2012… WHAT A YEAR IT HAS BEEN!
Just spent some time going back and looking at video footage of our first bottling in May. Hopefully we can share some of that footage with you soon. As 2012 approaches its conclusion, Jan and I look back on all that has taken place this year, and incredibly, we are more in awe today than we were when we saw our first bottles of Killer roll off the production line on May 15.
As 2012 began, I was starting my 6th year as a contract employee at Raytheon. Prior to 2008, the way things were going at the company, it looked like the Raytheon work would be my last stop before retirement in a few more years. The 2008 election changed everything and defense cutbacks eventually claimed my position and I was released from my contract in April of 2012. If that had not happened, we still would have been talking this Christmas season about “maybe” bottling our barbecue sauce in 2013, just like we have done every year around this time.
As it turned out, God had other plans for us. The story is still unfolding, but our lives have completely changed because we stepped out in faith in April 2012. We salted away a few dollars over the years from the opportunities we had been given to provide barbecue and sauce for family and corporate events. Jan and I had free lance advertising opportunities that also supplemented our salaries and we tucked some of those dollars away as well.
With my layoff and sudden loss of anticipated income, we could either use those dollars to pay our upcoming bills, or trust God for His provision for the bills, and use these monies for the original purpose, to launch our barbecue sauce. With much prayer and prompting from Jan, Kristyn, Katy, Justin, and Hudson, we took the leap. All of a sudden my mindset had to change from producing and writing videos to selling our own consumer product, an unproven one no less, in the greater marketplace.
Make no mistake, it has been a challenging year financially, but God met every bill, free lance work from my old company Raytheon and a few others, began to come in, and we made it through this year. Best of all, we were able to use the seed money to take care of every aspect of the launch; the legals fees, trademark application, bottle label printing, product testing, and the first bottling. It helped tremendously that we were able to design our own logo, label art, business cards, sell sheets, and other promotional materials in-house. We are also so grateful to Steve Gambill for warehousing our inventory. As the launch approached, we wrote and sent out our own press releases and as a result we launched on Memorial Day weekend with 2 wonderful local articles in The Bradenton Herald by Josh Salman and The Bradenton Times by Dennis Maley.
A lot took place between April 7 and Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. But God opened doors for us and the first ones were Hollingsworth Cabinetry in Wilmington- Kristyn’s in-laws Bob & Elise Hollingsworth, and our good friends at The Palmetto Meat Shop, Roger Talbot and his great family. They were the first to stock our sauces on their shelves and they contacted the people at The Chop Shop on our behalf. I met with Susan Ambrose of The Chop Shop, who would not commit to carrying the sauces but did offer to let us do a tasting on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to see how it would go.
God’s timing was perfect. we promoted the tasting on Facebook and the turnout was amazing. We moved 6 cases of sauce that day! It was the most successful tasting ever in the history of The Chop Shop, and they have moved more sauce to date than anyone else. On Tuesday after Memorial Day, Come See Come Sav began carrying our sauces. Then the articles came out on June 2 and there was a run on the supply of all three of our retailers. We ware sitting by the pool the following Saturday and we had phone calls from The Chop Shop that they were running out of stock. We also resupplied Palmetto Meat Shop and Come See Come Sav. Our family was overwhelmed at the initial response!
A family trip to Waynesville in June with Steve and Teresa Gambill turned into an E’s Best trip. We stopped in Charlotte and met with our friend Tonda Bynum, who took 8 cases to resell. Tim and Radawn Elmore also took some sauce to get things going where they lived in S.C. In Waynesville, we went to Home Tech the Kitchen Shop on Main Street and they came on board and we did a successful tasting with them. Coates Produce at the Asheville Farmers Market also agreed to stock our sauces.
When we returned home, Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost, Apollo Meats in Apollo Beach, and D&K Ace Hardware in Ellenton came on board before the end of June. Amazingly, we had run out of inventory and we did our second bottling of sauce on June 27. July started with Felton’s Grocery in Plant City joining us and we did another successful tasting at the Chop Shop for July 4th. Over that holiday, the Gambills were back in Waynesville and Home Tech was doing their own tasting of our sauces. Meanwhile, Dave and Barbara Olson opened the door for us a Cookes Grocery in Cleveland Tennessee.
In mid July, it was already time for another E’s Best road trip to the Carolinas and Tennessee. On my way up, The Elmores restocked in SC, and then I traveled to Cleveland, TN and the Olsons introduced me to the folks at Cookes and they took enough stock to last them until October, when Jan and I visited them again for a tasting. I then traveled to Waynesville, restocked Home Tech, and Maggie Country Store also came on board. I traveled back through Asheville and Jarvis Produce at The Asheville Farmers Market agreed to stock our sauces. Then I stopped in Charlotte to restock Tonda’s supply, and she and I visited a number of retailers. Before leaving for home, Fat Boy Produce became our first Charlotte retailer. Once I got home, Tonda had closed the deal with Clean Catch Fish Market and The Meat House. She has been doing tastings at both locations on a regular basis.
Once home, Catch A Fire at the Red Barn Flea Market became an E’s Best retailer, and we continued to do tastings. Rice’s TV & Appliances and Island Fresh Market on Anna Maria Island became new retailers as well in July. With barbecue season in full swing, our retailers were really selling our sauce and we had to do our third bottling on August 20!
As fall rolled around, Polka Dot Press in Tallahassee joined us in September through the efforts of the Fernald family, and both locations of Crowder Bros in Bradenton also came on board. In the middle of September, we heard back from samples we had left a month ago with people at Bealls Outlet. We were really blown away when they said they wanted to do a test run in 50 stores throughout the south. This was a huge opportunity for us and with it came the standard methods the large chains use to organize, ship, and distribute product. We had quite a learning curve, but it was a great experience to get a full understanding of how big box stores operate and keep track of inventory. It was a lot of work but we are better for the experience and grateful that they took interest in our products. With the addition of the Bealls/Burkes Outlet stores, we are in 73 locations in 8 southern states. God is Good!
So, it has been a whirlwind 9 months since the Raytheon layoff until now. God has been awesome and His network is responsible for the success we have had to date. As we prepare for the new year, we will remain humble, still focus on small business owners, and welcome opportunities from large store chains as well. Of course, there were those we visited who chose not to carry our products, but we met some very nice people along the way who left the door open for future consideration. We never thought about batting 1000, but I must say, all in all, we were pretty close!
Jan and I praise God and thank all of you who have supported us and our retailers, have read our Facebook posts, made comments, liked our page, or just read about us. We thank you for your prayers and we look forward to exciting adventures in 2013. Thank you all and may God richly bless you now and in the coming year!
Merry Christmas and E’s Best to you!
Elmer & Jan