In 2007, when I took over as president of my family’s butcher shop in Youngstown, Ohio, times were tough. Although this third-generation institution was known for quality meats and personal service, a stagnant local economy had Catullo Prime Meats struggling.
I had an idea. What if I could bring the personalized service and undisputed quality of the neighborhood butcher to everyone — even if they’re 500 miles away? What if I could transform the business into something that expanded “the neighborhood,” and the market potential, without opening new stores?
And, Catullo Prime Meats’ e-commerce store was born, bringing the friendly butchers of Youngstown to any town in the United States. The challenge really wasn’t finding the customers. It was finding a way to get meat from the physical store into the waiting hands of those customers. A challenge that with help from FedEx, I have worked to overcome.
It’s been an ongoing learning experience: looking at new materials, trying out different packaging. Step one was getting our products where they needed to go without spoiling. From there, we continued to ask questions and look for new ways to increase our efficiency and lower costs.
As I was learning to master the nuances of shipping perishables, I saw a gaping market need.
The Right Time, The Right Place, The Right Service
I went to the Internet Retailer Conference + Exhibition (IRCE) to talk to companies about fulfillment. Of the 16 companies there, none were even doing perishable shipping, much less experts at it. The closest thing I could find was a company that shipped chocolate.
Then, I started looking at the capabilities and advantages of my Youngstown, Ohio location and the know-how that I had gained from Catullo Prime Meats.
We have a location in the middle of the country to drive efficient perishable shipments. Companies could send their product to us. We could store it correctly, then, when an order comes in, pack it, ship it and also handle the customer communications.
So, with the help of business partners from InfoSwarm Labs, I parlayed my “lessons learned” into a second business: Perishable Shipping Solutions (PSS), a company that enables food manufacturers and artisans to outsource product inventory, fulfillment and shipping.
Not only does PSS make it easier for food companies to get their products into the hands of their customers, it can improve efficiency and reduce costs, as well.
Consider a West Coast company shipping seafood to an East Coast customer. That’s a long way to go, and a lot of expensive dry ice. By offering economies of scale, our expertise and our location, we could save a company like that a dollar or more per package. When you scale that up to hundreds or thousands of orders, it’s pretty easy to see the value.
From a market perspective, we believe PSS was launched at the right time. Retail analysts agree: e-commerce food startups have become a hot trend. Not only does the direct-to-consumer model eliminate the barriers of getting into traditional grocery stores, it’s also a cost-effective way to introduce new products to the growing crop of “foodies.
People today are more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies. They want to know where their food is coming from. Small companies actually have a leg-up on supermarkets in this area, because all grocers have is label and nutritional information. With e-commerce, you can tell the story of your products and yourself — find a way to really connect the consumer to your brand.
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