Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Caitlin & Ian Ackermann, owners of Ackermann Maple Farm, located in Cabot, VT, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We make wood-fired maple syrup on our land in Cabot, Vermont, and sell it to people all over the world! We make maple syrup in Vermont in the spring, sell it at farmers’ markets in the Boston area in the summer, and go to Florida and sell it at markets in the winter. It’s the perfect combination of places to be. Thankfully our product is truly loved by almost everyone. Our most popular demographic is probably the middle-aged couple with teenage kids. They’ve gotten to the point where they can afford good maple syrup and want to give their kids something healthy as a sweetener.
Tell us about yourself
When we started working together full-time seven years ago, we knew we wanted to work off the land, and we knew we wanted to travel. How could we combine the two? Ian grew up on a dairy farm, and we knew that wasn’t the way to live all of our dreams. That’s where maple syrup came in. Ian’s first job was working for his neighbor who made maple syrup, and that’s where he learned most of what he knew about syrup. When some land came up for sale down the road from where we grew up, he jumped on it. Sugaring season only lasts about two months, so we’re able to make syrup in the spring for the entire year, and after bottling all summer, we then head south for the winter and escape the snow for a couple of months.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Our biggest accomplishment has been growing to where we’ve gotten in such a short amount of time. We bought the first piece of land in 2012 at 20 and 24 years old, and in 10 years have gone from tapping 3,000 wildly growing maple trees to now tapping 18,000 trees and owning 148 acres. We also really like the way our year is set up. There’s always something to look forward to! I’m motivated by not having a boss. I like setting my day up the way I want, bringing our kids to story hour on a Tuesday, and taking off the afternoon to weed the garden if I want. That’s what life is all about!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest part is how heavily we rely on the weather and how much it’s changing right now. We have a product that needs a specific climate to survive. We worry that we’re putting all this effort into passing the business down to our kids just to have it be too hot in 50 years to make maple syrup. It’s scary. We need wet summers, some snow but not too much, freezing nights, and thawing days in the spring. Without those things, the sap doesn’t flow from the trees, and the sugar content is too low to make enough maple syrup to pay our bills.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- If the numbers work, do it! Make a business plan and figure everything out before you jump in.
- Have a place to keep track of invoices. It's really easy to lose out on money if you're not organized and paying attention to who owes you what.
- No matter how expensive, always keep extra parts around, especially if they’re crucial to your business running. We have everything from spare sap pumps to sugar mixers to sap hauling trucks. You never know when something might break!
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
It takes a lot of guts and hard work to own a business and work for yourself. It’s 100% worth it, though. There may be things I do in a day that I don’t particularly like, but I haven’t dreaded a day in 7 years.
Where can people find you and your business?
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