3 companies turning Colorado from an 'e-commerce desert' into an e-commerce empire

by Kate Rosow Chrisman
April 14, 2014

The Colorado tech scene isn’t most widely known as a mecca for e-commerce. But three local companies – all with a focus deeper than just profits and losses – are leveraging online sales to bring their products to a growing number of people. For them, e-commerce is another tool to promote healthy lifestyles and a deeper corporate mission. From organic foods and a yoga-infused lifestyle to protecting your phone while white-water rafting (or walking down the street), Mile High Organics, Gaiam and OtterBox are leading the way for e-commerce in Colorado.

These three companies are not only rooted in Colorado, but also in a new lifestyle, led in large part by the health-conscious, outdoorsy and environmentally-minded Coloradoans. E-commerce allows these companies to take that lifestyle beyond Colorado’s borders.

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Groceries with a Mission

For Boulder-based Mile High Organics, e-commerce is a tool to provide organic food to a large population. While most grocery stores focus on one neighborhood, Mile High Organics serves 1,000 square miles of customers, including the whole Front Range.

Unlike other e-grocers, their focus started with organic produce and spread to include a wide range of other foods. The company brings high quality, non-GMO organic food to busy households. CEO and founder Michael Joseph says their target customer is the "crossover of someone who wants to get the best available foods and isn’t interested in the shopping aspect.”

The growth in products has been astounding. In 2010, Mile High Organics offered only fruits and vegetables, but four years later, the company has “north of 3,000 items” for sale, said Joseph. Providing customers with fresh produce “takes an army,” said Joseph, but its essential for customers to trust the company to pick the best food.

The mission isn’t just to provide the Front Range with fresh, organic produce and other groceries; the company makes sure all its packaging is reusable: “We come back and pick everything up and bring it back to our warehouse and rinse, wash and sanitize it. That’s really unique,” said Joseph.

Mile High didn’t have a lot of peers to learn from. “It’s an e-commerce desert out here,” said Joseph, but the company is seeing double-digit monthly growth. The team grew by five people already this year to about 50 employees.

 

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Combining Outdoor Adventure with High Tech Gear

OtterBox – the Ft. Collins-based company that makes protective cases – started out by making dry boxes that were used in the field and became popular with outdoor sports enthusiasts. Its mission shifted from protecting PDAs used by professionals in the field to the general consumer. Their product evolved to “connect, protect and enable and connected world,” said PR specialist Kristen Tatti. Everyone wants protection for their phone, but the company’s roots are planted firmly with the outdoor lifestyle Colorado provides.

OtterBox doesn’t consider itself “strictly an e-commerce site,” said Tatti but e-commerce is strategic to their company since “it’s the best connection to understand what consumers want.” E-commerce allows the company to give customers choices – customers can choose the color combination they for their iPhone case– and the company can use that data to inform their biggest customers like Best Buy, Sprint and Verizon, with real-time trends. It’s a multi-channel strategy that ensures customers are getting what they want and the company can continue its growth trajectory.  

OtterBox doesn’t sit back and rely on just on e-commerce to spread their products globally. The company realizes the needs in South Korea can be different from those in Fort Collins or those in Ireland. Their expansion plan uses local knowledge through on-the-ground teams and combines it with the power of e-commerce. Tatti said the local offices operate very much in a startup mode, but with the weight of an established company and a fully developed product behind them.

The company isn’t just dedicated to providing protection for the world’s devices; they also have a foundation that puts technology into the hands of kids in Northern Colorado. Their aim: “igniting and equipping young entrepreneurs and philanthropists,” said Tatti.

The company has plans to launch new products this year and is actively hiring. They have around 1,000 global employees, with the vast majority based in Colorado.

 

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Finding a Healthy Lifestyle Online, with Zero Emissions

Boulder-based Gaiam is built for “millions of people who are yearning to make positive changes for their health, their communities and the planet." Through their products – from yoga mats and athletic clothing to air purifiers – the company aims to support “people on their journey of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle,” said COO Cyd Crouse.

For Gaiam, e-commerce isn’t just about getting products to a greater number of people. It’s also about spreading an environmental message. The company created a carbon-neutral shipping program back in 2006. It allows customers to “go zero” on emissions. The program plants trees through The Conservation Fund to offset carbon emissions from shipping. It’s not just for customers either; their headquarters outside of Boulder uses a 100 kilowatt photovoltaic solar power system, eco-conscious building materials and serves organic food in the company cafeteria.

Growth of 22 percent is coming from the tremendous growth in the yoga, fitness and restorative health markets, said Crouse. Gaiam prides itself on being a place for anyone from a yogi to a newbie, fitness enthusiasts to those who are looking to gain a bit more strength and flexibility.

Having a base in Colorado means being “surrounded by communities and people who are deeply committed to environmental stewardship and healthy, active lifestyles.”

Gaiam has over 200 employees and plans to hire throughout the year.

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