DOP1 2011 VINTAGE POST:
December 30, 2011. I have my first hh print advertisement appearing in the January issue of the Ann Arbor Observer – they cooked up what I think is a nifty design for a 1/16th sized ad. It looks good. I’m looking forward to each of the three ads I’ve placed in 2012 for January, May and September. It feels better than all that Facebook bullshit – god I hate so-called social networking; what a fucking time-consuming waste of my life trying to keep up with all that crap. A print ad in a cool publication feels much better. I’m going to keep doing things that feel right regardless of what everybody else appears to be doing. It’s the only way I’m going to get anywhere, I know it. If hh isn’t around when the last ad runs, so be it. Maybe the ad alone will help to function like a vog, keeping me motivated to at least give it the college try and if the hh-dream has vanished by then, I should be okay with it. Just writing this out makes it seem a little more like I know what I’m doing. Gads, whenever I start getting too far out in front of my life – too far into the future – I end up in a blank space, which makes sense because I haven’t created the future yet. It’s one thing to envision things, but another to live in the moment while you create the reality. I think when you’re as new to this biophycomythology stuff as I am, and I’m assuming two years still qualifies as being new to it, I might find myself struggling with a less than solid hold on the process.
The A2O sent me a hard copy of the page with my invoice, which is already paid. It’s three-hundred-something bucks for each of the three ads. I got the design of the ad done for free since I was a new customer. To others it may seem stupid, silly, futle or old-fashioned to place this ad, but it feels absolutely right – it’s exactly the way I want hh to exist in the public eye along with the website. The print ad is designed to create interest, nothing more – it’s not to ram all the “bizzness” information down people’s throats. I want some mystery; some intrigue. I want folks to find hh and then get the joy exchange of having found it. I want people to be drawn to it out of curiosity and intuition. H-cheese is not something that will ever benefit from mass-marketing – it can’t be made into something that it isn’t – it isn’t pizza or tacos, which is stuff you can eat day after day. It’s a niche, maybe an exclusive niche, and I think my “advertising” should reflect the obscurity and oddness of h-cheese. Its name alone generates, in my mind, enough “buzz.” If you’re the type of person who becomes intrigued by it, of how it might compare to what you already know about it, then your next step is to try it, and if that takes a little digging or rooting – har! – to get to it, then I’m betting that it only adds to the experience. You need to “get it.” It’s not that I don’t want as many customers as possible, but I feel in my heart exactly how this should be communicated and I’m not doing things any other way.
The website is my next challenge in fact because I think now that it sort of sucks – it doesn’t communicate the hh-ness that I’m developing and it also is not up-to-speed technically on being able to order h-cheese easily. If I can get through the start-up of this phase II and get just a semblance of some actual business and some fucking profit, then I can justify upgrading the website into something beyond a DIY mess.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011. I think I’m finally de-funking my fucked up brain. What I call the emotional section of the holidays (thanksgiving and xmas) is over – whew! – and I can look forward to the only holiday that seems to make any sense to me anymore: the New Year. Although I haven’t made much of new year’s eve or new year’s day since I can remember. No cool fun parties, no going out and howling at the moon, just what seems like a string of same-old-shit-fall-asleep-before-midnight type of lame-ass shit. After another year of balls-out changes, here’s a Spring 2012 vog to set the course for the new year:
Keith’s Vision of Greatness 2012
- I completed the first Mark’s Carts season; all the way to the very last day.
- The last cart day unfolded per my vog for it – one of our best revenue days.
- The cart season unfolded per my vog for it – revenue was within the reasonable range and opportunities were generated.
- Customers are even helping to promote my h-cheese.
- Ari is helping with zcob and with out-of-state h-cheese retail potential – I’ve shipped 8 samples.
- Plum Market has put the h-cheese on the top shelf of their deli case – my first wholesale customer!
- I’ve arranged for 3 ads in the A2 Observer – very cool.
- Others have connected with what we’re doing, believe in it and have helped us.
- We’ve made it through tough times.
- My guides continue to work for me (Ari, Campbell, Canfield, Stryker, the pigs, etc.)
- I’ve engaged my other vocations: walking, tunes, biophycomythology and writing.
- I’ve met others in the food biz who are very cool and supportive.
- HH feels like what I ought to be doing – it feels right – it’s my vocation.
- I got a job at ZCOB! I’ve worked on the ZMO holiday crew in December 2011!
- I’ve got an interview at Plum Market!
- I’ve enjoyed so many days this past year.
It’s April. The winter has brought so many good things for HH that we’ve decided to permanently “park” the cart – we don’t need to be a presence in the food court this year because we’ve got so much h-cheese business to manage.
We are selling h-cheese to ZCoB!! The wait was worth it – the h-cheese hoagie is a huge hit at the z-deli – it’s jazzed up their already famous sandwich board and it’s the talk of the town because that’s what it always was at the court – it’s great food getting it’s due and it’s promoting the welfare of the pigs and the great work of zcob!! H-cheese creates a sandwich buzz at the deli that has helped increase zcob biz all over the city – it’s becoming a well-loved local “classic” sandwich. The resistance within the deli has vanished because of the fantastic customer response – the media is all over this sandwich and Ari and Paul and their folks are excited with another success story in their product line. The z-deli sells the terrine by the pound, with the “baby” terrine often selling whole and they cook up a great version of the hot h-cheese hoagie! Wow, so cool to see the hh logo up on the z-deli sandwich board and they’ve kept the “headcheese hoagie” name with the same great onion, bell pepper and fallots that we had so much success with at the cart. Just like at the cart, the hot sandwich is the most popular way to eat h-cheese and the deli sells twenty-five pounds per week! That’s another $250 in hh profit per week, and sales are continuing to grow.
HH has five out-of-state retailers (recommended by Ari) that are likewise experiencing great success selling hh h-cheese! They each sell five pounds per week, so hh is achieving $250/week profit from these sales. Word continues to spread in the media and I’m looking forward to more customers as I continue to ship samples. Individual customers are ordering h-cheese online, from the hh website – ten pounds per week, so another $100 per week profit.
All this action has allowed me to hire a very jazzy employee that helps us with production, cleaning, paperwork, deliveries, shipping and customer service. This person believes in the pigs’ welfare like I do and has the skill set and interests that make this a perfect fit for them. The potential for them within hh is spectacular and they love working for us!
HH will be attending the Summer Fancy Food Show to enjoy the vibe and generate even more customers!
It’s so much effing fun because this is what I’m good at – managing my own business top to bottom. The customers, USDA, facilities, finances, operations and of course the pigs – it’s all fucking great – it’s what I’m meant to do with my life and I’m practically jumping out of bed each morning. Money is coming in – the $50K annual is our goal and is going to happen this year at least.
Me and Angie are happy together – we are at our best when we work together and that’s just what we’re doing. She’s jazzed about the growing hh biz and her opportunities in it – she can see that very, very early retirement from NSF is a real possibility if she so chooses and we continue our success.
We are moving next month into a great new space to live – right in line with our vog for our new home.
Speaking of new spaces, we’re looking at moving hh out of Union Hall because we’re just too damn busy and need our own cool kitchen, shipping and office space. We’ve got our eye on a couple great options within A2 – we’re going to keep this hh biz local.
As spring arrives here in late March, we’re happy to be talking to Molly Stevens at the zing bakehouse cooking class about our success with hh and she invited me to help her out at the roadhouse dinner the following night – very cool that I get to work in the RH kitchen to help make sure the event does her food justice.
- How big is HH?
- Physically, it’s very small and agile – we just rent kitchen space in which to make my h-cheese. We’re not about anything except the finest h-cheese in the world. No restaurant space, no dedicated space of any type – we roll lean and mean and can come and go with HH as we please – we’re not tied to any landlord or any lease agreement – HH is not about working for the man.
- What are the most important factors by which we measure success?
- Product and service quality. The money will come or it can fuck me running.
- What standards of excellence are set by HH?
- We are the industry standard for h-cheese and have set the standard for how to incorporate farm animal welfare into the finest product on the market. We pay our vendors on time. Customers find the HH experience unforgettably enjoyable – they get total “joy-exchange” when they do biz with us.
- What is our most important product line?
- H-cheese is the flagship product and defines what we’re all about.
- What products are sold in our industry that we won’t offer?
- Middle-of-the-road food of any type. No CAFO sourced meat. No low or mid-priced bland, bulk breakfast, lunch or dinner food of any kind. No machine-made food products.
- How do we sell our product?
- In fine food markets nation-wide who are committed to mind-blowing flavor, service and joy-exchange with their customers. We also sell h-cheese on line through our website.
- What special products or services are we offering?
- The hh h-cheese terrine and hoagie.
- What sort of customers shop at HH?
- Adventurous foodies and curious eaters. Those who love to connect the farm to the fork and who desire to spend the extra money required for the best a sustainable business like HH has to offer.
- Where do our customers come from?
- The big handful of cities around the U.S. (there is usually at least one in each state) where lust for life, love of learning and adventurous gastronomic folk gather.
- What are three noteworthy things that our customers have identified about HH?
- Memorable food
- Unusual amounts of FUN.
- How many staff members do we have?
- One part-time.
- What is our management style?
- What types of people are we hiring as managers?
- Don’t need ‘em yet, but college educated preferably.
- What’s the culture?
- Integrated. We communicate relentlessly and fearlessly. I lead by example. Employees (when we get ‘em) just love it because they are empowered. They learn shit. They believe in what HH is all about.
- I am the humble master of the universe who runs the whole shebang but focuses on production, customer service, organizational structure, vision and flavor– my strengths. The finances are handled better by others. I make about $1M per year working 40-50 hours/week.
- How does the community view HH?
- As part of their heart & soul. Cherished.
- What do our suppliers say about us?
- Pays on time. Rock solid integrity.
- What do industry experts say about us?
- They can’t figure us out and they’re continually amazed at our courage, integrity, innovation and unconventional awesomeness.
January 2, 2012. I’m not where I expected to be at the beginning of this new year. Rather than being cranked up with great expectations, energy and plans for the best year of my life, I find myself in a fucking rut. Jazziness has left the room. HH seems to be shrinking by the day. On New Year’s eve, I got an email from the GM of The Produce Station that he’d “be willing to try” the h-cheese in his market this spring. He mentioned biz being slow after the new year and I guess that’s why he wants to wait until the spring to give it a shot. That’s good news of course – any new customer is good news – but the reality remains that my intro at Plum Market was a complete flop. My brother told me he bought half a pound early on, so I don’t think I even sold a fucking pound in a month. It’s overpriced I know. It’s also not interesting to folks as a terrine – I’ve said over and over that it needs to be served as a hot sandwich. So, with the interest from Produce Station, I’ve simply traded one customer for another since I don’t expect Plum to place another order.
Anyway, I’m finding it hard to imagine how a business can get any fucking smaller than hh. What the fuck? I’m trying to feel good about selling less than a pound of h-cheese per month? I hate being a flop. This is on top of me and Angie officially deciding not to run the food cart this coming season. We still have $10K in start-up costs to pay off from the first season. Revenue was $24K, which did nothing but cover food costs (food costs at 100% how fucking pathetic!) but equipment, supplies and rent blew another $24K. So there you have it: how not to run a business. It therefore makes no fucking sense whatsoever to try again next season. Even if I could get my food costs down and charge more money, I’d still be fucked. If my food cost was down to 40% and I jacked up prices by two bucks per sandwich, that means I’d make an extra $50 per day (with twenty-five customers) by raising prices, then $6 x 25 = $150 by getting food costs in line.
So, in a perfect world, with food costs that I can likely not obtain, I’d make $1000 per week ($20K per year) profit NOT INCLUDING COURT/KITCHEN RENT. So subtract $7500 and I’m back to approximately the same fucking shit-ass profit I came up with on my Mark’s Carts application/biz plan, which is about $10K/season give or take a couple-thousand bucks. If I doubled sales to 50 customers/day, then I’d be at obviously $20-24K per season profit – still crap given that I could earn that with a $20/hour part-time job. With a part-time job, I’d actually have time to engage my other vocations versus being consumed by nothing but the food cart. Let’s say I stuck it out, just to beat my head against the wall, so that after the second season I’d paid off half the start-up debt I incurred, then finally, at the end of season three, I’d have paid off all my start-up costs. Then what? I’d have the pure joy of $20K/year income from an ass-busting food cart to look forward to for the rest of my life. Oh, or I could leverage that “success” into a gigantic loan for a restaurant and lose my ass doing that while being told what the fuck to do by investors. It sounds like pure hell and now I’m wondering why the fuck anybody would ever go into it. Well, the successful folks start with money. Or they don’t mind playing with other people’s money. There, I’ve talked myself out of next year’s food cart season.
January 4, 2012. Now that I’ve purged all that crap about not doing the next cart season, I find myself still struggling with the concept. Weird. I’m not sure what I’m hanging on to, but I’m picking at that scar until I figure it out. I’ve had a love/hate thing going on with the food cart since its inception. I did all the pro/con work on it with Angie helping out and I know she’d prefer to dump it and there’s a lot more cons than pros I admit. It’s also not effective advertising for a h-cheese production business, if that’s all it’s going to be. Who spends $7500 on rent and then all the fucking food and supplies just to scrape out $10K and call it good advertising? I don’t want to own a restaurant and from what I can tell, the food court is simply an expensive pre-restaurant-ownership-bootcamp.
Meanwhile, I did get another order from Kelli at Plum Market – this time for just one baby h-cheese but hell, I’ll take it. I thought I was done there. I’m also a little surprised that what they have left (she said she’s running low so that means it’s still on the shelf) isn’t stinking up the store by now – I’d really like to see them discard what they don’t use within two weeks, but hey, they paid for it (though I haven’t seen a check yet) so I guess I need to let go and let them do what they want; they’re professionals and know when something’s gone bad, right? So, that’s cool. I’m running what seems like the fucking tiniest small business in the world, but if I’m in-it-to-win-it I’m going to have to work through the growing pains. It does help to let go, at least a little bit, to un-attach from the desire for booming success and just surrender to the myth and let it play out. It seems to take some finesse. My heart tells me that if the world continues to respond to hh, even in such a small way as an order for one small terrine, without me hard-selling anything, then that means I’m not at the vanishing point yet. I may in fact be seeing the exact progress that will get me where I ultimately want to go if I can just be patient and give the universe some time to connect – one piano wire at a time. I can look at the Plum re-order, the spring-time Produce Station “order,” and the still-alive Larry’s Market that I need to re-contact next week as omens to guide me forward with hh. I think this is how you use omens – they’re clues about your biophycomythological progress that you can use to keep going, or make adjustments to your direction and methods.
Some simple things can keep you jazzed about life. Angie and I were noshing away at the z-deli earlier this week and I snagged a copy of the latest zing-newsletter. Sure enough, I’m in there, right next to Burlingham and Batali, just like Ari said:
This was another great newsletter with lots of Ari’s writing. He’s got me into the idea of trying sardines because he wrote so compellingly about them, as well as some Cheshire from the zing creamery – the back story he gave on John Loomis, and that man’s struggles and perseverance to keep his vision of his own cheese-making going, was inspiring and made me want to shut the fuck up about my own little problems. Also, Gauri T. had a note about being jazzed to read Ari’s new book and how she’s got this new job as Community Builder – a position that she’s getting to sort of create on her own apparently – and how it’s turning into her dream job. She offered to email a copy of her vog (under development) and like I told Ari, if she’s creating the job of her dreams, then I’m all for reading about it.
Another cool guide-action heartfelt connection-thing that happened this week:
I had sent a three-loaf, three-month zcob “bread club” to Paul and Phyllis Willis – it wasn’t something that was cheap, but I did get the zmo discount and hell, I figured why not try to stay in touch with the pig-master – he’s one of my guides and that experience at his farm will stay with me and I do miss those pigs. I also know he’s probably not getting a lot of good bread, least of all from zcob because he’s probably too busy or just not getting around to it so I hope they appreciated it. It seems like they did, because Paul shot a bag of his awesome cornmeal to us – this is just the stuff that I miss cooking and eating and I can’t wait to make some polenta and some Iowa cornbread. So connections are maintained and it’s a great thing.
January 5, 2012. In production today for the Plum Market terrine request and look what came in the mail today:
The very first check addressed to Humble Hogs (accounts receivable versus payable!). So I get to deposit real money into the new account which I set up so customers can write checks to HH versus to me personally. It’s an incredibly minor, miniscule thing to anyone except me I know but hell, it’s this tiny shit that keeps me going. It totally jazzes me to look at this check. So I’m learning to follow the jazziness. I’m also taking this as an omen to legitimize my decision yesterday to bow out of cart season 2012. Saying “no” to something isn’t wrong even if others try to convince me otherwise, which hasn’t really happened yet anyway. It’s this part of the HH biz: the h-cheese wholesale that makes me feel great and makes my nut spin. If I can just hang on, hold the biophycomythological line and not give in to old habits, we’ll see where it takes me….