So in the area where I live, there is a great small meat compan, Victorian Farmstead. Dedicated to quality, local, proper and ethically raised meats. For years they operated at Farmers Markets in the area, and out of their own home space. About a year ago, when the established, worker owned, non-profit natural food store (the aptly named “Community Market) from the next town over expanded to our town (thankfully giving us an alternative to “Whole Foods”), they gave Victorian Farmstead the meat counter in the store.
So anyway, about a week ago, the owner of Victorian Farmstead sent out a combined “mea culpa”…and a plea for help:
If You Never Read Anything I Write…Please Read This!
This is by far the scariest thing I have ever written. Our business is in trouble and I have to ask for help. I’m pretty good when it comes to proposals and showing potential investors our plan and why we will succeed. But I have never had to figure out what to do when things look bleak. And so, I am writing this to ask for your help. I truly believe in what we do and I am 100% confident that we can make this company successful. I decided to write this in the hope that explaining our situation to our faithful will do a couple of things: generate a much needed cash infusion quickly and get some fresh business management ideas from others that have been where I am before. So here goes…
This has been a very tough year for Victorian Farmstead and I take most of the blame. In the early part of this year the cost of meat started to rapidly rise. Prices on commodity beef, pork and chicken rose quickly as talk of the ongoing drought reached panic stage everywhere. My ranchers did what they were supposed to do and raised the price I paid for whole animals accordingly. I decided to hold my ground. I thought that raising my prices would be the wrong message to send. I thought I could make up the cost difference through increasing volume. I was very wrong.
What happened is that by the time I realized how poorly that decision affected our bottom line, I had put us in a fairly deep hole. We got behind with our suppliers and processors. I am very fortunate that we had good relationships to begin with, as they have ALL bent over backwards to stretch terms as far as I could hope. And for the most part I have been able to keep up with these payment plans. Now we are at a point where the weekly struggle to meet those terms is getting harder and harder.
The problem is the “got behind” money. As most of you know, we raised prices in the early fall. Much to my chagrin, it did not affect volume much at all. Had I done that early this year we would not be in the situation we are now. Hind sight is, as they say, 20/20. But when I look at the revenue today, we would be getting by if we didn’t have to pay the weekly payments on the past due amounts. We would not be rolling in it or anything close to that, but our weekly revenue covers our weekly expenses. What is happening is that the revenue is not supporting the amount we have to pay to catch up. How do I fix that?
The only solution I can see is a significant cash infusion, and quick. I don’t have the time or credit score to go to a bank. So what do I have to offer? I have a reputation and a history with you, my supporters and customers. I have come up with a plan that will do everything we need to get over this rough patch. I am asking each one of you to put up $50. If everyone that opens my newsletter each week does this, we can not only get out of the hole we are in, but we can pay for the professional advice I need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. In exchange we will send you a $50 gift certificate good after April 1st, 2015. This will give us time to recuperate and plan. If you want to pitch in more or less that’s great too. $50 just seemed to be the most meaningful amount I could come up with.
I know that there are those out there that will say “why am I going to donate to a for-profit business?”. Here is my answer. What we have built is more than just a meat company. For so many it has become their only trusted source of protein. We, as a company, have become a resource. We make sure that you are getting what you pay for, that the animals are treated the way they should be, fed what they should be and harvested the way they should be. We have educated ourselves so that when you ask us what to buy, or how to cook it, we can answer with confidence. At the end of the day, I am hoping that I have built up $50 or more of goodwill with every one of you.
You should also know that this was a very hard decision to make. I have almost as much pride as confidence and I am setting that pride aside to ask for your help. I know this also comes at a time of year where you are probably inundated with requests for handouts and donations. I would prefer this wasn’t seen that way but I understand why it will be. We have considered in the past doing a Kickstarter campaign, but there is not the time to do something formal at this point. I have set up a PayPal account or you can drop a check in the mail. Just make sure that you include your email address so we can send the gift certificate.
What else can be done if you can’t afford to donate? Place your holiday orders and shop at the farmers market this weekend! Every order we get helps. Come see us this weekend and buy a Christmas tree! The Christmas tree farm is a part of our overall business and every dollar counts. Pass this email on to someone you know that might be able to help and share with them your thoughts on the importance of our company to you. We see odd things go viral on the web all the time these days. If everyone who reads this shares it with their social media network, word will spread quickly. Help me get the message out that this business we built and love is worth saving!
Finally, thank you for reading this. If nothing comes of it, I will deal with it. I’m not scared of failing personally. I am scared of failing my wife and kids and my mom. But even if I do, they will still love me and help me get back up on my feet. I am terrified of failing those that have supported us through the first 5 years. I’m scared of failing my employees. And I am scared that many who count on us will not have access to the quality of protein that we provide. And so I’m asking you to take a $50 risk that we can turn this thing around. Thank you for your consideration.
Owner, Victorian Farmstead
Having been a small business owner, and a farmer much of my life I immediately donated. And I must admit, I worried if it would make a difference. If others would step up to help a business they use, respect, rely on.
So I was very pleased, a week later, to receive this email:
I Can’t Thank You Enough!
This is the second scariest thing I have ever written, but for much different reasons than last week. How do you say thank you for the incredible gift of support you all have given us? I am humbled by the sheer volume of encouraging messages, financial contributions, offers of professional services, advice from others that have been through similar situations and other well-wishers.
Last Friday was the lowest point of my professional life. I am not an emotional guy by any standard, but I spent most of the day crying. I cried when I realized that I had no choice but to send this desperate plea. I cried when I had to sit my wife and mom down and explain the situation I had put us in and what I was about to do. I did get one good laugh when I attempted to set up the PayPal link only to find that my account had been suspended. Not because I owed them money, but because I had failed to submit a photo ID and utility bill for proof of identity. I was actually so screwed up I couldn’t RECEIVE money. Then I spent a good half hour hyperventilating before I had the nerve to actually press send.
What happened next was truly amazing. It was like a scene out of a movie. About 15 minutes after I hit send I got an email with the subject “Notification of Payment Received”. Then another….and another. In the first hour there were over 30 of those. I cried some more. It wasn’t just the money, although that was obviously the whole point. It was the letters thanking ME for asking for help! Whhhaaaat??? Turns out that our situation hit home with a lot of people. I mean a LOT of people.
So what does all this mean for Victorian Farmstead and the Parks Family? Well, we live to fight another day. The first step was filling all your holiday orders and we have done that as best we could. We have great friends at Golden Gate Meat Company, Stemple Creek Ranch, and BN Ranch that have made sure of that. Once we get past the holidays it will be a time to take it all in. There is much to discuss, learn from and build upon. Thanks to all of you we now have not only the financial means, but we have a team of local professionals who have offered to help with the bookkeeping, accounting, financial strategizing and planning. It will take some time to assimilate all of this but I am now confident that we will make it and eventually thrive.
You see, it is not just the money that will save us, although that is an ongoing concern and every dollar that has or will come in is huge for us. It is the way we were buoyed by our far reaching community. We have learned that what we do is important to others and I have to do a better job in captaining that ship. I learned that I need to ask for help sooner rather than later. And most importantly we learned that our biggest asset is you, our customers, friends and supporters. The vegetarians that heard of our plight and contributed because they believe that we are important to a secure food system even though they don’t eat meat. The single mom who asked if she could contribute with her EBT card (I thanked her, declined and got a hug). The competitor, Tara Firma Farms that offered a large sum of money and said we could work out the details later. The anonymous woman who pitched in $500 dollars and when I called to make sure she didn’t make a mistake and add a zero, simply said she had been in my shoes and someone did the same for her once. She lives in NY and had never heard of us before someone on Facebook passed it on to her.
Oh yeah, Facebook. However silly Facebook may be for all its nonsense (what is with all the cat videos???) it has some amazing powers. We had a meeting a few months ago to discuss our social media marketing and how to get more impressions (folks that see what we post). We even called one of our local competitors to pick their brain because they got 3-5 times the responses we got on average. We would get 50-300 and they would get 300-600. The letter that I wrote has been seen by over 36,000 organically. That is not because I’m some great writer, it is because so many of you took the time to share our story. Those numbers don’t count the email shares, those of you that cut and pasted my letter and shared it on your message boards and blogs. It is just stunning how much power is out there. I can’t tell you how blessed we feel that you all used your power for us.
I have one more request, and it takes a lot of nerve to even type those words after what you have done for us. If you took the time to share my first letter, please duplicate that with this one. I just don’t want anyone that pitched in to not receive this thank you, as it is all that I have to offer. While we absolutely will honor every single gift certificate, we can never truly repay this great gift that has been given us. All I can tell you is that we go into 2015 with a renewed sense of hope, pride and community. We are so much stronger now, because we know that what we work for every day is so important to so many. So on behalf of myself, my family and my staff…Thank You!
Owner, Victorian Farmstead Meat Company
Anyway…I loved all this in so many ways.
That a small business owner was willing to step up and essentially say- “look- I’m good at what I do. But not so much at running a business”. From personal experience, I’d say often the best people are the worst at running a business. And all too often- some of the worst people are far too good at it.
And I’ll be the first to admit- I’m not always the most optimistic person when it comes to the human race. So to see so many in the community stepping up in so many ways- it helprs rekindle my hope.
And it encourages me to see such support of a business model based on quality and ethics rather then the lowest price at any cost.