Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Carol Wellins, CEO of Flavor Fanatics, located in Richmond, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Flavor Fanatics is a demo company. We conduct tastings in grocery stores and at events. We are fortunate to represent a wide variety of products, ranging from those steeped in culture and history to new vendors breaking out with new innovative products. Our mission is to share those products, their stories, and the love of great food to win new customers and create great customer experiences. Technically, our customers are the producers, vendors, or marketing companies for various food products who hire us. In a larger sense, everyone we interact with in the food chain, so to speak, is our customers: from the producers, distributors, store buyers, store team members, and our team members to the customers we engage with. It truly takes a village to realize a successful demo. When we do our job right, we leave behind store staff and customers who, in effect, become brand ambassadors themselves.
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a restaurant family in Southampton, New York. I did everything there, from cooking to cleaning to waiting tables. I had a small catering business and also worked in many fine dining restaurants in San Francisco. In 1999, I became a headhunter/IT recruiting consultant for a change of pace. It was very exciting to learn about a new world. At that time, everybody was looking for IT professionals to address Y2K issues. While it was very exciting, it wasn't for me in the long run since I think about food all day. I thought it would be great to have work where I could learn more about food and cooking and then talk about food all day! I became a Brand Ambassador at Andronico's in Berkeley as their in-house tastemaker, as it was called at the time.
When the recession happened, the program was canceled. Since I really enjoyed it, I reached out to the vendors whose products I promoted Andronico's and convinced enough of them that they needed someone like me out in other stores as well to get some business going. Before too long, it was more than I could handle, and I started bringing on other brand ambassadors. Julia Child said, "People who love to eat are always the best people." She is right! My connections to all the people involved In the food business are a key motivating factor for me. In the course of my day, I will learn unexpected interesting things from vendors, retailers, and even my brand ambassadors. I also love learning about new products, their people, history, and culture. Having a small part in the success of a product is very gratifying, and to use maybe an overused phrase brings me joy. Lastly, this can be true of almost any work one does but is especially true when it involves sharing food. We have the opportunity to brighten up many people's day by offering them something new to taste, a little backstory, and a smile. This is a gift for which I am truly grateful.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
It is difficult to say what my biggest accomplishment is. Scaling a one-woman show to a business is very rewarding. I could not have done any of that without the help of my partner/husband, Gregory Yankelovich, the Demo Wizard, who migrated me off of Google Calendaring and Excel spreadsheets to a streamlined, largely automated system to manage my business.
Having loyal customers for over a decade that put their trust In Flavor Fanatics to represent them is an honor that we must continue to earn with each demo. I may be most proud of learning how to lead a team, earning their loyalty and friendship. I came up in the old days where chefs and bosses were pretty merciless in their "management techniques." I do my best to treat everybody with respect and dignity.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Perhaps the hardest aspect of being a demo company business owner is navigating all of the variables involved, as I am where the buck stops. Preparation is key, yet sometimes improvisation is even more important. This is something that comes with experience and perseverance.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- My top ice-breaking tip for anyone is: to see no ice. Business is about connections. Making them as easier when you see no ice. See a bridge instead.
- If you're in sales or business development, don't sit around waiting for people to call you back. You have to be a hunter.
- Treat others the way you would like to be treated, even if they don't deserve it yet.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
The past two years have been very difficult for many small businesses. Congratulations to all of you who made it, pivoted, or reinvented themselves.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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