Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everybody, today we’re interviewing Therese. We’re gonna be talking about her business. As you all have known for the past few months, we have been interviewing different business women with unique businesses, and Therese fit the bill. A friend of mine nominated her, and she’s agreed to be on our podcast. So Therese, tell us about you, where you’re located, and just a snippet about your work.
Therese: Well, thank you! I’m excited to be on! My name is Therese, I own a business called Tricky Foods, which is a charcuterie board business, grazing table, charcuterie workshop, the whole thing in Madison, Wisconsin.
Julia: Awesome! It begs the question, how did you even get into this? Tell me more.
Therese: So I always take the story back in 2018, so that’s when I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. So I didn’t go to Madison, I was in Whitewater. I moved to Madison to work at a place called Epic, which is a medical software charting company. If you’re from this area, you know!
Julia: You just know about Epic!
Therese: Yeah. And for those who don’t, it’s like a good time for a short time. You’ll love it! It’s like for every year you’re there, it feels like three years. It’s just a lot of work, and it was my whole life. So after about two years, I was like, wow, I hate my life. I’m traveling all the time, I’m literally crying on the way to work, I have no balance in my life. So I decided to put in a six-week notice, which is you have to put at least a month’s notice at this place, so me going above and beyond and put in a six-week notice or whatever. So four weeks after that, the pandemic happened. I’m like, oh crap. Three weeks after that, we were joking about Corona. We’re like, “Corona and Lyme virus.” It was that early, and then by week four, I had two weeks left. We were all working from home. So I said goodbye to all my coworkers over zoom.
Julia: Oh, that’s so sad.
Therese: Yeah, it was sad. And I was basically living alone at that time too. It’s a longer story, but my roommates, one decided to move out when the pandemic happened, and the other wasn’t really there. So I’m now going into unemployment because the jobs that I had been applying for were all on hold, they were all on freeze, nothing was happening. And then I entered the pandemic without any idea what I was gonna do next. My original plan was to just have fun, travel, whatever, and get my life back. That was my thought.
So then with all that time, I’m like, “Crap, we’re gonna die. I’ve done nothing that I love. I need to act now. What am I gonna do?” So this is also when everyone was on Instagram like crazy because we’re all sitting at home scrolling our phones. So I just took a little course on how to use your Instagram to start a business, and then I started to see the charcuterie board trend in other states. So I reached out to people in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, anywhere that wasn’t here. There wasn’t anyone in this area. There was one other girl in the state that I found that was a couple hours away, and so we all kind of formed a little friend community online. And I was like, “Oh, this looks so easy. I bet it can make so much money”, was my thought.
Let me take a step back though. So food is my deepest passion, so I wasn’t just trying to pull a business out of my butt. It was like, I was at home all the time and I was cooking for myself, of course, and styling my food, because it’s like, well, what else are you gonna do on a day where you have nothing else on your list? So I had styled one cheese board, and then I was like, oh, I should start a business! But I had had my Tricky Foods Instagram account for five years at this point because I was already documenting food that I was making. It was healthy food that I was making super pretty, so I could enjoy it more, because it wasn’t as tasty. It wasn’t butter and cheese, it was paleo. So I was like, okay, I’m gonna start taking pictures of charcuterie boards and I’m gonna start selling them. Like, why not? So I did have a name, I’m like, Tricky Foods Perks, my friends were like, “Oh, that sounds like icky foods or sticky foods.” Whatever, it’s no big deal guys.
So then I bought $500 worth of just cardboard boxes, little bamboo bowls, and I started making charcuterie boards. So I just made a giant board, I took a picture of it, broke it down to make a smaller board, took a picture of it, broke that down to make a smaller one. So I used all the same ingredients to make my first four boards, and then I just gave it all to my downstairs neighbor, because again, I’m not having any gatherings at this point. And so I just posted that I’m selling charcuterie boards. So my first 10, 15, 30, 50 clients were friends or friends of friends, all just amping me up, posting on social media. We were trying to create this like, you have to get a piece of this, vibe! And then it started.
It was kind of a wave from there. It wasn’t a big wave all at once, but a steady wave where I thought this thing could have some traction. And so that was in June 2020 that I sold my first board, and since then, we’ve sold thousands. I don’t count anymore just because once I got to a thousand, now we have some people placing bulk orders of over 100, so it’s like, I don’t need to count anymore. But it’s not just me anymore, it’s me and four really super part-time employees. And then we’ve also expanded our product line because since the pandemic, the things people want are different. So we have bigger sizes. We’ve gone from just selling boards to catering, giant tables, and then not just virtual classes, but in person. So that is how the business stands today. That’s what we’re doing, and that’s how I got into it.
Julia: Wow! That’s amazing! I mean, really, you left a job and started a business during one of the hardest years on record. So, good for you!
Therese: This is a business that if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have done it. I enjoyed corporate, I just didn’t like that specific job. I planned to have fun, travel, and then get back to corporate life. I was gonna move back to Milwaukee, and then by the time my business had legs, we were just getting things open again, and it was like, I’m not gonna leave this. Now it’s too good here. So I would’ve just gotten back into my busy life, and that stillness got me thinking about what I really want in life, and just building confidence to do that.
Julia: And I feel like first of all, you’re right, people were bored, so it was the perfect time in that regard to start doing Instagram styling for charcuterie. Also, you are in a state that loves its cheese.
Therese: Preach! Amen!
Julia: And a city that loves a charcuterie board.
Therese: That’s one of the best parts, because this trend took off all around the country, a lot of people started this business. But my edge is like, I’m in Wisconsin, Wisconsin based businesses. Eventually I’d like to only use Wisconsin cheeses. And so it’s like, it makes sense just like cheese curds at Culver’s makes sense. Actually, I don’t know if all your viewers are from Wisconsin, so I don’t know.
Julia: They’re not, but it’s okay, because I love Culver’s, and if you don’t know that they have cheese curds in Culver’s, then you need to get a life. So tell me, what is it that you love about doing this?
Therese: There’s a lot of different things. At the beginning, it was a creative expression for me. But now that I’ve scaled it and everything is super specific, it’s not as creative as it is managing the business, managing working with other people, managing bigger contracts, clients. It’s more the business management. But I actually, believe it or not, enjoy the business part more than the actual being in the kitchen part at this point, just because they’re completely different skills. But I prefer the business part.
Julia: Well, it makes sense though because you also enjoyed corporate. So there are some transferable things there, that if you enjoyed that kind of work, working on the business is also gonna be up your alley.
Therese: And it’s interesting because they’re completely different skills. I recently read a book this past summer that was just like, you are not your business, and for your business to grow, you can’t be in it every day. But I guess when I think about why I continue to do it, any day I’m having a bad day, and let me tell you, when things get really, really busy, it feels like I’m back in Epic again where I’m working 16 hour days, I’m exhausted because now there’s that physical component of being in the kitchen on your feet all day. But for me, it’s the complete flexibility where unless it’s an event that starts at a certain time, well then it’s stressful, because rain or snow, for example, this wedding still has to happen.
But on my days where it’s not that intense – I’m year three into the business, so every day isn’t that intense – It’s like, I think I’m just gonna go to Florida in a couple of days. I can do this work from home. Or being able to take, my goal is eight weeks of vacation a year, which is like, you can’t get that in corporate. And of course, my phone, I’m able to do business at any time. Even when I was stretching today with yoga at home, I’m looking at emails – call that bad or good – but my business and personal life are all kind of intertwined, which gives me complete flexibility to have a day off if say my sister has a child, which she did a couple weeks ago.
Therese: And it’s just so fun to be able to be there for those moments. I mean, when I was at corporate, if something happened – and there were things that happened while I was there – it was like the stress of trying to get someone to cover you while you’re out in that environment was hard.
Julia: Especially that environment. So if you know, you know. So I’d be curious, obviously we talk about business on this podcast, we also talk about marketing. To me, hearing the beginning of your story, it sounds like a lot of your initial marketing was very grassroots, like friends, helping, friends of friends. What are some things that you have found that have worked for you?
Therese: I would say from a marketing perspective, this business is still really grassroots. So I’m still using Instagram, which is very complicated if you’re not on it constantly. So my time on Instagram is half of what it used to be, and you can tell because the algorithm doesn’t pick you up as much, you’re not getting as many followers. It’s a little bit more difficult. I’ve done a couple paid ads on Instagram. For me, because this is a super local business, it’s kind of connecting with the other local businesses and doing giveaways or just like being in the same places, or being at those events where people are tagging you. It’s a lot of word of mouth. And that’s all I’ve done. I haven’t really spent any ad dollars anywhere else, but I would like to. I would like to in the future, but I think the biggest thing is I don’t think the business has the infrastructure where it’s like, if I’m getting huge, huge, huge orders all the time, I don’t really have what it takes to always keep up.
So I’m really focusing on building the business and getting a storefront so that we can take that type of demand, and then marketing is more of a forefront. But a lot of our customers are repeat, and a lot of them are corporate. So if you can just go above and beyond for those people and see them come back and back and back again, for me, that’s what I enjoy. It’s like taking care of the current customers over working to acquire new ones as hard at this point. At year three, that’s where my head’s at.
Julia: And I would imagine that even being at weddings or having corporate events, all those attendees could be customers. So you’re providing an experience for them, and so if they’re enjoying that experience when you go above and beyond, they also will become either advocates or fans who could also become customers.
Therese: Yeah, definitely. And from other marketing things we’ve done, we’ll have a newsletter every once in a while, but for me, what I’ve found is that I love sales more than I like marketing. Meaning I like to go after one big customer or take really good care of one customer, instead of marketing to thousands or hundreds of people, however many people are on your email or Instagram. I like to speak to those people groups or those corporate places that are just gonna pay me one check that is like the same as a thousand customers. And that has happened, and that is way more easy to manage. It’s the management part that I’m still trying to figure out
Julia: And how wise, Therese, that you are like, okay, yes we could do this, but we can’t actually handle the volume, so we’ve gotta figure it out. It’s almost this balancing act of like, we gotta get the infrastructure up to then have the influx of clients. Because if you can’t serve those people well because your infrastructure is lacking, then those people are gonna have a bad experience. I had a business a couple years ago where we did ads for them, and they got a ton of business, but people were so disappointed because there were almost too many people in their location that they started leaving bad reviews all the time. And so then we had a reputation problem because suddenly they were like, well, let’s keep the ads up, because we want all this money, but these people were becoming repeat customers, which is a problem in itself.
Therese: That is the scariest thing for me, that if someone comes to the business and they have a bad experience. They say, if someone has a bad experience, they tell seven people, and if they have a good experience, they might not even tell one. It’s that intense. I have gotten one or two bad reviews after three years, and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh!” It’s very difficult, but then sometimes you realize it’s their opinion, it’s not anything you did wrong. It depends on what they’re saying. If you’re thinking like, crap, did I do something or are they just not my target?
Julia: And that’s a good thing to know too. A few other quick questions, what has been the most challenging part of building your business?
Therese: Probably building a team, hiring employees. That first one is always the hardest. And then right now, like I said, we have four, but in total, we’ve had a couple others that haven’t worked out or their circumstances didn’t allow them to have this type of job. I would say that’s the hardest part. It’s managing all of the orders, and now you’re managing all the people, and it’s like, you need them. For anyone that thinks, oh, I just wanna be a solopreneur, power to you. I could not be profitable if I was in the kitchen 60 hours a week. There’s too many other things. So managing a team, I would say different work styles and personalities, I’m still figuring that out. I just hired my first employee. It will be two years. It’s a little over two years ago.
Julia: Good for you!
Therese: And it’s always gonna be like a friend of a friend, or someone that reaches out to you maybe before you even think you need an employee, but then you’ll be like, I really need employees. And sometimes you need more help than even your employees can get. And so I just have a running list of people that have offered to work in the kitchen on a one-off basis, and that’s really awesome! That is probably the hardest part for me and all my small business owner friends at this point of the business. I’m hitting other challenges that are probably bigger, but they’re temporary. I think managing a team and the people in a business will always be the trickiest part to handle from what I’ve heard.
Julia: That’s great though. I mean, I do agree with you. There are some times where you’re like, oh, crap, I needed help like five months ago, and it took me too long to actually get the help. So I’m curious, do you have people put together a charcuterie board for their interview?
Therese: No. Actually, not at all. I’ve never done that. I’ve used places like Indeed or just putting Instagram stuff out there, and the people that I’ve hired and I really have liked, actually three of the four did send me pictures, unprompted sent me pictures of their boards. They applied and then they followed up with an email. I was really impressed. And of course, they’re at the top of my list. You really don’t need to know how to make a board, you just need to know how to follow directions because it’s like a Lego set. I have it so simply written where it’s like 12 crackers, six ounces of grapes. So you don’t have to be that great, but if you do have that eye, you’re able to figure things out if we run out of an ingredient.
Julia: Wow! And there is a thing, there is an eye for a charcuterie board. I would love to say that I’m great at it, but I’m not!
Therese: It took me over 100 boards to feel like I could do it in my sleep. Like, if I would go a week without making one, I’d be like, why do I feel so rusty? But there’s a formula on what goes on the board and what color it is, and then how much of each and where it’s spread out. And that’s why I’m on Instagram and I can see, I can tell whose boards are whose if it’s from my friends.
Julia: That’s so interesting!
Theresa: Everyone has a very unique style. And it’s an art to make the board. It’s a business and a logic and a numbers thing to run it. Be different.
Julia: Yeah, for sure! So charcuterie tips that you could share with people, any? You don’t have to give away your secrets, but for those of us who love meat, and cheese, and crackers, and grapes, and all of the things, give us some tips.
Therese: Well, this could be a big rabbit hole, but I’ll try to keep it to my most simple tips that people don’t realize, is when you’re making a board, you have to think of the color wheel and you have to think of design. So if anyone’s a graphic designer or an interior designer, this is something that they would already know. But for example, if we are doing an orange, when I think about the color wheel, a color that looks good with that is blue. So maybe a blueberry or something like that. Those would look good together. But if you’re gonna have something that’s orange like an orange, you’ll wanna have something orange on the opposing side of the board, like apricots, or carrots, or something that’s the same color. So every color should have a balancing color on the other side. Nothing makes me quiver more than seeing a beautiful board, but then there’s just one pile of raspberries, and there’s no other red thing on the board. It’s such an eyesore, and you don’t even realize it. But there has to be a balance of, if there’s green olives here, there needs to be green pickles on the other side to balance it out. That’s the biggest thing that people don’t realize.
Julia: Oh, I would’ve had no idea. That’s awesome!
Therese: Well, when you’re shopping at the store, you’re like, “Oh, I love strawberries. I love this, I love that.” And then you have all these ingredients that don’t really look good together. I also teach charcuterie classes. So if anyone’s in the Madison area, check out the website. But you’ll be able to pick that up if you start looking at boards, like, oh, there’s that color balance.
Julia: For sure! I hope that that’s the only thing that’s wrong with mine.
Therese: Send me a pic, I’ll rate it!
Julia: No, I am never gonna send you a picture. Nobody should see them until it’s eaten. Therese, this is awesome! Thanks for giving us an insight into your world. If people wanna find you or find your classes, if they’re local, how can they do that?
Therese: The best place to go would be following Tricky Foods on Instagram. (https://www.instagram.com/trickyfoods/) That’s where everything’s at. We also have a Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/notsotrickyfoods/) page and a website (https://www.notsotrickyfoods.com/), but you can get to all those things through Instagram.
Julia: Awesome! Awesome! Therese, thank you! We really appreciate your time, and even your tips on charcuterie.
Therese: Yeah, thank you! It was great! I appreciate it.
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.