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A family-owned company's recipe for success.

Wise was the man who said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." To this may I add the thought: Never mind that you don't have the biggest cheese on the block.

Over the years we've been able at Tabatchnick's to apply this adage into a sound and viable business philosophy that has enabled us, a family-owned and operated company, to successfully compete with the large conglomerates.

It's meant putting in a lot of extra hours working while the corporate giants slept, but it has had its rewards. Today, after only 10 years in the business, we're the leaders in frozen soup and distribute to more than 75% of the national market.

If I had to break down the recipe for success in vying with the giants in the frozen food industry, it would have to include the following ingredients:

* A company name that's synonymous with quality--A small business is, by its very nature, a no-frills concern with a limited budget. As such, its image and reputation in the marketplace depend not on advertising, but on word-of-mouth recommendation. Therefore, strict quality control must be first and foremost in everything you do. In our business, this runs the gamut from selecting only the finest, freshest vegetables to thorough testing and analysis of the soup in our plant in an effort to constantly improve upon the product.

* Dedicated employees--In a small operation there's no room for political jockeying or for deadwood. Everyone, no matter the level, is looked upon as an indispensable organ in the company body...a member of the team, pitching in when needed to keep the unit healthy and functioning. This includes putting in extra hours if necessary since small businesses can't survive--let alone thrive--on a 9-to-5 schedule. Unlike the management at larger firms, we stay visible and accessible to our people and try to instill in them a sense of commitment, pride and responsibility in keeping the business going.

* Operational efficiency--This is an absolute must for the survival of any family-run business since too much overhead can prevent a small company from realizing its profit potential. Where possible, institute money-saving procedures. At Tabatchnick's, we operate with a very lean labor force, running the plant on two shifts, 24 hours a day, and designing and installing all our own soup packaging equipment. We even economized on our computer by doing the programming ourselves. The machinery alone saved us about 33% in capital outlays...a savings which we were able to plow back into the operation or pass on to the consumer.

* Innovation and building brand loyalty--In order to stay a step ahead of the big boys and to maintain brand loyalty for your product, you have to be an innovator. For example, we were able to predict years in advance the change in people's eating patterns and lifestyles and mold our soup formulations in that direction. In keeping with the larger numbers of people joining the workforce and the trend toward health and fitness, we are the only manufacturer to come out with a convenient boil-in-bag, all-natural (no artificial preservatives, flavorings or fillers) frozen soup. And, usually, once you've attracted the consumer to the quality and benefits of your product, you've got a customer for life.

* Aggressiveness, motivation and extra service--Maybe it's the fact that the title guy is more hungry that drives him to try harder to do better. In any event, he's got to be highly motivated to go after business, seize the opportunity when it arises, and follow through on all commitments. Sometimes this means being prepared to do the impossible in order to provide that extra ounce of service that will endear you to your customers, such as arranging at a moment's notice for overnight delivery of product to a supermarket chain when consumer demand requires it.

* A close relationship with your broker--Of course, anticipating and fulfilling such a need as the above is predicated on whether or not you, as the manufacturer, have a close relationship with your broker and distributor networks. The ivory tower philosophy just won't fly. A good rule of thumb, I've found, is to treat your distributors, brokers and retail chains as if they were family. Making frequent calls on the supermarkets, leaving open the lines of communication to the top and offering incentives to your sales force will go a long way toward selling more product and getting your fair share of ads and price features.

* Instant decisions--One of the blessings of being a family-run organization is that decisions can turn on a dime. There's no hierarchical chain of command that must be consulted before a judgment can be made. Split-second response time is crucial in emergency situations. But even in the day-to-day operations, the ability to make quick decisions--be it moving to a second shift to meet increased orders or making changes in soup formulation--can mean considerable financial savings. And it's obvious that for the small company, every dollar counts.

* Continuity and family pride--Finally, a family business has the psychological advantage of continuity. In our case, our suppliers have been dealing successfully with my father for years, and it was just part of a natural progression to continue the business relationship with his sons. They know that we take a fierce family pride in making customers--our lifeblood--happy. We virtually put our blood and sweat into the business and no matter how tough the morning or what problems lie ahead, the customer is always king. And it's a belief a family business lives by--not just gives lipservice to--which very often sets it favorably apart from the giants.
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Title Annotation:Tabatchnick's
Author:Tabatchnick, Benjamin
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jun 1, 1984
Previous Article:Doing it the old-fashioned way.
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