It’s rare to find a teenager who knows exactly what he wants to do with his life, but Mike Lizotte was that teenager. At the age of 13 he started working for American Meadows in Williston, and he never left. In 2009, he bought the company. This summer, he and his business partner Ethan Platt have moved the 35-year-old wildflower seed company to Shelburne.
“No pun intended,” Lizotte said, “but we’ve just continued to grow like wildflowers. We’d been in Williston for 15 years and in just the eight years that Ethan and I owned the company, we renovated the space four or five times.”
Lizotte noted that it wasn’t easy finding an appropriate building to house American Meadows, since most locations either had either tiny offices or miniscule warehouses. They were happy to discover the old Climb High building on Shelburne Road, which had recently been vacated by Ann Roche.
“We’re excited to be here in Shelburne,” Lizotte said. “We’ve got a nice office space upstairs with room for expansion, and a bigger warehouse downstairs.”
American Meadows has 25 full-time salaried employees, and brings in seasonal help in the spring and fall. In 2013, they acquired High Country Gardens which was based in Santa Fe. They brought the customer service department to Vermont but distribute the product through Denver. American Meadows has an additional distribution center in Pennsylvania. “We have a lot of moving parts,” Lizotte said.
Although the acquisition was a major change, Lizotte said the business hasn’t varied much otherwise over the years. “We’ve gotten better at what we do,” he said. “We’re really focusing on being customer-centric and providing a top-notch web experience with content and all the gritty details, but also a lot of beautiful pictures and inspiration. Our growth isn’t because we added new categories but from focusing on getting better at what we do.”
The new Shelburne Road location provides great visibility, but retail is not on the company’s radar. “Local businesses will come here and pick things up,” Lizotte said “and customers who have been with us for a while can also come by, but we’re not marketing as retail. Despite the great exposure here, that wasn’t the main focus. We just needed a bigger space.”
After almost 30 years with American Meadows, Lizotte professes to still love his work. “Gardening is so much fun and this is a great industry,” he said. “There is a challenge in trying to connect to millennials, but we’re doing a good job and we’re excited to continue with that.”
That challenge exists in his own household. “I have a 5-year-old daughter, and my own garden, and I watch how she reacts to it,” Lizotte said. “It’s cool to be able to pass that on.”
Lizotte said that the company’s social media presence is big, with 275,000 engaged on Facebook, dwarfing the numbers of some of their larger competitors. When he goes to trade shows, more and more companies are showing familiarity with the company name.
“This little seed company is beginning to open eyes across the country,” he said. “That makes it a lot of fun. It’s easy to get up in the morning and come to work.”