sold his stake in The Harvest Group. He proceeded to move into a new venture, called NiteOwl. After being mistaken for an adult entertainment store several times, James and his team promptly renamed their startup to EasyBins.

Unlike other grocery delivery apps, EasyBins removes the physical store from the equation and allows users to create a basket to fill with products from various stores and have those products delivered right to their doorstep within 12 hours.

Before starting EasyBins, James served as the President of The Harvest Group, which in the mid-2010s was growing at such a fast rate that James and his partners “could feel that we were capping the business out.” 

He began to explore his options. 

Listen in as James goes on to share how the pandemic saved EasyBins thousands of dollars in marketing spend and shortened their plans for the company down from five years to less than one. James firmly believes that, for entrepreneurs everywhere, now is the time to embrace the “pandemic pivot” and seek out and seize opportunities.

All of this and more on this episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast.

This episode is sponsored by*:

Signature Bank of Arkansas –  Signature Bank was founded here in Northwest Arkansas in 2005. Their focus is personal and community banking. When you bank with a community bank, you’re investing in local businesses, local entrepreneurs, local charities, and the causes close to home. Signature Bank has worked hard to earn its tagline, “Community Banking at its Best.”

You may ask why bank at Signature? 

Because they put the focus on the customer instead of on having a branch on every corner, this means you can have your questions answered by a real person, whether you’re reaching out to the call center or your banker’s cell phone. You can access any ATM in the country without fear of a fee.  They will refund all of those fees at the end of every month. Finally, they are constantly improving their digital offerings to make sure you can access the best financial tools from your laptop, phone, or tablet 24 hours a day.

Signature Bank of Arkansas is a full-service bank offering traditional checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, business and personal loans, and mortgages.

Give the folks at Signature Bank a call (479-684-4700) or visit their website Signature.Bank and let them know you heard about them on the I am Northwest Arkansas Podcast

Signature Bank of Arkansas is a Member of the FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender.  

Build Your Perfect Business with Next Level 7 – If you’ve ever thought about starting your own business or giving your current business a real tune-up, you need to check out Next Level 7 and take some lessons from the master, Brian Clark. Brian has built not one but two 8-figure businesses from scratch – and sold them! 

We use Brian’s training here at I am Northwest Arkansas, and it has transformed how we do business.  Get the FREE Course today! Or visit iamnorthwestarkansas.com/seven

Be a part of the Entrepreneurial Movement here in the Ozarks. 

Email info@iamnorthwestarkansas.com to learn more about sponsorship opportunities.

*Note: some of the resources mentioned may be affiliate links. This means we get paid a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Connect more with I am Northwest Arkansas:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. We showcase businesses, culture, entrepreneurship, and everyday people’s lives, making Northwest Arkansas what it is today. 

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