SNOHOMISH — Zoe Rust, founder of the The Monthly Dozen, wanted to turn up the heat on her online cookie business.
When she heard that the city of Snohomish was holding a meetup for aspiring food entrepreneurs, Zoe, age 12, persuaded her mom to take her.
Zoe was one of 50 people of all ages who attended a recent “Foodpreneur” event, featuring a panel of food industry experts.
A noisy, happy crowd gathered at the Double Barrel Wine Bar at 108 Avenue A in Snohomish to hear from Zach Zulauf, organizer of Seattle Foodtrepreneurs; Scott Wetzel, head of Arlington-based Fresh Bread Designs; and Darin Leonard, director of OneAccord Capital, among others.
Randall Poole of Lake Stevens and business partner Curtis Watson hope to put their barbecue sauce on the grocery shelf.
“We’re trying to figure out what to do next ,” said Poole, who brought along a sample bottle of their award-winning chipotle blackberry sauce.
The meetup was the first in a series cooked up by Wendy Poischbeg, the city’s new economic development manager. The next meetup, covering self-employment, will be held Feb. 21.
They’re part of Poischbeg’s zero-dollar strategy to boost the city’s economy.
“We don’t have a budget,” Poischbeg said. Instead, the city is relying on good-hearted experts to share knowledge without charge, she said.
The meetups are free and open to anyone, including non-residents. The next one focuses on the gig economy. To view the lineup, check out the city’s website.
There is an ulterior motive, admitted Poischbeg. “We hope they’ll open a business in Snohomish.”
Since joining the city last May, Poischbeg has bumped into a fair number of would-be food entrepreneurs who’d like to enter the packaged food market but don’t know where to start.
For some, it’s about sharing grandma’s butter cookie recipe or their chocolate granola bars with the world.
“They want help with scaling up,” she said.
Poischbeg brought in experts who could speak to issues around marketing, packaging and obtaining a loan.
Leonard, with OneAccord Capital, provided tips on approaching a potential investor.
Be prepared to show your sales figures, Leonard said. “I’m not sure I know of anyone who’s funded a food entrepreneur before they had a following,” said Leonard, the former CEO of Snohomish-based Dream Dinners.
Be able to describe how your product is different from the rest. “There are 3,000 chili sauces out there — what’s different about yours?”
Wetzel, owner of Fresh Bread Designs, explained why creating a logo yourself and using a home printer to make the product labels isn’t a good idea.
The bottled sauce you’ve sold to a restaurant supply group may be yummy, but if the label is smeared because you’ve used the wrong kind paper or ink — no one is going to want it, he said.
The same standard applies to other products you’re thinking about taking to market, Poischbeg added. The delicate tissue paper that wraps your hand-made lilac soap isn’t going to withstand repeated handling. “Fifty people a day might pick it up,” Poischbeg said. “Store’s aren’t going to stock it if the package can’t take the wear and tear,” she cautioned.
The logo and package design should speak to your target market. If the product is directed toward young urbanites, it’s got to be packaged differently than if it’s aimed at families, Leonard said.
Lowell Profit Jr., founder of GloryBucha, an Arlington kombucha bar and taproom, offered this advice: To make sure everything is right, hire an expert.
Profit began brewing the carbonated fermented tea drink in his garage, testing it on family and friends. When it actually began to taste good, he paid to have it commercially tested.
When it came to packaging, he tapped a marketer and graphic designer in New York to design the company logo.
“Don’t short-change yourself. Make sure everything is right on,” said Profit, who left a 12-year career at Costco to start his business.
Everyone was all ears when Zulauf offered Zoe advice.
It begins with keeping track of your production costs, he said.
Do you know how much money it costs to make each cookie, bottle of sauce?
Do you know how big you want your business to be — as in, do you want to keep it in your kitchen or eventually be bought out by Frito-Lay?
(Zoe’s aims to earn enough money to attend culinary school by the time she’s of college age.)
Can you run your business and still do the things that are important in your life?
And remember to delight your customers, Zulauf said. “If you charge $21 a dozen for your cookies, make sure they get a $25 experience. Give them more than they expect.”