“Everybody was so concerned about whether we could really do this,” he says. “I’d go and visit these people and be so deflated.” To better sell his concept, Claude decided to play up his relationship with his co-packer. He started showing potential clients a reference letter from his partner, telling them, “This is the company that produces for me, under my specs and under my guidelines, and though I’m small, they’re capitalized,” he says. That began to break the ice, but product delivery posed yet another challenge.
While it was easy to move a truckload of side dishes, most of the company’s earliest clients wanted to start small. “I searched diligently for a minimum of two people who would be able to move my freight by the pallet,” Claude explains. Once he did, he could sell his product by the pallet at a cost-effective price. In time, customers would typically place larger orders. “Once they know you can deliver, they give you more business.”
To grow even more quickly, the Bookers sought the expertise of a sales staff but didn’t have the funds to hire full-time help. So instead they turned to food brokers, contractors who receive 5% of everything that they sell. “The magic is I don’t pay them a salary,” says Claude. “That’s probably saved me about $300,000 over three years.”
Today, Simply Southern Sides products are in 1,000 grocery stores, including Kroger, SUPERVALU, Piggly Wiggly, and Super Kmart. The company is also a top 100 military supplier, with its dishes served up in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, as well as on nine domestic military bases. Continuing its trajectory of growth, Simply Southern Sides has recently launched a program called “Got Sides to Go” which will offer churches a percentage of sales they bring in. According to the company, Rosemont, Illinois-based food distributor U.S. Foodservice has hired Simply Southern Sides to produce its private label side dishes.
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