Goatheads: Roak TenEyck
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Goatheads.com is an unusual name for an unusual product, but owner Roak TenEyck is enjoying growing success with his online business. TenEyck devotes his business to the eradication of noxious Puncturevine weeds, also known as Goatheads, scientific name Tribulus terrestris. Depending on your area of the country, Puncturevine may be a plant you’ve never heard of; it’s a widespread problem in areas with dry, arid climates like Umatilla, Oregon, where TenEyk lives. Our neck of the woods, the southern Willamette Valley, does have Puncturevine infestations but we’re not faring as badly as other places. “Without ever seeing the plant and seeing how devastating the plant can be a person really doesn’t appreciate the problem,” says TenEyck. “This thing develops a thorn on it that’s between a 1/4 and a 1/2 inch long that can go through a bicycle tire. If you step on one in your carpet it will make you want to scream out in pain. To step on one is to truly appreciate what it can do.”
Puncturevine is a plant designed to survive, and fighting it is a real battle. “These seeds lay dormant 3 to 5 years before they sprout, and they can last as many as 20 years in the right conditions,” TenEyck declares. “It grows with no moisture where nothing else will. It really does deserve our respect and our total attention.”
TenEyck’s Puncturevine odyssey began 17 years ago in Umatilla, when TenEyck was working for an agricultural chemical company as a field man. He came across a list of biological weed control agents, and found an insect that ate only Puncturevine. “I thought, ‘hey, this is something I want to play with, how do I get some?’” TenEyck purchased some Puncturevine weevils (Microlarinus Lareyni), but was warned that the weevils would have a hard time getting established in Umatilla’s harsh winter climates. TenEyck wanted to try anyway, so he turned them loose. “I didn’t see much that summer,” he says. “I thought it was one of those things that was fun to play with but I didn’t see much activity. Then the next year I was out looking at some Puncturevine and noticed holes in the sides of the seeds. I opened up a few other seeds and found that they had either a hole in the center of the seed or else a little white larvae.”
TenEyck realized immediately that the Puncturevine weevils he had released had not only survived but had spread to other areas of his community. “I just kind of watched them, and within 4 or 5 years I found them all over town. I could go to all four corners of town and anywhere in between and find Puncturevine weevils working on this plant,” he says. “I kept watching them and as I would tell people about what had happened and what I was doing they wanted some too.” TenEyck purchased more weevils for other folks tormented by Puncturevine, and all the time they were urging him to turn his interest in these creatures into a business. Finally, after another couple of years, he did just that.
Roak and his wife Toni
“I went to a local web design host that built my first website and away we went,” says TenEyck. “Each year it’s grown and gotten bigger and every year we get more and more customers as more people find out about us.” By nature, biological solutions are slow to work, but every seed a weevil eats is a seed that can’t sprout. The weevils eat the viable portion in the middle of the seed. “You can still step on the darn thing but it won’t grow a new plant.”
Customers found TenEyck’s first website inconvenient to navigate, and TenEyck believes he lost many sales from customers simply giving up before getting through all of the roadblocks to finalize a purchase. TenEyck began searching for a new designer, and found one while enrolled in a business class through his local college. His instructor knew of a web designer, but the firm wasn’t taking any more clients, so they referred him to MightyMerchant. “Our new website with MightyMerchant has been a huge boon to us just due to the fact that our new webpage is so much easier to use,” TenEyck says. “We have really increased a lot of our sales just in that way.”
The content of TenEyck’s new website is basically the same, with some subtle changes and a greatly improved shopping experience. The new design is more convenient for TenEyck as well as the customers. “It’s much better, as far as being able to monitor the site, check our progress, see where our customers are coming from and what time they are receiving our orders,” he says. “Processing the paperwork is so much easier for us and a lot more efficient, and we get a lot more information with a couple clicks than we did before.”
Goatheads.com is a seasonal business; they only sell weevils from the first of July to the end of September, giving them just three short months each year. The rest of the time the site sells propane weed burners, “No Goatheads” hats, t-shirts and other related products. “We try to be available to answer questions like ‘what do I do with this mess’ type of things, and we offer all kinds of advice on using herbicides, burning, using competition and all kinds of ways to get rid of weeds,” he says.
TenEyck estimates that 55% of his business goes to Texas, while they also sell Puncturevine weevils to Arizona, New Mexico, California, Washington, Idaho, Oklahoma, Colorado and throughout Oregon. “We’ve had calls from 6,000 feet all the way to sea level.” Being a seasonal business means Goatheads.com is not TenEyck’s only job. He was a wine-grape growing consultant for many years and has recently returned to the agricultural work he was doing when he discovered the weevils. “As people find out about us, that one person tells a few people and they tell a few people and as we get more customers we’re able to advertise a little more and that’s where we are now,” he says. “I feel like we’re still in our infancy. We’ve got plenty of room to go up, up, up, and as we continue to climb we just try to reach out as much as we can.”
TenEyck says the friendly support he’s gotten since switching to MightyMerchant has made a big difference to him. “All the way from the very first phone call to today has just been a wonderful, wonderful experience. It’s gone so well and I’ve been totally, totally happy.”
We hope all of our clients feel this way about us. Thanks Roak! And thanks to all of our clients who make MightyMerchant such a wonderful place!