By Parker Garlitz
I still remember the first sale I ever made online. Using a slow 1990s Internet connection, I sold a refurbished laser printer to someone in Portugal. My mind was blown. The world had shrunk — and I was hooked. I peered into the future of retail, and amazingly, I still get to do that today.
Online markets and digital tools have improved exponentially since that first sale and they are now a cornerstone of our Salt Lake City small business and millions more nationwide. Unfortunately, my excitement today is tempered by concern as complex, high-pitched battles about privacy and “Big Tech” are brewing in Washington and Salt Lake City and small businesses like ours could suffer collateral damage.
We started our organic seed and horticultural company in 1974. For years, our most creative marketing tool was a mail order print catalog. We mailed millions of catalogs, but we never knew if customers received them, read them or threw them straight into the trash. But times have changed. Our customers moved online and gradually, so did we. This year is the first that we won’t mail out a single print catalog. We have transitioned all our marketing online and we haven’t looked back.
Now, with Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, we target our promotions and advertising directly to people who we believe actually want to see it, and we know quickly if an advertisement, coupon or other promotion is successful. We can see the exact return on investment for every marketing dollar we spend. That matters a lot when a business is small and the marketing budget is even smaller. And it matters even more when a business is truly independent and competes against conglomerates. We cannot afford to waste money because our competition has budgets so much larger than ours.
I am a citizen and a businessperson, so I appreciate that policymakers are concerned about my privacy and ensuring fair business competition. Digital platforms are powerful and users should understand and appreciate both the opportunities and the risks. Lawmakers must also find the right balance and when navigating privacy and competition issues, it is important they know that millions of small businesses depend on our digital partners to survive and thrive.
Free and low-priced services that support digital marketing, advertising, accounting, HR and e-commerce are absolutely essential to our business. If policymakers are going to break up big digital platforms or impose strong restrictions, I hope they will protect small businesses from collateral damage. Similarly, if privacy and data protection need new laws, then as a consumer and a small business, I hope we get one good federal law instead of a patchwork quilt of 50 different state laws. We sell nationwide and could not afford the compliance burden for 50 privacy laws.
Through our company’s digital transition, we have hired dozens of new employees and have grown our payroll by 50 percent. I cannot imagine competing against agribusiness giants without digital platforms and tools, and so I really hope that the marketplace fixes these problems because that’s where the best solutions always develop.
But if government intervention is needed, I hope our policymakers move slowly and carefully and that the outcome is balanced. And I hope that the balance is mindful of the small businesses that often get hurt the most. I am confident that is not what Congress or Utah policymakers are trying to achieve.
Parker Garlitz is co-founder, managing partner and marketing director of True Leaf Market Seed Co., an organic seed and horticultural company based in Salt Lake City.