Apple butter and five months

October 5, 2011

Ha, I listed all of my goals in May and then apparently I couldn’t blog any longer because there was so much to do!

This a short post, just to prove I’m alive and making jam like crazy. I’m even hitting many of my goals!

More soon, but the big excitement today is that we made it into Martha Stewart Weddings! Amazing! Check it out.



Hello, rhubarb. Hello, goal-setting!

May 5, 2011

Finally got some rhubarb last week and production of Gingered Rhubarb Jam has begun. It is oh-so-satisfying to pop those Good Food Award stickers on the labels! Now we will be busy busy in the kitchen until about November. I’m ready.

I had visions of how amazingly productive I’d be in the winter months. I’d say I get a C. Okay, maybe B-. After all, it turned out that a lot of the time was spent selling jam, which is pretty cool. But I did, in fact, set some meaningful objectives for 2011. I want to set them out here on my starting-a-business blog so I can check back in on them through the year. You can follow along at home.

I organized my objectives into four categories: Planning, Production, Sales, and Marketing. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Planning: Create an annual forecast with targets and review quarterly.
  2. Planning: Revise business plan and get feedback from the folks at SCORE.
  3. Production: Increase per-week output and efficiency.
  4. Production: Create meaningful relationships with farmers.
  5. Sales: Sell in one or two farmers’ markets per week, plus more during holidays.
  6. Sales: Keep my current retailers happy, expand to 10 more outlets in 2011, including out-of-state, and get set up on Etsy and Foodzie.
  7. Marketing: Enter five contests in 2011.
  8. Marketing: Create a social media strategy and stick with it. (Hey, that includes regular updates to this blog, which is happening!)

Looking at this list, which I formulated in January, I’d say that I’m moving along pretty well except for #2 and #7, on which I’ve made zero progress. Good to note. Now I have a few more reminders for my to-do list this month.

I need to give a shout-out to my favorite time management/life organization plan and book, Take Back Your Life!. I went to a class on the system when I worked at Microsoft and it really is a terrific way to manage both your work and personal life. There is a bias for using Microsoft Outlook, but you can certainly adapt it for other programs if you’re one of those!

I’m glad I posted this–it will be good to remember my focus as the crazy kitchen months ensue. Keep me honest, sweet blog readers.

Grape Jelly with Sage and my first hire

April 21, 2011

Still waiting for rhubarb. The farmers at Tonnemaker Farms and Growing Washington are doing their sun dances, I know. I am, too. It is entirely possible that there will be rhubarb next week. And then we can start making some award-winning Gingered Rhubarb Jam. Yeah!

And now, when I say “we,” it is no longer in the royal sense. Deluxe Foods has hired its first employee. Andrew will start as soon as the rhubarb hits the counter.

Hiring an employee is a scary and necessary step for a new business. I can’t afford to pay someone, and yet  I can’t afford not to, because if I don’t have more hands, I can’t increase production. So it’s a leap of faith.

How to hire? I knew I needed someone with good knife skills, who would take direction, who wouldn’t mind my music choices in the kitchen, and who, frankly, wasn’t completely dependent on this salary as the sole means of support. I was getting ready to place an ad on Craigslist, but I started by just mentioning my needs to people. Because, after all, the network is always the best way to find people.

And whaddaya know, as it turns out, a dear friend of my brother had just moved to Seattle. A dear friend who also happened to have spent the last several years cooking in Italy. A dear friend who also has pretty great music taste and was looking for a second job. Bingo! Welcome, Andrew. I hope your knife is sharpened and ready!

I know that it’s tempting for a small business owner to do everything on her own, mostly to save money but also because we’re just that way (bossypants or directive? both). But my sweet husband, Eric, who owns JRA Bike Shop, recommended that I start with a payroll service right away. I called Penny at CompuPay and I couldn’t be happier with her fabulous service. She helped me make decisions about pay periods, gave me a big packet of new hire forms, and has streamlined everything. Sometimes it’s good to know when to let an expert take over.

So we’re just about ready to dive into Deluxe Foods 2011. I still have a lot of things to sort out, including more direct sales and the small-jar-pricing issue, but I’m feeling ready.

Oh, and the Grape Jelly with Sage? Delicious when whisked into a pan sauce for salmon or duck. Try it.

Eating apple butter, thinking about numbers

April 7, 2011

The cold weather in Seattle is not helping the rhubarb grow. Creating a local, seasonal product means I am dependent on the local seasons, such as they are. But not being in the kitchen is allowing me more time to look at the business.

Last week, my friend Heather came over to help me bash around in QuickBooks. I got set up with the program last summer, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to explore all of the cool features, such as profit and loss statements and budget projections. I had a list of things I wanted to explore, including how my sales broke out between direct and wholesale, which retail outlets had the most orders, and which flavors sold most quickly. I also wanted to get a more accurate picture of my per-jar costs.

Well! It was all very eye-opening. There were no complete surprises, but there is a big difference between having a feeling about something and seeing the cold, hard facts. Looking at the numbers has allowed me to prioritize a few things. I learned (let’s say confirmed) that direct sales are going to be very important to me to stay solvent. This tells me that I need to prioritize getting into farmers’ markets. I also learned that I am pretty much paying people to sell the small jars. So that’s a challenge to be sorted out. I know that retailers and consumers like that small size. But would they still like it at a higher price? Or at that point, does it just make sense to only make the larger size? I am going to go to my retailers and see how they feel.

I learned more things, too, but that’s a good taste. I’m glad that I took the time to do some deeper digging into my business figures–one thing I learned working at is that you should never skimp on parsing the numbers. Pay attention to your metrics and you’ll have good roadmap for the work ahead.

So today,  a prioritized list and some tea, toast, and apple butter.

Waiting for rhubarb, assessing 2010

March 24, 2011

Sometimes, starting a business means not spending enough time reflecting on starting a business. Hi, blog. Sorry for the absence.

I thought that the first few months of 2011 would be lazy and relaxed and that I would spend a lot of time looking back on the past year and preparing for the new one. As it turns out, it’s been a whirlwind of activity, including winning an award, selling lots of jam, and moving to a new kitchen.

I am a big maker of to-do lists. In fact, in January, I made a four-page list of things to do in the new year. My hero, Leslie, challenged me to come up with a list of things I’ve done. That was funny, because I’m not much of a backwards-looker. But it seems like an appropriate thing to paste here, especially since it’s been a while since my last post! So here is a recap of 2010. Apparently I started a business!

My 2010 accomplishments:

  • Created a logo with Megan
  • Got cards
  • Found Stephan at Trysk Print Solutions, printed labels
  • Registered business with all the authorities
  • Found a kitchen, got WSDA licensing. Then did it again at the end of the year!
  • Chose jars and jar sizes and found source
  • Made relationships with farmers
  • Made a lot of jam
  • Sold jam on menu at Picnic and 106 Pine
  • Got jam into six stores
  • Blogged semi-regularly
  • Started newsletter
  • Got website up with the help of the amazing Sam T. Schick at Wandering Works
  • Got online store up, thanks again to Sam T.
  • Did beautiful photography with Megan
  • Sold at three shows
  • Went to the Fancy Food Show
  • Got set up with a bookkeeper and started tackling QuickBooks
  • Wrote most of the business plan
  • Printed t-shirts with the cool cats at Clone Press
  • Designed a booth and display
  • Printed a vinyl banner
  • Figured out how to get UPCs
  • Calculated nutrition facts
  • Sorted out shipping materials for online sales
  • Opened a business bank account with BECU
  • Ran a half marathon!
  • Set up a Facebook page and Twitter account
  • Got liability insurance
  • Made a wholesale price list and conquered my fear of sales calls
  • Wrote an awful lot of label copy (none of it too awful)
  • Won a Good Food Award!
  • Press mentions in Seattle Weekly, Seattle Magazine, Red Tricycle, and Edible Seattle
  • Had fun

Not bad, huh? I will post again in fewer than six months to talk about what’s on deck for 2011.

Artisan Food Festival at Pike Place Market

September 24, 2010

Just a quick update–apparently the zero-to-sixty comment last month made me speed past blog postings for a while.

I’m having my first booth! Deluxe Foods will be at the Artisan Food Festival at the Pike Place Market this weekend, September 25 and 26. There is a LOT to do to put a booth together. It’s funny and mind-blowing. Here are a few things I’ve done in preparation:

  • Ordered t-shirts (another gorgeous design from Megan Noller) printed at Clone Press (they rule)
  • Printed a banner (bless Megan again) at FastSigns (they rule, too)
  • Sewed a really big vinyl tablecloth in Deluxe colors
  • Collected a number of cake plates for display
  • Spent WAY too long looking at the Flickr pool of craft fair booths
  • Borrowed a cash box from Michele
  • Signed up to accept credit cards
  • Worried about the weather
  • Recruited several friends to help in the booth
  • Stayed up late, trying to figure out which jams to feature
  • Remembered that I ought to send a newsletter and update my blog (hi!) and update Facebook and Twitter

And that’s just a smattering. I found this checklist on Bazaar Bizarre and this checklist on Girls Can Tell really handy.

Come taste the jam this weekend at Pike Place Market! I’d love to see you!

Labels, sales, and sexy apricots

August 26, 2010

I’m going from zero to sixty in about a week, it seems. Or a year? Or two days? At any rate, things are cruising at Deluxe HQ all of a sudden. Big news:

  • The labels for the jars arrived and we had a big labeling party on Monday.
  • By Wednesday, I delivered jars to Picnic and they are FOR SALE! Yeah!
  • Tonight (Thursday, 8/26) from 5:30-7:30,  I will do a preview at Picnic during their wonderful weekly wine tasting. We’ll match three jams–blueberry basil, gingered rhubarb, and balsamic strawberry–with cheese and some delicious Spanish wines.
  • Tomorrow night (Friday, 8/27) from 5-7, I will do a preview at 106 Pine, where my fabulous friend Shannon Borg holds court. This is coinciding with the American Cheese Society’s conference downtown. Jam + cheese + wine = happiness.

Sexy apricots:  I made the delightful acquaintance of Sharon and Craig Campbell of Harmony Orchards and Tieton Cider Works a few weeks ago. They shared their very last lugs of Le Creme apricots with me. Harmony Orchards is the only farm growing these amazing ambrosial apricots organically, and as far as I can tell, one of the very few farms growing them at all.

Le Creme apricots have a light green skin and white flesh and taste like honey and flowers and perfume and are one of the most amazing flavor sensations I’ve had in a long time. I preserved a batch of these delicate fruits simply (just sugar and lemon juice) and was so pleased to find that the perfumed essence of the apricots remained, even after cooking. I am in love with this fruit!

Maybe you should head to Picnic or 106 Pine and taste for yourself!

Fickle sunshine and pricing

July 7, 2010

Things are moving apace with project “Label These Darned Jars. ”  I have gotten to make some exciting decisions, such as what sort of paper to use (matte linen–it feels good and will be great with the design) and which direction the labels should come off the rolls. (It matters! Do you want to hold the jar or the lid as you place the label?) I found a used label dispenser on Ebay, because I realized that I already hate putting labels on jars, even before I’ve done it. It seems worth it to have a “semi-automatic” helper.

Western Washington weather has been difficult on the strawberries this year. I have been trying to do a sunshine dance (which finally seems to be working), but in the meantime, strawberry growers are finding a lot of moldy and musty berries. I’ve gotten two terrific batches done (plain ol’ strawberry preserves and strawberry-balsamic), but I’d like to make more. This week at my local farmers market, there were just no organic strawberries to be had. Today I drove up to Monroe with Amy for a little U-pick action at Bolles Organic Farm. The strawberries were GORGEOUS to my eyes, but farmer Kelly said he didn’t think there were enough to get them to market on Sunday. And the berries I pick today won’t hold until jam-making time on Monday. What to do? If you make notecards, pretty stamps and cardboard are in season all the time. If you make artisan jam, you are hostage to the weather gods. I will keep doing my sun dance and try to talk farmer Kelly into bringing me four or five flats on Sunday, anyway.

When I started this enterprise last year (you can read down to the bottom of the blog–there aren’t really that many entries), I sat right down and wrote my business plan. Well, until I got to the number part. Somehow, I didn’t get around to sorting out my income projections or my break-even analysis. All that is changing now. Getting labels printed means I have to figure out how much to charge for each jar. And figuring that out is more complicated than ($fruit + $sugar + $jar) x 2.  I’ve been working through the formulas in Sell Your Specialty Food and have mostly determined that I’ll need to charge about $250 per jar to make any money. Okay, that’s not actually true, but it has been eye-opening to do the math. I know that the first few years of any business are generally money-losing. I’m okay with that. But it’s been helpful to start thinking about where I can be more efficient. And now I understand more intimately why June Taylor’s conserves are $13 and $14 per jar. And I pay it every opportunity I get. I hope the jam-loving public feels the same way about Deluxe Foods.

First strawberries and (finally) some work on labels

June 23, 2010

Just a quick update today.

I drove up to Marysville to get four flats of gorgeous strawberries this weekend (Shuksan! Red to the core!). Heather M. helped me chop ’em up Monday morning and then I jarred up my largest batch on Tuesday. The culmination of the cooking was a spectacular, four-pot, simultaneous boil-over. It had to happen sometime, right? So I am learning about my capacity. But the end result was ruby red, sweet, fruity, full of candied berries. I’m really happy.

In bureaucratic news, I have finally picked my printer, which means that I might get some labels printed sometime soon so you can buy a jar of jam. The people want jam!

Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic next week, I think.

Gingered rhubarb jam and love for the WSDA

June 16, 2010

One of the beauties and tragedies of starting your own business is that you are able to respond to other elements of your life far more easily than when you are working for a corporation. A friend reminds me that this is part of starting your own business–there are ebbs and flows of activity. While there has been silence here in blogland, there has been action in the real world.

The best and most important thing to report is that we passed our WSDA inspection. Yeah! I would like to say, in some Internet-searchable way, that working with the WSDA has been terrific so far. As I was preparing my papers for licensing, I had several e-mail exchanges with Roy at the Olympia office, who was unfailingly prompt, cheery, and full of information. Filling out paperwork is daunting in any case, and since it was the first time I’d ever written a sanitation schedule or a process flowchart, it took me a while. Roy’s answers to my questions were always thorough and encouraging. I felt like he was on my side.

Once the paperwork was in, I settled down to wait the standard four to six weeks. But whaddaya know, I got a call from my food safety officer, Victoria, within just a week or so of having sent it. The following week, Victoria and her colleague, Collin, met me at Picnic. The very short version is that they were kind, helpful, insightful, thorough (I will scrub that faucet next time and I now have a year’s supply of hairnets), and full of useful tips on how to make my business safe and efficient. I really felt like they were there to make things go well for me and to help me be successful. Weirdly (or maybe not so weirdly), I look forward to my next inspection because I imagine I will learn more things. They left me with a short list of things to fix on my labels and some ideas about improving my processes. And I passed with a 98/100! Woohoo! So hooray for the WSDA!

In jammier news, I have been making cases of gingered rhubarb jam. Through a lucky search in the Puget Sound Fresh listings, I found terrific, spray-free rhubarb from Ken at Terrapin Farms. I’m learning what my daily capacity for chopping is (5 hours!) and how many jars of jam you can get out of 30 pounds of rhubarb (46!). I’m looking forward to raspberries next month, which require no chopping at all. But I have a great knife callous!

Now that I’m licensed through the WSDA, I’m okay to start selling! Here’s the list for the next month:

  • Pick a label printer.
  • Get those labels printed.
  • Start marketing.
  • Oh, and make more jam and more jam and more jam.

I’d still like to do some blog posts about my amazing designer and the designer-choosing process and then the design process itself. Hold me to it, even if “real life” gets in the way.