“Have fun.” with Pete Holzer

Have fun. Always remember that you’re doing this because you love it. Your enthusiasm for your product and your industry will help attract customers and future business partners. It really is true that if you’re passionate and love what you do, you’ll never work another day of your life 🙂 As a part of our […]

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Have fun. Always remember that you’re doing this because you love it. Your enthusiasm for your product and your industry will help attract customers and future business partners. It really is true that if you’re passionate and love what you do, you’ll never work another day of your life 🙂

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 Pete Holzer.

After a couple decades of life enjoying Bloody Marys and sampling different brands of ‘the world’s most variable drink,’ Pete Holzer and his wife, Kelly, decided it was time to get serious about their passion for the perfect Bloody Mary and satisfy their entrepreneurial spirits at the same time. They spent months researching and developing a knock-out recipe with the flavor to please the wide-ranging palettes of Bloody Mary aficionados. Their goal was to find the perfect blend of ingredients matched with the perfect consistency. Their Sideshow secret recipes utilize some typical Bloody Mary ingredients, but several surprises, as well. After experimenting with and testing over 75 different recipes, they found their winning formulas, blending over 13 ingredients, used in each of three Sideshow Bloody Mary Mix varieties — Strongman, Fire Breather, and Trick Rider. There is a flavor for every taste. Since 2016, this spirited duo has won over Blood Mary enthusiasts and newbies alike. Multiple unique, bold flavors are available through their online store and in 140 retail locations across the Midwest. These Minnesotans know the value of hard work, ingenuity, and a customer-focused business model to build a successful specialty food brand from the ground up.

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”?

Igrew up south of the Twin Cities on a hobby farm. My parents were avid vegetable farmers, and my interest in food preparation and recipes was sparked at a young age. I’ve always been fascinated by the potential of raw ingredients, especially in the canning process. This eventually led to experimenting with homemade Bloody Mary mixes and the creation of Sideshow Bloody Mary Mix.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

In college, I worked as a bartender at a supper club, and people would comment on how much they liked the homemade Bloody Marys I made for them. At the time, I didn’t even like tomato juice — tomatoes were the last vegetable on the list for me, even though they’re technically a fruit! But when I met my wife, Kelly, I learned that her family loved Bloody Marys. I brought back the recipe from my college days and added a bunch of my favorite spices. And boom! To my surprise, I fell in love with the drink. Kelly and I both have entrepreneurial spirits, and five years ago, we decided we wanted to start a business around a shared passion. Hands down, Bloody Marys were our first choice. This was the birth of our “side” business, Sideshow Bloody Mary Mix.

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?

I’ve made a few mistakes starting out, but none that are too funny. But from each mistake, there’s always plenty to learn. Instead of feeling discouraged or being hard on yourself, think of each failure as an opportunity for improvement. And if the mistake is funny, now you have a great story to tell at parties!

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?

One mistake I’ve seen people make is assuming this is a “get-rich-quick” type of business. Starting a food line takes time, patience, and persistence. Unless you have a lot of capital, it takes many years of trial and error to build a successful specialty food company. But if you do it right, it’s definitely worth it. We’re having a blast!

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?

The first thing you should do if you have an idea for a product is research your competition. Learn what similar products are out there and make sure your brand has unique differentiators. If you don’t take time to develop features and benefits that help your product stand out, your only way to compete will be on price. And believe it or not, this is the hardest thing to market.

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?

The most important thing you can do is believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to put your idea out there. Also, start small. Once you develop your product, test it out with friends and family. Let them give you their honest opinions and tell you what improvements can be made. Listen to this feedback and use it to create an even better product.

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 think a combination of strategies is the most effective. Don’t fully rely on someone else telling you how to start your business but seek out honest feedback. Remember, there is no cookie-cutter model. When you’re just starting out, a roundtable discussion with people you trust can be very effective. Talk to people in the industry and learn from their experience. These are ways to gain a ton of knowledge for free. Once you launch your product line and start to grow, hiring a consultant can help you effectively scale your 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’ve had experience with both. Currently, with Sideshow Bloody Mary Mix, we worked our way up from the ground floor using my savings. With this strategy, your growth is limited, but your risk is also minimal compared to using venture capital funds or a business loan. The upside of venture capital is that you can grow much faster. But if the market turns, you could end up in financial trouble, which is why it’s so important to understand your industry. Deciding which is the best route for your business will depend on your growth potential and your risk tolerance.

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?

The one and only time I hired a consultant was to help me navigate this side of the business while getting set up. The consultant handled the research and negotiations to complete these key steps. Sideshow Bloody Mary Mix is a family-owned-and-operated business, so once these things were in place, my niece helped us partner with over 100 retail locations by setting up demos and trials. Now, our products are available in 140 retail locations across the Midwest. No matter which aspect of the business you find most challenging, hiring an expert is always an option. Don’t let lack of expertise in one particular area hold you back.

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.)

Study your competition. We live in an era where everything is commoditized. Without a hook, something different you offer that others don’t — whether that’s the product itself or the marketing of the product — your brand will get lost within the competitive space.

Keep your product costs down. To be successful, you need to strike a balance between your expenses and your price points. Too many expenses will make it impossible to be profitable. Aim for a good margin based on markup versus charging significantly more than the competition.

Be selective with shipping options. Your sources for ingredients and your manufacturer should be geographically close by. If they’re too far away, your shipping costs may increase so much that you need to make up the difference by charging more for your product. This can be avoided by choosing your suppliers and your manufacturer carefully.

Strengthen your support system. Building a business can be a rough road if you’re trying to do everything yourself. The support of your family and friends can make a huge difference.

Have fun. Always remember that you’re doing this because you love it. Your enthusiasm for your product and your industry will help attract customers and future business partners. It really is true that if you’re passionate and love what you do, you’ll never work another day of your life 🙂

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

This is all about knowing your audience. Through your research, you’ll discover what types of people love your product and are really passionate about it. These are your future customers. Talk to them as much as you can. Ask them what they think about your product idea, the benefits and features you’re offering, your branding, and your product name. Ask them how you can improve your product or what else they’d like to see. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn just by brainstorming ideas with people who share your passions. These conversations will help you develop a product that’ll truly knock their socks off!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I like to think that creating the perfect Bloody Mary makes the world a little better. But we have much loftier goals to help make a real difference. As we grow, we hope to donate 10% of all sales to the Alzheimer’s Association, a cause that I care deeply about and that has affected my family.

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.

Kindness seems to be a lost attribute in today’s society. It sounds cliché, but everyone has struggles. We just don’t always know about them. If everyone made even a little more effort to be kind to each other, it would go a long way in making the world a better place.

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.

I’d love to meet Paul McCartney. He’s had a pretty impressive run at reinventing himself and his music.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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