Now that I had a pie bakery willing to jump into The Amish Cook business with me, they started creating pies and I started learning the ins and outs of the grocery business. I brought the bakery Elizabeth’s butterscotch pie, oatmeal pie, Dutch apple, cherry, and peach pie recipes for them to attempt to replicate on a larger scale. They successfully matched the taste and flavor that I was looking for , it tasted pretty darn close to a pie The Amish Cook would make herself!
This pie company had been in business since 1930 and were a well-known family-owned enterprise in Dayton. They had one retail store and did put their pies in some grocery stores around town. But not many. I soon found out why.
“Well, grocery stores like a `guaranteed sale’,” said the balding, portly, aging owner with a grizzled gray 5-day shadow. I thought to myself that it looked like he had been there since 1930.
“Yea, who doesn’t?” I said sarcastically.
The owner stared at me like I was from another planet.
“What does that mean?” I finally asked.
“Means that you have to buy back whatever doesn’t sell…it is called `buying back the stales.’.”
“Oh…” I replied.
“Yea, that is why we don’t do a lot of grocery business.”
I contemplated his words. So if a grocery store ordered 10 pies and only 7 sold, I’d have to reimburse them for the 3 that didn’t.
“Well, The Amish Cook pies will sell so well there will be no pies to buy back!” I declared with the confidence of a 23-year-old who had no clue what he was doing.
“That’s the spirit,” The old owner said.
“Now let me meet with your marketing staff and we’ll put together a plan,” I said, eager to begin.
The owner looked puzzled.
“Marketing staff?” he held his belly and let out a hearty laugh.
“You’re talking to the marketing staff, although you can talk to my son-in-law, he’s a bit more hip,” he offered.
“Um…okay, maybe I’ll just handle the marketing,” I said. And I threw myself into selling the pies, cold calling IGA owners and cajoling neighborhood market managers. I generally steered clear of the big chains, I knew I wouldn’t be able to crack them – yet.
I was excited when I got my first couple of IGA stores to sign on to carrying The Amish Cook pies.
“Okay, I have new accounts,” I told the bakery owner. “ now let’s talk about your distribution network.”
He stared out into his parking lot a couple of rusting vans.
And so began my journey into the grocery business. Those aging behemoths wouldn’t do. The pies had a shelf-life of one week. I would rent my own van each Thursday and drive the pies to each grocery store myself. Any stales, I would buy back. All the pie company had to do was make the pies for me. I even labeled the pies myself. I designed a simple horse and buggy logo with the tagline “A Simpler Taste.” I think there are still some old labels in my parents basement someplace.
I continued to call IGA stores and Super Valu independents, eventually amassing close to 25 stores that were carrying Amish Cook pies. One of the few good things about the grocery business is that they paid on the spot. In the book business it can be years – yes, years – before an author seems a dime. In the grocery business I brought a pie invoice to the manager and he paid on the spot. By the end of the day my pockets were bulging with cash. It was time to add some other Amish Cook products to the mix.