Direction — Know where you want to go and plan ahead the road map to get there. Ensure you are aligned with the right partners to assure quality control — your product and brand are only as good as their reputation, co-packers don’t normally have skin in the game. That being said, researching all of the people in that neighborhood and seeing who will hold your vision to the highest mark, is the smartest thing to do. Avoid roadblocks by being cautious of the people you bring into your project at any stage of the game — you wouldn’t hand your baby to a complete stranger to watch over… you shouldn’t for your business either! Not everyone has the same vision as you do — be clear and concise about what your mission is, where you are going and the stops you need to make along the way.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brimstone.
Brimstone has had a successful and rewarding career spanning well over four decades; participating in numerous entertainment fields boasting a list of titles including professional wrestler, radio host/professional podcaster, actor, voice actor, author, musician, philanthropist, food critic, horror model, and comic book/animated/children’s book/video game hero. He’s been called a Renaissance man by many, but more accurately described as a well-seasoned entertainer and serial entertainment entrepreneur.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Iwas born and raised on Long Island, New York. I started early in the entertainment industry as a child actor on shows like Sesame Street and Romper Room. My parents divorced while I was young. I lived with my mom in Uniondale which was a predominantly a middle class black neighborhood, on the flipside my father lived in Dix Hills, a wealthy area that was predominantly white. I believe that this diverse childhood shaped me in a way that not many people could fathom.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
I enjoy grilling… a lot. I had always come up with my own concoctions to ensure that whomever ate my food — their taste-buds would always be tingling! I am a big seasoning and sauce guy. Always have been, always will be. I started filming a foodie series years ago while on tour signing at comic cons. That being said, I am always thinking of what the next possible ‘natural’ progression is in anything I do — my own sauce and seasoning line was definitely on the list. Now, to make a long story longer… when I was touring, I would continuously be seeking out the local hot sauce places to see if I could locate a hotter, higher Scoville sauce for my pal Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal. It became an obsession. For awhile, I couldn’t find anything that was hotter than what he’d already tried. That is until I hit the North Market in Columbus, Ohio. I stumbled upon a place called CaJohn’s Fiery Foods and although they didn’t have anything in-house — I was assured that the owner, John Hard would certainly have something that would take it to the next level. Little did I know that John is considered the Godfather of hot sauce! I received a call back directly from John and as we were discussing what he had that would knock Ron’s socks off — my ‘ah ha’ moment occurred and I asked if he would be interested in working with Ron and I to develop our own lines of sauces and seasonings… to which he agreed. The rest is history.
Fast forward a few years and I’m now uber excited about my newest foodie project that I’m doing with Torchbearer Sauces launching October 2020! I’ve known the owners for many years at this point, a matter of fact — I’d watched them come up in the industry while touring around the hot sauce community with CaJohn’s. I had always admired their fun labeling and cool branding, not to mention the tastiness of their line of products! Eventually, they started popping up at some of the pop culture conventions that I was signing at and we’d always chatted about how awesome it would be to collaborate on a sauce together. We’d said it for years and years to be honest, until we decided it’s time to just do it! My son Dylan and I headed out to their facilities and we all sat down to play mad scientist for a few hours until we came up with the new flavor that will tickle your taste buds while still offering the heat that people so desire! We named it ‘Torched Stone Thai’ and we are really excited about the launch as we feel people are going to fall in love with this saucy sweetness!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was trusting Sue Hard of CaJohn’s. Now, this is not going in the direction you would think — she is the loveliest woman! When we’d first met, you get this impression of how sweet and motherly she is — but let me tell you… she is the devil (in a fun way)! As a rookie in the Chilehead world, I succumbed to her continuously passing me different things to taste test thinking, ‘Oh, she’s giving me something yummy to try!’ She’d always get me good though, because every time — whatever it was, was scorching hot! Everything from chili to cornbread to ketchup… she spiked it all and laughed profusely each time she’d watch my face to bright red as I got burned up! I learned really quickly to never judge a book by its cover — that sweet woman was evil! Also, I truly underestimated the amount of work that goes into the marketing of food product lines. I think I worked twice as hard building my brand in the foodie industry than almost anywhere else! There is so much competition that you have to go with the assumption that if you aren’t doing it — someone else will be… so you need to do the work and wear many hats to make be successful.
Another funny story is the time I decided to do an appearance at a bacon festival based on one of my seasonings, ‘Ya’ Bacon Me Crazy.’ I figured it would be busy; but didn’t really know how busy it would actually be! We sold out of almost all of our product in the first couple of hours and was lucky enough to only be an hour away where we were able to replenish the goods. The takeaway here is to always be prepared and don’t underestimate any situation.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
So many people try to do too much too soon. Albeit I launched a line of about ten products right off the bat — I was working alongside a seasoned professional who knew the industry and how to put the products into the market effectively. I would suggest you start small and concentrate directly on one or two products rather than a full line (unless you have the funding and know-how to get it all done). Most people get excited and over-extend themselves. What they forget, is that each individual item needs to be marketed properly and when you start out with a line that is inclusive of multiple products… you need to ensure attention is given to them all. Furthermore, not every product will be successful — people around the country; or the world have completely different flavor profiles. It is difficult to do repeated samplings at foodie festivals and supermarkets with multiple products — it also requires a lot of stock. If dragging around boxes of merchandise weren’t difficult enough, when a supermarket considers taking on a new brand — you have limited space and have to compete with a large variety of other brands for that space and visibility! It can become a very costly endeavor, especially when you are aiming to launch a variety of items. Start small. I suggest doing taste testing prior to launch via research marketing in order to see which items rank highest and to ensure people actually like the product you are about to invest your blood, sweat and tears into… as well as a lot of cash! I would also advise to make sure that your logo is memorable and your label design(s) are unique and attention grabbing! Remember, you have a tremendous amount of competition on shelves — you need to stand out.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
First thing I would like to say is make sure that you are 200% ready to take on everything that comes next. Developing a product and a brand is similar to raising a child — it has needs, costs a lot of money and requires daily attention at all stages of the game. I would suggest that you put it all on paper — flesh out your idea before moving forward. Develop a preliminary marketing plan and research the current market. Find out what other companies big and small have done in the past — what was successful and what was not… learn from their wins and losses! Seek out the advice of reputable people in the industry — one thing that I can assure you is that everyone has one thing in common — they like to talk about themselves and their successes. Invest in visiting food conferences and speaking with people who are already doing it. Seek out distribution in advance — know the market and who has a strong grasp on it. Ensure that you know all the legalities of putting your product out to market, be safe not sorry. If your item(s) requires co-packing — make sure you are dealing with a reputable source who will put your brand out into the world as if it were their own.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
It is truly mind over matter. The reason many people do not move forward with their ideas is because they are afraid to fail. Failure is not something to be afraid of — it should motivate you to be and do better! If people fleshed out their ideas fully — rather than flying by the seat of their pants (which I am certainly guilty of myself at times), they would find that they could essentially bring their dream to fruition. Most people have an idea and never put it to paper, while others talk about it until they’re blue in the face; but never do anything about it. Develop a business plan — be a student of the industry you are seeking to develop in and learn. It will either inspire you to move forward; or not. Unfortunately, there is no real way to help anyone past this hurdle as it is all about motivation and work ethic. You can have work ethic; but not be motivated and vice versa — I do think everyone should try though!
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I struggle with this idea a lot as I have seen so many people fail miserably working with un-reputable people. There are a lot of imposters who talk a big game and once you learn they are not what they said they were — you have already invested your hard earned money which is now gone… as well as the time and effort that you’d already put into those interactions. I feel that it’s important for people to do things on their own; or at very least — be heavily knowledgeable before having an initial meeting with someone who claims to be a consultant. As I mentioned earlier, the more you know and understand prior to start-up — the easier it is to navigate once you’re actually in the thick of it. Be prepared. If you opt to go with a consultant — research them until the cows come home. Many ‘development consultants’ or ‘mentors’ also have a cookie-cutter attitude and think that all brands fit in the same mold. This is not true — all brands are created uniquely and individually. While certain things may be similar, others are completely different. Another thing to remember is that these people have no skin in the game — they are playing with your money… so be wary. Also remember that you don’t know it all and should never pretend to. Again, I stress… do your research prior and it will do wonders for you and your budding business.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I’m a firm believer in doing it yourself and ensuring you get the lion’s share of reaping all the benefits — this of course also means that you take on all the loss as well. I have personally raised the capital on my own to put forth new products into the world; or partnered with established corporations to make it happen. I started an entire comic book company with a total of a $100 initial investment and built it from there — so anything is possible! Other people may find that taking out loans, borrowing money or seeking investors is the way to go — I just don’t like the idea of going into a situation so far behind the eight ball that it’s hard to dig yourself out of the debt. Especially when it is for an unproven asset. Perhaps consider starting small and once your product has a proven track record (even if that record is not enormous), then seek out investors and capital to take your business to the next level.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
I am not the best source of information for the patent and sourcing answers as the companies that I’ve partnered with normally handle that; however I have plenty of experience in trademark and copyrights as well as sourcing materials for other products and projects. Now saying I’m not the best source does not mean that I don’t know what to do! Patents, along with trademark and copyrights require time and patience; but can easily be done online. It literally comes down to research… you have Google — use it! If you can’t seem to find anything on your own (which you should be able to), reach out to other businesses and individuals who are currently in the industry and ask for referrals and recommendations. The same goes for manufacturing, retailers and distributers — just ask! Compile lists and send out e-mails, make calls — keep notes… all of this should be done while preparing to launch your business. It is not difficult, only time consuming.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.) A solid idea — Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to create the next best thing; however something new and different is certainly more intriguing than a carbon copy of an item that has already been produced. What does your specific product bring to the table that makes it different; or better than what is currently on the market?
2)Unique branding and packaging — Branding is the key. People may not have ever personally tried certain products before; however they know of the product simply because of smart, consistent branding. Most people when considering purchasing a new product, will make their decision solely on the packaging. The brighter and more interesting the packaging — the more enticing your product then becomes.
3) Marketing — Utilize research marketing in order to gain a good grasp of who your target market is in terms of general demographics, what items in your line are more ‘fan friendly’ than others and why certain items should maybe stay out of the market — at least for the time being. Ultimately it will offer you a well-rounded, deeper knowledge of how and to whom you should be marketing your line to. Budget for advertising — you can do a lot to be seen in these digital times; however a solid memorable advertising campaign is worth its weight in gold. Repetition is key — make sure to repeatedly be in the eye of the public.
4) Knowledge — Knowledge is power. Understanding the market and how to insert your product(s) into it is essential for success. Also remember, knowledge that is unused is foolish — learn from your competitors and your own wins and mistakes!
5) Direction — Know where you want to go and plan ahead the road map to get there. Ensure you are aligned with the right partners to assure quality control — your product and brand are only as good as their reputation, co-packers don’t normally have skin in the game. That being said, researching all of the people in that neighborhood and seeing who will hold your vision to the highest mark, is the smartest thing to do. Avoid roadblocks by being cautious of the people you bring into your project at any stage of the game — you wouldn’t hand your baby to a complete stranger to watch over… you shouldn’t for your business either! Not everyone has the same vision as you do — be clear and concise about what your mission is, where you are going and the stops you need to make along the way.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Interestingly enough — it comes down to something relatively simple… create for yourself. Develop a product that you would like to see in the world. Put all of your blood, sweat and tears into it — be passionate about it. If you are passionate about your product… others will begin to be as well.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I continuously give back — as often as possible. You can see a handful of different ways I give back by visiting the Charity Link on my Official Website. Along with Ruth’s Mustard, this past year we utilized a Special Edition — Brimstone branded mustard that we utilized to raise money for St Jude’s Hospital. The cherry on top of the proverbial sundae is receiving the NYS Empire Business Award which is the highest award you can receive as a business from New York State.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There are so many different directions that I could go with this… developing a new charity never hurts; however there are a zillion and one different foundations already out in the world that are fighting over the same dollars and cents. I think that one major thing that could benefit the largest amount of people would be developing a foundation of successful business leaders who are willing to donate their time and give back to young entrepreneurs looking to find their way in the business world. Now, you may say — there are places like that! I have personally donated my time and mentored many different young and old business owners and people looking to put their marks on the world. What I found though, was that there weren’t enough ‘creative’ types who were a part of these groups. I’m not saying that the people who are mentoring are not qualified; however I will certainly say that creative businesses are not cookie cutter in style and one size does not fit all! As someone who has spent the majority of my life in the arts and as a creative — I can promise you that a business and brand such as mine is a square peg and cannot be shoved into a circle hole. Some things may cross over; however it honestly takes a creative person to mentor a creative person. It seems as though creative professionals are lacking on rosters and many entrepreneurs are needing that specific guidance. I believe that developing a grouping of qualified professionals in entertainment and creative based business is essential. Turn that into an easily accessed outlet for people coming up in our industries to learn from and grow with and so many people would have a better opportunity for success.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Any big names who’d like to use their influence for the better of others. I enjoy meeting and getting to know like-minded folks who don’t forget where they came from.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.