Apple’s iOS 14 privacy change has upended advertising on Facebook. Merchants accustomed to stellar ROI must now accept modest or less-than-modest performance.
But not Lea Richards. She’s the founder of Pig of the Month, an Ohio-based direct-to-consumer seller of barbeque. She told me, “With post-iOS 14 ads not working, we’re getting back into direct mail. We’ve found good results, up to 6-times return.”
Richards launched Pig of the Month in 2010. The company has grown. She has greatly expanded its product line and now provides logistics services for other sellers.
She and I recently discussed her journey. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Bandholz: Tell us about Pig of the Month.
Lea Richards: We do direct-to-consumer barbeque, shipped straight to your door.
We started with ribs. Now we do brisket, pulled pork, and corned beef. We have 50 flavors of bacon and bacon jam. We also source organic free-range meat — strip steaks, fillets, pork tenderloins, all kinds of stuff.
My background is in finance, which I hated. I was looking for a new opportunity. I had moved back to my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. It was 2010. My dad has always been a rib lover. For Father’s Day, I ordered ribs via the internet from a place in Memphis.
The order came, and it was just okay. Not many people were shipping food on the internet yet. It was mostly the big guys — Omaha Steaks, Harry & David. My dad told me, “I think there’s an opportunity here.”
I didn’t have a better idea. So I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a go.”
I had no idea what I was getting into when I started over a decade ago. I wouldn’t start this business now. It’s costly and time-intensive.
Plus there are lots of government regulations. They change all the time. It sucks.
Bandholz: Do you ship in frozen containers?
Richards: We use Styrofoam, which has sustainability issues. So we’re trying to get away from it. But we still use dry ice to keep the contents at a safe temperature.
Bandholz: What’s your supply chain?
Richards: We custom-fabricated a giant smoker with a rotisserie that grills and smokes simultaneously. We do everything here in our warehouse, and then we ship it from the back dock.
We try not to store our meat for more than 30 days. The freezer space becomes an issue. Freezers are expensive to run. We keep about two weeks of stock.
Sustainability, sourcing, and quality are important to us. At first, I required everything to be organic, free-range, and humanely raised. I went to the farms where we were sourcing to see their practices. I asked them, “Are you treating the animals well? Do they have clean food, clean water, and space to walk?”
I’ve always believed in quality food over quantity.
Bandholz: How does that scale?
Richards: It’s hard. We’ve had to add farmers because many of them aren’t looking to expand. We max out their supply. We’re trying to avoid turning to large-scale providers. Luckily, quite a few farmers are interested in the sustainably raised meat business.
Bandholz: How do you grow your audience?
Richards: We got lucky at first. I didn’t have any money. I banked on getting good press. We managed to appear on Good Morning America, the Today show, and Rachael Ray. It was a bunch of big press right away.
I saved those email addresses. I was big on email marketing from the start. That’s always been our main driver. SMS is a big piece now. With post-iOS 14 ads not working, we’re getting back into direct mail.
We’ve found good results with direct mail, up to 6-times return. We’re using it mainly for acquisition, working with joint venture partners, cross-promoting to each other’s customer lists. We use a direct mail service that automates the material sending process. Our partners are companies that offer complementary products, such as grilling and patio supplies and cigar and wine companies. They have the same target customer but do not compete with us.
We’ve tested a postcard, a tri-fold, and a small booklet. Segmentation is key. It’s trial and error and constant iterations. We do many small tests — 500 to 1,000 people. We don’t do any large mailings until we’ve gotten to a specific rate of return from one of the tests.
The cost ranges from 35 to 65 cents each, including postage and depending on the weight.
The segmentation strategy is primarily by ZIP code. We’ve occasionally targeted prospects by the region because grilling season varies based on weather. Holidays are big for us. The four to six weeks before Christmas are big, as are Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, and Father’s Day.
Bandholz: What are the calls-to-action on those mailers?
Richards: Free items with a purchase have been successful. We’ve done free bottles of sauce, free bacon caramels, and free bacon jam with any purchase over $25. Percentage-off promotions have been a complete flop. People are bombarded with those offers. Dollar amounts usually do well, such as $20 off the first order or store credit.
Bandholz: Have you considered helping other merchants ship perishable goods?
Richards: Yes. We’ll do both — sell to our customers and help other merchants. Interestingly, shipping for others happened organically. A customer did a bacon-of-the-month club. He didn’t make his own products and asked us if we could private label and ship for them. It grew. Now we ship a bunch of their products. That led to more businesses coming to us by word of mouth.
It wasn’t something I planned, but there are huge opportunities in logistics, warehousing, and shipping. Folks who want to start a business should consider logistics.
Bandholz: Where can people find you, support you, buy some meat?