Archives For Independent Brands

I am always on the lookout for entrepreneurs who are creating new businesses and unique independent brands. If it involves food it is even better. Last week I attended a reception for Shoot Out For Soldiers, a 24 hour lacrosse game benefitting wounded soldiers. More on Shoot Out For Soldiers in another post.

The Shoot Out For Soldiers event was catered by a company called MISSION BBQ. The food was donated. The barbecue dinner was outstanding. I instantly asked the question, What’s the story?

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MISSION BBQ was founded by Steve Newton and Bill Krauss, a couple of 50 something friends who shared a passion for great barbecue and a desire to build a business with meaning and purpose. The pair opened their first store on September 11, 2011 in Glen Burnie, Maryland, ten years after 9/11. Their idea was to serve good old-fashioned American barbecue while giving back to the community. A portion of their profits go to the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps veterans and their families. It was a way to thank soldiers for their service.

MISSION BBQ and its employees are inspired by the following beliefs which are posted on their website. “We believe there is nothing more American than BBQ. And nobody more American than the brave men and women who have sworn to protect and serve our communities and our country. We do what we do for the love of our soldiers, firefighters, police officers, first responders – all our loved ones in service”. What a great focus. Mission BBQ knows who their customer is and who they want to serve. Each day at noon, they stop for a minute and play the national anthem through the loudspeakers at each location. They have create a unique brand and customer experience.

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MISSION BBQ is an inspiring story of two entrepreneurs who followed their passion and created a business with a purpose of giving back and thanking the hard-working people who serve our community.  I wish them will.

Have you eaten at MISSION BBQ?

 

 

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I am a big fan of the “Better Burger” concept. Better Burgers are one of the fastest growing segments in the fast food restaurant market. “Better Burger” restaurants provide upscale fast food that beats the chains on food quality and customer experience at reasonable prices. There are many regional chains emerging with exciting growth prospects. I have written in this blog about the product and marketing innovations of “IN N OUT BURGER”, “Five Guys“, “Smashburger” and “Shake Shack“.

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I am now working in Baltimore and recently discovered BOARDWALK FRESH BURGERS & FRIES in the Hunt Valley Mall in Cockeysville, Maryland. Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries was founded by Dave and Fran DiFerdinando in White Marsh, Maryland in 1981. They were inspired by the legendary fresh-cut fries that they had eaten on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. The brothers had vacationed there as children. Their idea was to make the fresh-cut french fries they discovered at the Maryland shore available to people around the country. The brothers offered their french fries with a high quality fresh burger that was hand formed every morning and made to order.

I had lunch last Sunday at BOARDWALK. My meal was delicious. My burger was made to order. I enjoyed a 7 ounce Bacon Burger with cheese and fried onions. The fries are outstanding and worth the hype. The employees were enthusiastic and helped provide a pleasant customer experience. The stores are designed in an ocean boardwalk theme which adds to their appeal.    

Boardwalk has a simple menu. Customers have two options when ordering their burgers. They can choose one of the 3 signature burgers, or build a burger totally customized to their liking. The famous fries are hand-cut every day and only made to order.  They are cooked in 100% peanut oil. Boardwalk recommends dressing them the way they do in Maryland with loads of vinegar and Old Bay seasoning. I will try that option next time. Other menu items include beef hotdogs, chicken, shakes and funnel cake fries for dessert.   

Boardwalk currently has 18 stores in seven states. Plans are under development to add 200 restaurants across the United States in the next couple of years. Boardwalk has built a unique brand and concept with strong recognition in its local markets. Others have noticed. The New York Times ranked Boardwalk Fries on their baseball stadium culinary report. Boardwalk Fries are available at Oriole Park in Camden Yards Baltimore.

Have you tried Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries?

My parents took our family to Ogunquit, Maine for vacation when I was a child. Some of my best childhood memories occurred on the rocky coast of Maine. Fortunately, my wife and children share my love of Maine. We try to visit southern Maine every 12-24 months for a long weekend. It seems that every trip we discover a special place that we can’t wait to visit again.

One of our favorite traditions on our trips to Ogunquit is starting our day at Amore Breakfast on Shore Road. It is easily the best breakfast I have ever had. The food is excellent and the service is outstanding.  At Amore, “Love is the Maine ingredient”.

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Leanne Cusimano opened Amore in 1994. Leanne’s background was in teaching and furniture sales. When she founded Amore, her goal was to create a place of her own where people could enjoy good food and feel at home. Leanne believed that “food is love”, thus “Amore”.  This year, Amore is celebrating its 20th year in business.

The menu features a number of signature egg and omelette dishes.The home fries are the best I have ever had. Each item is uniquely prepared with a slight twist that makes it special. The coffee is also excellent. The black and white interior creates a warm and friendly environment that reminds you of the 50’s.

In addition to great food, Amore has a warm and friendly atmosphere. This starts when you are greeted by Leanne and continues throughout your meal. Many of the waiters and waitresses have worked at Amore for several years. It is obvious that they love what they do. Amore Breakfast provides great service and the employees create a great and memorable customer experience. Amore creates an emotional connection with every customer who walks in the door. We eagerly await our next visit to Amore and are never disappointed.

The Amore Breakfast story has spread through word of mouth and positive reviews on Trip Advisor, a feature on Rachel Rays “Tasty Travels” and part of a New York Times article on “36 Hours/Ogunquit Maine”.

Amore has created a branded experience that customers crave. There are some great branding lessons to be learned from Amore Breakfast:

  • Great Brands start by building a culture first, the culture and employees drives the business and the brand experience
  • Make the product great and distinctive
  • Create an emotional experience that builds a long-term relationship
  • Sweat the details and create a great customer experience where people feel at home

Have you eaten at Amore Breakfast in Ogunquit Beach Maine?

People are dissatisfied with banking. A recent study from the Rassmussen Report reveals that American Consumers hold a grudge against banks who they hold responsible for the great recession. Many consumers believe that banks don’t have their best interests at heart. Bank fees are often confusing and hit your checking account when you can least afford them. People feel like idiots when they are hit with a bank fee. Most people, at one time or another, have had a nightmare customer service experience with a large bank. Large banks have some of the lowest customer experience and customer service ratings. People feel powerless to change things. Banks talk about being customer focused but very few of them empathize with the needs of their customers. Banks make money by keeping people confused. 

Like many people, Josh Reich got fed up with his bank after it charged him overdraft fees and he lived through a painful customer service experience. This motivated Reich, a software engineer from Australia, to come up with a better more human way to bank. 

Reich created Simple, an online banking company that was founded in Brooklyn and relocated to Portland, Oregon. Simple offers customers free checking and data analysis of their transactions and spending habits. The company, which began signing up customers in 2012 now has more than 80,000 accounts and has processed transactions worth more than $200 million. Simple does not have retail branches.
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The Simple Bank Brand was developed to help people better control their finances. All employees in the company are unified in support of this common purpose. Their goal is to make banking more human by putting customer service at the core of everything they do. Simple is targeted to people who are dissatisfied with their current banking relationship. A Simple account empowers customers with powerful budgeting and savings tools built right into their account. These tools show customers how much money they have to spend and help people save for specific goals like vacations. Their website and mobile apps are clean, simple and easy to use. Simple gives people tools to help themselves, while still making sure knowledgeable, friendly people are there to help when you need them.

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The company’s biggest challenge is customer acquisition. Despite their current dissatisfaction, it is difficult to get customers to change and leave their current bank. Changing banks is a lot of work.

Would you leave your current bank if a better more human option was available?


 

I enjoy stories of entrepreneurs who follow a passion and start a business. I am also a fan of specialty candy stores and wrote about one of my favorite stores Harbor Candy in Ogunquit, Maine earlier in the year. I discovered Sugarfina in a story about the 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2013 on fastcompany.com. I was intrigued so I decided to dig a little deeper into the story behind their success.

Sugarfina is an online luxury candy boutique that offers a selection of the finest candies from around the world. Sugarfina is designed for adults not kids. Sugarfina is attempting to reinvent the candy category by targeting “foodies”. They offer the highest quality candy with an emphasis on premium all-natural ingredients. Sugarfina was founded in 2012 by Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick who dreamed of opening a candy boutique ever since their third date. That night they attended a screening of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

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Sugarfina’s gourmet candy collection is unique. They offer exotic candies such as Champagne Gummy Bears, Matcha Green Tea Caramel, Licorice Cubes and Dark Chocolate Coffee Toffee. They offer more than 140 different candies. Sugarfina’s candies are sourced globally from artisan producers in the United States, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and beyond. Many of the products that Sugarfina sells are exclusive to them in the United States.

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One of things that differentiates Sugarfina is design. Each candy is packaged individually in transparent cubes and neatly packed into bento boxes inspired by Tiffany.

Sugarfina has been described as a “pleasure” as opposed to a “guilty” pleasure. The candies contain ingredients that are good and good for you. These ingredients include nuts, green tea, all kinds of fruit, high cacao chocolate and coffee beans.

Sugarfina has received a lot of positive press. Sugarfina made the “O List” Food Edition in Oprah Winfrey Magazine in August. Sugarfina has also been featured in a number of magazines including InStyle, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, Forbes and Travel and Leisure to name a few.

In January, Sugarfina became the first candy partner on Facebook’s gift platform. Revenues are expected to top $1 million in 2013.

Have you tried Sugarfina premium candies?

CircleUp is a fund-raising platform for consumer products companies. Founded in 2011 by two Stanford MBAs, CircleUp helps accredited investors invest in high-growth consumer products companies with annual revenues of at least $1 million—mostly food and retail companies.

They created the CircleUp 25 to honor brands that are starting to change the way we live our lives – companies that influence what we wear, what we eat and what we use every day of our lives. These are true innovators. Each has a unique story to tell. CircleUp excluded from the list any companies that they have worked with to avoid any appearance of partiality. The list was recently published on Forbes.com.

A number of the companies on the list caught my eye. It is exciting to see so many new and innovative brands emerge in categories dominated by big companies. One brand that caught my attention was Suja Juice which is based in San Diego, California. Suja was created by Eric Ethans and Annie Lawless from a passion to help people transform their lives through nutrition.

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Suja juices are cold-pressed and feature 100% organic ingredients. When juices are cold-pressed, rather than using the centrifugal juicers commonly found at juice bars, it prevents oxidation and helps keep the enzymes and nutrients in tact, so you get more nutritional bang for your buck! Also, Suja sources their organic produce locally, allowing their company to maintain low-carbon footprint.

What makes Suja juices especially unique, is their shelf life. Unlike most cold-pressed juices, which must be consumed within 3 days, Suja uses a High Pressure Pascalization process that uses pressure, rather than heat, to preserve their juices and extend shelf life. These juices may last up to 30 days when stored in the fridge! This is a huge advantage if you can’t manage to make your own juice daily, or find the time to run to your local juice bar.

Suja juices are a unique combination of fruits and vegetables. Products feature names like Fiji, Fuel, Glow, Green Supreme and Lemon Love. Fiji includes apple, celery, cucumber, spinach, kale, collard greens, lemon and ginger. Each bottle has 2-3 pounds of fruits and vegetables inside. For years, I have drunk orange juice and cranberry juice from the supermarket. Combining fresh fruits and vegetables into juice is a new experience for me. This juicing on a whole new level.

Suja Juices are available in most Whole Foods stores.

Have you tried Suja Juices?

New brands are created every day around the world, but only a few succeed in finding a place in consumer’s hearts and minds. These successful brands have a story to tell, are innovative and authentic.

Today I am going to share the unique story of John Altman cookies. Omno Lixenberg and Hajo de Boer from Gummo, a Dutch Advertising Agency, wanted to introduce their own brand of cookies. They had previously worked for a Dutch cookie manufacturer. They felt that the cookie market could use some spice and innovation.

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Omno and Hajo were relaxing at Baker Beach in San Francisco when they ran into John Altman giving away free homemade cookies. They tried John’s cookies and felt that they were the best they had ever tasted. They were also struck by John’s positive and carefree attitude. John was a guy with an infectious grin strolling along the beach with a tray of cookies, wearing nothing but an apron and pair of dog-eared flip-flops.

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The cookies were so good, the guys asked John if they could take them home. “Sure dude” he said, “spread the love”. John invited them to spend a few days with him. He baked, and they ate the cookies. Just before they left, he gave them the recipe for his cookies along with his blessing to make them around the world. John asked them to “spread the love”.  They began working with one of the best Dutch bakeries to produce the product.

All the recipes are inspired by John’s attitude to life, balancing the sweet and the sour, and all the cookies are made with 100% Natural and Fair Trade ingredients. They currently come in three flavors; sour cherry and chocolate, green apple and almond and grapefruit and butterscotch.

The outside of the packaging is made of uncoated paper, creating a fresh look that resembles the bags that John himself used to use back in San Francisco. The bags are sent to retailers in a ready for display box that’s fully recyclable.” They have expanded into additional product categories including wine and books.

Expanding distribution especially in large supermarket chains is the biggest challenge that independent brands face. It will be interesting to see how far the John Altman Brand can expand. Personally, I hope that they are successful. 

Do you know of any other independent brands like John Altman that have great story to tell?