Grown & Crated merges craft with convenience
Nestled in the recesses of Southeast Portland's "Know Thy Food Cooperative," behind an assortment of fresh goods and through a back door, South Burlingame resident Elizabeth Johnston is hard at work.
It's two days after her new business, Grown & Crated — which delivers artisanal goods — opened, and she has packages to send out, shipments to parse and ribbons to entwine with curated boxes.
Meanwhile, she's juggling a full-time job and two kids. Johnston's busy, but she says she likes it that way.
"It's a crazy time. I work a lot, but honestly, this is so fun for me," she says. "If I wasn't doing this, I'd be watching TV or I'd take up another hobby."
Grown & Crated, which opened for business in August, delivers artisanal goods from Portland-based businesses such as Olympic Provisions, Rose City Coffee Co., Ranger Chocolate and Columbia River Sourdough Bakery to customers' doors.
Buyers can pick and choose their desired goodies or purchase curated boxes, such as the Awaken box, Snack box and Celebrate box, which feature items that represent the boxes' themes. For instance, the Snack box has Speilman Bagels Herb and Salt Bagel Chips, Jacobsen Salt Co. salty caramel, Olympic Provisions pepperettes, Ranger granola and other munchies.
Johnston either picks up the goodies or has them dropped off at her office. Then, Cascade Couriers ships the packages to various doorsteps across Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and Clark counties.
Johnston was born in Portland, but she didn't fall in love with local, handmade goods here. Instead, while living in Madison, Wisc., in her 20s, she discovered the beauty of boutique. Her routine included walking to a local produce shop, trekking back to her studio apartment and cooking up her nightly feast.
But as her career and family began to eat away most of her time, Johnston says she resorted to more convenient grocery shopping methods, such as buying goods online via Amazon or Blue Apron. That's when she came up with an idea that would merge practicality with idealism.
"We need these things to be more accessible. Otherwise, everyone is just going to be going to Amazon all the time for everything. And while Grown & Crated in no way attempts to compete with the Amazons of the world, it's my little way of making a difference and making Portland artisan, craft goods more accessible," Johnston says.
Johnston expected to have difficulties buying wholesale from local businesses, but after visiting farmers markets such as the one in Hillsdale or at Portland State University, she didn't really have much trouble.
"Everyone was like, 'Yeah sure.' I wouldn't say it was an overly enthusiastic thing, but it was a very easy connection to make," she says. "I'm just another customer to them. They were like, 'That sounds great.' People really like the concept. This is their heart and soul, and any way they can get their products out to the customer, they're for it."
And once word got out about her burgeoning business, other vendors came calling.
"It was pretty cool how that happened. It's just one big family," Johnston says.
She judged the businesses she chose to align with based on her confidence in the product and the connection she fostered with the owners and workers at the company.
"If I don't love the product, I can't endorse it. I'm really promoting myself as a curator, so it's been a little bit hard to turn down a few people. But that's a part of the business," Johnston says.
Because businesses offer a cheaper price to wholesalers than they do to customers, most of Johnston's goods are offered at the same price as they would be to buy them directly, while some items are 5-to-10 percent more expensive.
Overall, the products she offers are more expensive than facsimiles offered at bigger stores such as Fred Meyer, but Johnston believes people often extract more value out of higher quality, more expensive goods than lower quality, cheaper goods.
"We're more prone to throw things away when we buy things we don't put intent into," she says.
She originally thought of the concept for the business as a simple grocery shopping method, but she heard from prospective customers that a custom box full of goodies could also be an appealing gift.
"Right now, that's how people are marketing it, so that's how I'm going with it. The vision has already evolved, and I'm running with that," Johnston says.
It remains to be seen whether Grown & Crated will be a profitable business. Johnston believes marketing could decide the fate of her shop, and she's using social media to get the word out.
"I told people that when they get their boxes, Instagram a picture of them opening their boxes, because it's really important to me to see this as people treating themselves or treating somebody they're sending the gift to. I really value that experience. I'm hoping people will post about that, talk about that, share it with their friends," Johnston says.
Johnston aspires to to one day franchise the operation to other cities in the United States, but she says she hopes to never lose the local aura.
"As I franchise, I want to make sure that (a theoretical) Seattle Grown & Crated is staffed with a Seattle curator and the artisans are Seattle people," she says. "So you'll still have that craft and artisan experience, but you'll also have a consistent customer service packaging experience."
Johnston comes in to work on Wednesday and Sunday nights to package the boxes to prepare them for Tuesday and Friday deliveries. Excelling at work, at home and in her second office is no easy task, she says, but Johnston compartmentalizes to decrease stress.
"It's difficult. My full-time job is really important to me and is my livelihood, and it's important for me to stay focused on that. I make sure to carve out time in my day to focus on Grown & Crated. Otherwise, I'd be at work and I'd be thinking a million thoughts," she says.
And as for Johnston's 6-year-old and 10-year-old, the process of seeing their mom start up a business has been illuminating.
"It's teaching them that if you have an idea, it can be executed. I think they're learning that subliminally," she says. "They saw their mom come up with this crazy idea and execute it. That's really important for kids to learn these days."
For more information about Grown & Crated, go to Grownandcrated.com