Meet Your Merchant: truly organic growth at Peaceful Valley
After spending many years working in the corporate world, Pattie and Eric Boudier were eager to get out of Houston and invest in their own business.
“We wanted to buy something that was in a place where we really wanted to live — not Houston,” said Pattie. “We wanted a business that we could stay with the rest of our professional lives, something we could believe in.”
The Boudiers researched nearly 60 businesses, both in the United States and France, Eric’s native country. Finally, they narrowed it down to 10 within the United States. Number nine on the list was in a place called Grass Valley. They took the back roads from Napa, arrived in town well after dark and checked in to the Golden Chain Motel.
The next morning, they liked what they saw.
“We loved the small town feel — the area had character and real history,” said Eric. “And of course there was the interface with the forest, pasture, hiking and skiing nearby.”
But the Boudiers liked even more the philosophy of the business in which they would soon invest their lives: Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.
Founded in a small garage in 1976 by “Amigo Bob” Cantisano on Peaceful Valley Road in Nevada City, the initial intent was to form a small cooperative for organic farmers to buy items in bulk. Quickly growing in popularity, the business relocated to a larger site down the road, where a greenhouse was installed to grow nursery plants.
In 1989, Cantisano sold the business to Mark and Kathleen Fenton, which was soon relocated to a business district near downtown Grass Valley. Peaceful Valley has since moved twice, within the same area, because of the need to expand. In July of 1996, a few months after first arriving in town, the Boudiers signed the papers, took ownership of the business from the Fentons and bought a home in southern Nevada County.
Initially knowing very little about organic farming, the vast knowledge passed on from the Fentons, Cantisano and a loyal staff proved to be invaluable as Eric and Pattie learned the inner workings of the business. Cantisano remains widely known as the founding organizer of the annual Ecological Farming Conference, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in January of 2015 and is the largest sustainable agriculture gathering in the western United States. Mark Fenton currently sits on the board of directors of the BriarPatch Co-op, and continues to work part time for Peaceful Valley.
The store is now considered one of the leaders in the field of organic supplies, boasting tens of thousands of customers and nearly 60 employees. Roughly 75 percent of their business comes from online customers from around the country.
In 2005, the business moved to their current facility on Clydesdale Court, previously home to a Budweiser distributorship. The property includes a 3,000 square foot store, a 15,000 square foot warehouse and an adjacent nursery.
Today, with 20 years under their belts, it’s safe to say that Eric and Pattie “know organic.” Unlike many other farm supply stores, Peaceful Valley is a “certified organic handler,” which means they must undergo strict inspections by California Certified Organic Farmers, a state organic certification agency, and only carry merchandise that is within their guidelines.
The Boudiers have 100 fruit trees on the five acres that surround their home in South County and a large vegetable garden. It’s in this setting where they have produced roughly 232 “how to” gardening videos, which have exploded in popularity. The videos have had more than 10 million views, said Pattie, which has contributed significantly to the store’s online sales at GrowOrganic.com. In addition, more than 100,000 people subscribe to Peaceful Valley’s newsletter and videos.
“We walk the talk; we live what we’re selling,” said Pattie. “We’ve tried every product.”
Ten years ago, Peaceful Valley started its own line of certified organic seeds. Sales have since increased fivefold, and there are now more than 350 types — all of which are packaged in the Grass Valley warehouse. And in 2010, Eric and Pattie made another successful change — they began carrying homestead supplies for canning, preserving, dehydrating milling and more.
“Twenty years ago we were the only game in town — that has changed,” said Eric. “We are now competing with Amazon and other smaller businesses. But people know that we are a one-stop shopping when it comes to buying something that is good for you and environmentally sound. Our claim to fame is that we remain true to our organic standards. That is a very important part of our philosophy. Some other stores sell organic products, but then you’ll see Roundup on the next shelf over. Customers know our products have been vetted and made from natural sources.”
Looking forward, the Boudiers will be overseeing a store remodel, which will include new access from the retail floor to the adjoining nursery, as well as new fixtures that will aid in more effectively displaying their impressive inventory of more than 5,000 items.
After two full decades of running Peaceful Valley, Pattie and Eric both say they are appreciative of a loyal and knowledgeable staff, many of whom have stayed with the company for 10 to 15 years. Much of this can be attributed to the “family style” of management, which includes paying fair wages and offering attractive benefit packages, said Eric.
Seven years ago, operations manager Josh Duncan was hired to work part-time in the warehouse and has since worked his way up the ranks. He’s now Eric’s right-hand man.
“Josh showed potential and he turned out to be a resounding success,” said Eric. “Now I can step off the gas a little and he can share the burden and the load.”
Pattie has primarily shifted her focus to catalogue marketing and forming alliances with local nonprofits, such as Sierra Harvest. But she and Eric say they are committed to the business for the long haul, as it is a true labor of love.
“We’ve stayed true to our mission and feel good about what we do,” said Eric. “It’s remarkable, from a customer’s standpoint, to know that despite our impressive growth we have retained the same ethic, philosophy and service that Amigo Bob first introduced 40 years ago. That’s why we have so many loyal customers.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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