Many packaged food products on store shelves started as an idea in someone’s kitchen at home. There are a number of steps entrepreneurs go through to bring their products from their home kitchen to the broader market. If you’re looking to make that move, you might be wondering where to start.
Gina Hollingsworth, owner of Southern Okie, developed her first recipe for a gourmet fruit spread while she was working in the music business in Nashville, Tennessee. Her boss made sure that fresh fruit was available to employees, and she wanted to find a healthy way to make sure the fruit didn’t go to waste at the end of the week. After moving to Oklahoma, Gina enrolled as a vendor at a local holiday market for charity. She realized she had something special when she sold more than 500 jars! Her friends and family encouraged her to market her product more broadly. The result is Southern Okie, a play on Gina’s southern roots and her more recent connection to the Oklahoma community.
Gina has participated in Road Show Events at Sam’s Club stores across Oklahoma and her spreads are available in numerous stores throughout the U.S. We caught up with Gina to learn how she moved her spreads from her home kitchen to store shelves.
Find local resources
When Gina first realized that there was a demand for her spreads, she began researching how to scale her product online. She also asked owners of local stores for advice on getting food products to market. This search brought her to the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center (FAPC) at Oklahoma State University, which offers resources and training for entrepreneurs in the food and agricultural product industries. She took a basic training workshop, where she learned a wealth of information on topics like how to package and market her product and how to ensure compliance with local and national food regulations. Her experience at FAPC also exposed her to a number of additional resources available to help her start and grow her business. Gina learned about the Made in Oklahoma Program, which assists Oklahoma agribusiness companies market their products, and the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA), which provides funding for business owners to participate in trade shows.
“There’s a ton of resources available, probably right within your state,” Gina said.
Gina began participating in trade shows and craft fairs across Oklahoma and later in neighboring states to market her business. “You make a lot of friends at craft shows,” Gina said, adding that her connections with other vendors helped her identify which shows to pursue next.
It was at a craft fair in Arkansas that Gina met Rita Seckington, former Vice President of Event Planning, Showcase Events and Regional Buying at Sam’s Club. Rita bought some Southern Okie spreads and encouraged Gina to register as a supplier at Sam’s Club Road Show Events. This program allows small business owners and entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their unique and/or regionally relevant items that are outside the normal item assortment at Sam’s Club.
After going through the approval process, Gina said she now has the ability to schedule an event at any Sam’s Club location. “It’s a huge opportunity and a great support for small businesses like me looking to get their product to more people,” Gina said. To learn more about possible Road Show opportunities for your business, contact your local Sam’s Club manager for more information.
Rita recalled that first meeting in the Sam’s Club video below. “The thing that I loved about Gina was just her energy and the passion that she had for her business,” she said. “You could truly tell that she had the entrepreneur spirit.”
Get help when you need it
Like many new entrepreneurs, Gina said that she has learned how to be very efficient with her time in order to juggle all of the moving pieces involved in running her business. But she has identified areas where she can get help from others and outsource certain processes. She partnered with a co-packer to manufacture her product and she hires part-time employees during the busy season. Her husband also spends his spare time helping Gina with business operations. Finding ways to delegate allows Gina to focus on the creative aspects of her business that she loves most – marketing, product development, and coming up with new recipes that include her spreads as an ingredient.
Never give up
Gina recognizes that starting a business means embracing a certain level of uncertainty. “Sometimes you have to just take a risk and not be afraid,” she said.
Gina also maintains a positive attitude, even when that can be challenging. “There are going be some people that love the products and some people that don’t. You can’t take it personal if someone’s not a fan,” she said. “I show kindness to everyone.”
The main key to Gina’s success is her perseverance. “If it’s your passion and your dream and you feel like it’s what you’re supposed to do in life, then never give up,” she said
Through its Small Business Economic Mobility initiative, the Sam’s Club Giving Program supports Accion’s technology initiatives and business owner education activities. These efforts are designed to enhance and expand access to financing and business education among underserved entrepreneurs nationwide.