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Country-Fed Meat goes door-to-door to find market for frozen products.

When the transport refrigeration industry was founded by Thermo King Corporation in 1938, it was common to see door-to-door"entrepreneurs" - some called them "peddlers" - selling all sorts of items on practically every residential street. Transport refrigeration has since progressed into high technology, of course, but among users of sophisticated Thermo King systems is a 14-year-old company that - of all things - sells frozen meat door-to-door.

Moreover, when it comes to selling meat, this customer is no small potatoes. Country-Fed Meat Co., Inc. of Riverdale (Atlanta area), GA, the largest in its industry, expects to gross in the $65 million range this year while projecting growth of its refrigerated fleet from 600 to 1,000 trucks.

To accommodate the expanded fleet, Country-Fed, which now has 52 branch offices in 35 states, plans to add 25 branches in the next year, according to Harry E. Peaden, Jr., company founder and chief executive officer and self-proclaimed "best salesperson in the world."

That description of himself tells everything anybody needs to know about Peaden's supreme confidence. But he has always backed up his words with deeds, as indicated when, as a 19-year-old, he sold 13 cars in one day at his father's dealership.

Now 35, Peaden started his meat company with one truck, distinctive enthusiasm and aggressiveness and faith in the appeal of the product. He was convinced that everybody - or almost everybody - likes steak; "it's like baseball and apple pie," he figured.

While the idea of going door-to-door wasn't original, Country-Fed brought new energy and dynamism to the concept. The company has grown far beyond the dreams of other independents through a distinctive attitude which enables it to establish credibility with customers.

"We preach self-esteem to our sales forces every morning in all of our branches." said Peaden. "You always have to have a positive mental attitude and, if you always smile, you'll sell twice as much as someone who doesn't."

Sales representatives wear name tags and neat red golf shirts and caps and drive clean, well-identified white panel trucks with six-foot refrigerated body. The body has three-inch insulation; one-half inch plywood floor with aluminum overlay; thermal curtain; and 42[inches] x 49[inches] rear door. Boxes generally outwear three trucks; truck turnover is every 30 months or about 100,000 miles.

Temperatures are maintained at 0 [degrees] F over routes that can average 20 stops a day. The transport refrigeration unit is typically a Thermo King STB[ci.sup.2] truck engine-driven system with automatic defrost plus "Jet Cool" compressor injection cooling and "Jet Lube" compressor injection lubrication for maximum compressor reliability and longevity. The latest system is the new Model V-250; 75 were added recently.

Reliable transport temperature control is a key to success, pointed out Clay Orr, who started with Country-Fed as a salesman eight years ago and is now senior vice president.

"By making sure our product stays frozen," said Orr, "we can invite customers to come over to the truck and give the meat a 'touch test'. This reassures them, because they already know that our prices are lower than they'll pay elsewhere."

This year the company will sell about 15 million pounds of meat supplied by Stampede Meat, Inc. of Chicago, IL. The product is restaurant quality, per Harry Peaden's standards, and comes already trimmed, tenderized, marinated "and ready to cook and eat." Credibility with consumers is further enhanced by the fact that Country-Fed stands by its product "100 percent," said Orr.

"But we really don't have to worry about giving money back," he added, "because we rarely get complaints about quality. If there is an occasional complaint, it's usually about the sales representative and if that happens three times, that representative is out."

The most popular meat assortment is the "25-pound master six pack" selling for $168 and designed to "feed a family for months." It consists of six boxes containing a total of 84 pieces-12 steaks each of ribeye, Delmonico and New York strip; eight T-bone steaks; 20 chopped beef portions; and 20 pork chops. Seafood and chicken packs were added to the line approximately two years ago, and about eight million pounds of these packs will be sold this year. But beef still accounts for the major share of the company's volume, reported Orr.

Joe Legas, president of Stampede Meat, believes that Country-Fed is successful because it is filling a void in the marketplace. "I call it 'eat out at home tonight'," he said, "Harry Peaden sells a restaurant product that can't be bought at supermarkets because they leave the fat on and sell different portions."

Orders for the entire organization are placed each Wednesday by Clay Orr for product sales the following week. Supplier trucks direct-ship to individual branches twice a week. The salespeople, who actually are independent contractors working on commission, take product on consignment and return to their particular branch every day for settlement.

There is no question about the pressure exerted on representatives to succeed. They start each work-morning before 8 a.m. with a motivational session, their efforts are computer-monitored daily by the branch office (as the branch office is monitored daily by corporate headquarters) and results are publicized weekly in the company's "News Flash" newsletter. Encouragement and recognition of achievement are basic to the Harry Peaden program, but it is well understood that the idea is to SELL.

"Anybody can do it with the right personality and attitude," said Orr, "but the job is not for everyone. We estimate that it takes about 50 candidates to find one good salesperson."

Orientation for a new sales representative consists of three days on a route with a veteran.

Then the representative has to fly on his or her own. Women comprise about 20 percent of the sales force; recently the top producer was a woman who earned $3,000 for the particular week. Age doesn't matter, either; Country-Fed has salespeople ranging from 21 to 61 years. The typical representative makes at least $40,000 a year, and the number one representative last year earned $180,000.

Those impressive compensation figures are one reason why Country-Fed is not overly concerned about competition in its industry. There is, after all, only one Harry Peaden, and a Peaden-style operation is not easy to emulate. The company estimates that, of the hundreds of other independents, possibly 80 percent "started with us." But the cost to open a branch similar to what Peaden puts into the field is about $250,000 for trucks, product, freezers, licenses and various other "incidentals." And that's just the beginning. Consequently many sales representatives who chose independence have since "come back into the fold," according to Country-Fed.

Despite rapid growth that made Peaden a millionaire at a relatively young age, Country-Fed is operating virtually debt-free today. So it has no qualms about on-going expansion whatever the economic times.

"There is no recession when it comes to food," said Peaden. "People still have to eat, and they still like the convenience of food delivered to their door."

The challenge in the future - and Peaden envisions having a billion dollar company - lies in continuing to choose the right locations and people and in maintaining the quality of the product. An advantage in working with Thermo King, Country-Fed feels, is that there is an authorized transport refrigeration dealership nearby, regardless of where branches are opened. This provides the individual branch with the support required to ensure that the refrigeration system is properly serviced and that the product stays frozen.

In addition, Country-Fed fleet manager Bill King is in constant communication with all branches (which are responsible for their own equipment maintenance) with regard to safety, PM, vehicle overall condition and other such matters. To further assist in keeping trucks up and insurance costs down, three auditors from corporate headquarters perform periodic inspections at each branch.

These controls obviously had to evolve as Country-Fed grew from a one-man operation into a multi-million dollar corporation. But the "one man" - Harry E. Peaden, Jr., founder and chief executive officer - hasn't forgotten the good old days.

At a weekend district managers meeting in Atlanta last year, the attendees practiced what they were preaching by hitting the streets for one day. At the end of the door-to-door selling period, the person who had sold the most meat was:

Who else but the boss, Harry Peaden, the self-proclaimed "best salesperson in the world."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Country-Fed Meat Co. Inc.
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Dec 1, 1995
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