Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a four-part series following one year in the life of Bruce Tiffany, an entrepreneurial farmer and repair shop owner preparing to market his family’s brand of wildlife treats. Now that he has perfected a blend of agricultural commodities, pelletized with AURI’s help, Tiffany is ready to package and test-market his new product.
Redwood Falls, Minn. — It was Autumn when Bruce Tiffany gazed out at the old granary in his backyard. Though time and weather had turned its once bright red face a wrinkled grey, he didn’t see a building that had lost its usefulness — nor did he see it transformed into a lake cabin, as his wife envisioned. Instead, Tiffany saw conveyors and baggers and sealers filling the old storage shed with bags of wildlife treats.
A half-year later, he’s realizing his dream under the trade name Tiffany Family Farms.
He’s preparing to bag and test-market wildlife treats, intended to lure wild game to hunting grounds or to backyards for viewing and photography. The treats are made from a proprietary blend of crop and food processing ingredients.
For a 43-year-old repair shop owner who also manages a highly-diversified 1,500-acre farm, the venture is another stubborn move to self-sufficiency. “If you don’t take any initiative to improve your lot in life or affect the outcome, then you really don’t deserve the rewards,” Tiffany says.
With the help of AURI’s Al Doering at the Waseca pilot plant, Tiffany spent months pelletizing feed formulations for testing on wild deer. In the meantime, he learned his treats are palatable to wild turkey and possibly bear.
Now that he has a demonstrated product, the real hunt is about to begin — capturing a market niche. Tiffany doesn’t want to approach retailers empty-handed. So before engaging in a full-scale marketing study, he’s gearing up to bag and label packages of his trademarked Trophy Treats and Nature Treats for a retail show and tell.
“I know some people who will research things to death and never go with it. I’m on the other side — I’ll just try it and see what happens.”
No mental pictures
“I want something I can put in (retailers’) hands so I’m not having to make promises or draw mental pictures,” Tiffany says. “I want to make sure I can deliver on my word, first of all. The most important thing is that your buyers can trust that what they think they’re buying is what they buy.”
To make test packages, Tiffany has set up an on-farm processing plant on a slim budget. “I don’t want to incur a huge debt to make this thing work. … I’ve learned some lessons in farming.”
That’s where the old granary comes in handy. Tiffany’s torn out interior walls, wired, and added a blender, scale and ingredient bin. He designed some of his own equipment, including the bagger, and scrounged for used equipment. “Come to think of it, I haven’t bought anything new,” Tiffany says. “I don’t know if that is exactly the way to go, but I want my investments to pay off fast.”
Bagging wildlife treats sounds simple but requires many problem-solving steps — size, seal, shelf-life, nutritional label, logo design, price — to get to the final package. “I want the product to be seen, so that limits the kind of bag I can use,” Tiffany says. His clear plastic bag requires a clear heat seal, adding cost. Trophy TreatsTM will be packaged in 10- and 40- pound bags and Nature TreatsTM in two and five-pound bags.
Tiffany reduced his product’s moisture content enough to ensure at least nine months’ shelf life. “One of the ingredients has natural antioxidants and preserving qualities,” so he doesn’t have to use artificial preservatives that wildlife might detect. “Wildlife have the ability to smell and taste things we can’t. We don’t want to have any mold or off-odors or things that might deter them.”
Pretty packages for people
While he’s confident the treats will be palatable to deer, turkeys and bear, it’s humans he must attract with the package. For label design, the do-it-yourselfer took in an outsider — a professional graphics designer. “I recognize where my strengths and weaknesses are,” Tiffany says, although “I might think my weaknesses are my strengths and muddle into it anyway.”
Tiffany and his wife Ann “have had debates on what we want on the label. I want the label to tell the story — yet I’ve been told you’ve got one or two seconds to form an opinion.” He settled on a cleaned-up version of a collage of images he put together — a deer, a turkey, a farm setting.
“Our major debate is how bright to make the colors,” particularly whether to use a yellow-green or forest green with red lettering. “One thought is it’s got to be bright enough to catch someone’s eye — another opinion is you can’t make it gaudy. … But if you open the kitchen cupboard, some of the most recognizable brand names have the worst color combinations.”
Some label information is required, such as net weight, usage instructions and ingredients. Since the product is a treat rather than a complete feed, only a limited list of nutritional qualities is necessary. Labeling requirements vary by state and country, however, so Tiffany has to ensure he complies in his target market region, including Canada.
The final issue to settle before test marketing is price — tricky because Tiffany’s production costs are tentative. He doesn’t want to invest in a large inventory before assuring a market, “but buying small quantities of bags and labels gets expensive — the per unit price is outrageous. It makes it difficult to estimate what the retail price should be.”
Tiffany expects many marketing questions to be answered once he’s in the sporting goods retailer’s door. “We’re going to smaller, independent retailers — the ones with entrepreneurial spirit — because I think they will help us and offer advice. If I find that retailers are saying no, I’m willing to change. If we strike out with one, we’ll learn something — if you strike out with the big guys you’re out.”
“I enjoy the sales process. You go in and find out what you can help them with — and that in turn will help you,” Tiffany says. “I find it exciting because to me, each and every one is a challenge — and I thrive on challenge.”
Time, on the other hand, is his biggest frustration. “When you’re asking other people to send supplies, samples and do some of the work for you, it just takes longer than you think it should. Everybody has prioritized their time.”
“You get weekends and holidays and before you know it another month flies by,” Tiffany says. “You can’t give up your day job, so I know come spring planting season that allocating my time and making it all happen is going to be difficult. I also have the repair business; I’ve said ‘no’ to some things, but I pretty much keep doing what I’ve done and sandwich this in.”
“We want to grow this business but I don’t know how big. I don’t have any expectations on volume. I don’t think all the big guys envisioned where they’d be, and some who thought they’d take the world over found out differently.”
Tiffany is focusing on his new business venture day by day. “The first major success is going to be the first order we get, and after that, how much success we have, I don’t know — that’s not in my thought process right now.”