Steamboat Springs Steamboat's Terry Brown ran Wing-Time sauce company with an eye for the details.
His fellow specialty food brand owners might have teased him because his trade show booths were so meticulously arranged, but when they needed help running the math for grocery store promotions so the margins worked, it was Brown’s phone that rang.
“My growth plan has always been about slow, managed growth,” he said Nov. 13. “It’s hard to accept that in the beginning.”
That approach is what kept Brown in the specialty food business for 19 years and allowed him to successfully sell the company. Now, Brown has started TSB Food Consultants to help others who are in the beginning stages of their own specialty food companies.
There’s no degree for getting into the specialty food industry, Brown said. There are books and maybe some classes at large trade shows, he said, but neither culinary school nor a business degree is a perfect fit for the niche in which he spent almost two decades.
“You got to be resourceful,” Brown said about getting into the industry.
When he started Wing-Time in Davis, Calif., he said, he didn’t know anyone who’d done something similar and had no culinary experience.
By the time Massachusetts-based Panorama Foods Inc. bought the company, Wing-Time was ripe for acquisition with growth and sales that were well-placed in the market, Brown said.
But between formulating an initial product and reaching personal and business goals, there are slow, incremental steps that depend on being completed in the right order and at the right times.
Brown used the example of buying product labels for the first time. A company could choose to lower its per label cost by making a bigger order, but that could backfire if customers don’t like the label, information on it ends up changing or the owners themselves end up being unhappy with the design.
It’s better, when starting out, to be cautious of committing too much money toward a single item, he said.
Large trade shows are great places for specialty food brands to get in front of potential clients, Brown said, but rushing the process could hurt a fledgling company.
Consumer shows, such as holiday craft shows, are less expensive to exhibit at than expansive trade shows and don’t require a certain level of supply capacity to meet orders because it’s limited to in-person, retail sales.
Buyers at shows like the Fancy Food Show held in San Francisco and New York value stability, Brown said, and it took years of paying to exhibit before large distributors were willing to take a chance on Wing-Time.
Brown currently is coaching Yampa Valley Sauce Co., which had a booth at the Mainstreet Farmers Market in downtown Steamboat Springs this past summer, through this learning process.
The company has plans for its Habacado (habanero and avocado) and Strabenero (strawberry and habanero) sauces that are similar to what Brown did with Wing-Time.
Brown has talked with other people in the area interested in exploring the opportunities for their specialty food products. Whether that’s through bulk sales to restaurants or retail on grocery shelves, Brown did both at the helm of Wing-Time.
He hasn’t jumped full time into consulting for larger brands and plans to relax for a little while longer and even take a vacation, but Steamboat brands can take advantage of his expertise to demystify the process behind store promotions, dealing with distributors and keeping cash flow going.
“I don’t make decisions,” Brown said about his services. “I help guide.”
Ultimately, the fate of a company or product rests with the owners who are passionate about it, but Brown can help lay out the steps he researched and learned during his time in this niche industry.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz
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