March 9, 2012
In 2007, recent highschool graduate Ian Lamont was searching for a way to fund his collegiate education. When his parents suggested he start his own business as a way to raise funds while simultaneously learning about business, Ian dug into his family’s recipe box and did just that.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you started this company right out of highschool, right? Why?
Yes, I did! I was educated at home through highschool and graduated in 2007. I had been interested in both law and business for some time, but by that point, I had decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough money to pay for a bachelor’s degree, much less for law school. Going $100,000 into debt just didn’t seem prudent, and I did not want to pursue state or federal grants for ideological reasons. So, it was up to me to raise the funds. My parents suggested that I start a business; that way I could raise funds and at the same time develop my entrepreneurial bent.
Have you always thought you’d like to start a food company or was this just a way for you to make money to help with expenses?
Actually, I considered my immediate lack of funding to be an opportunity to develop both of my longtime areas of interest. From talking to people involved in many different lines of work, I had come to the conclusion that good business skills were an asset for any profession. Therefore, rather than just a means to an end, my business has been a major component of my education. The business has been my real-world learning laboratory, so to speak, while simultaneously studying for exams to earn credit toward my degree.
Well, since this was going to be a learning process as much a money-making endeavor, we (my parents and I) decided that the business should be based on something already within my skill set. That way, I could focus on the business side of things and not spend time and energy on acquiring training in something else. Fudge sauce has been an institution in my family for well over fifty years. It started with my dad’s mother, ‘Nana’, giving away fudge sauce every year at Christmastime. My mother continued the tradition, with us children ‘helping’ her from an early age. It was fun, and very comical, to see just how fanatical some of our recipients were about their annual allotment of fudge sauce. Some of Dad’s co-workers tried to bribe him for the recipe. Wives would hide the jar of sauce from their husbands…that kind of thing. So, as well as being a product I already know how to make, the fudge sauce had the added benefit of preexistent ‘market testing’ – I didn’t need any focus groups to tell me that this was a product people would buy!
Give us a little background on the name, Slickepott, where does that come from?
That entails some family history. Nana came from Sweden when she was six-months old. Her parents were in such a hurry to become ‘Americanized’ that they intentionally lost the language, so Nana never really spoke Swedish. Slickepott is the only Swedish word I ever heard used in our family on a regular basis. It was originally a child’s word for the index finger, and later came to refer to a rubber spatula. I learned slickepott as a verb; to slickepott was to lick the bowl or beaters when you were making something yummy. The fudge sauce was one of my favorite things to slickepott, so it was a natural fit for the brand name! Incidentally, Slickepott is pronounced slick-uh-put.
Was your grandmother the one who taught you how to make fudge sauce?
No, actually, it was my mother (who is a fabulous cook!).
What makes Slickepott fudge sauce stand out from competitors?
Here are the facts: I only made very slight changes to the original recipe, so this is truly an old-fashioned product. Every batch is cooked slowly on the stove-top and stirred by me.
Corn syrup, preservatives and artificial anything are all anathema in my book.
The real significance of those facts, however, is not revealed until Slickepott enters the mouth. Just a few of the adjectives people use to describe it are “smooth”, “clean”, “buttery”, and “heavenly”. Considering that the majority of my customers confess to eating the fudge out of the jar with a spoon, I think our slogan is pretty accurate: “Velvety smooth chocolate bliss..”
You sell wholesale to a number of stores in the New England region – was selling wholesale part of your initial business strategy?
It was. Even though, initially, I had no idea what that meant. The wholesale game is still something I am learning as I go.
How do you approach these stores? Do you approach them directly? Do you attend tradeshows? Do you work with a distributor or sales representatives?
I have approached some of the stores myself, but others were asked to carry Slickepott by their customers. For many reasons, but mainly because I am the sole producer and have worried about demand exceeding supply, I have not used reps or tradeshows….yet. Some of my mentors have recently been encouraging me to explore those avenues more aggressively, so I am beginning the necessary research.
Initially you also took your company to area farmers’ markets, festivals, and culinary events. Are you planning to do this in 2012? Why or why not?
Yes, I will be. I would say that farmers’ markets and festivals are, I think, the single best way to learn how this business works, both in the early stages and even beyond. Direct contact with the customers has allowed me to see exactly what they like and don’t like, and get a sense of which sales pitches work and which don’t. Personal interaction has also allowed me to develop relationships and build a loyal customer base much more quickly than is possible online or in a retail setting. Food is meant to be shared with other people! We enjoy it more when we are with our family and friends; and meeting the people who prepared it makes it that much more special. You could almost say food was the original ‘social network’! That’s why I don’t think I will ever stop going to these markets and festivals where you can meet and enjoy the people who love your product.
As a younger entrepreneur, do you think you faced any challenges that someone who is older may not have faced when starting an artisan food business? For example, was it harder to get people to take you seriously?
In some ways, being young was an advantage. The novelty of a young person owning a business was intriguing to most people, so I they encouraged me. I never had to worry about whether people would take me seriously; I just relied on my product to speak for itself! Of course, there were some little things that I had to overcome as a teenager in business. I couldn’t get a credit card without a credit history, so I just had to be super careful about how I spent my cash. And I would imagine it must have looked pretty funny having this kid show up to sell at wine festivals before he could legally drink… but no one ever gave me trouble.
Since you were learning about business ‘on-the-job’ so to speak, where there any challenges you faced that caught you by surprise?
Having absolutely zero experience with bringing a product to market or building a brand, I suppose you could say just about everything caught me by surprise. The whole thing was uncharted territory. I’ve compared the process to trying to strangle an octopus; especially because I am basically doing this solo, with help here and there from family and friends. What shouldn’t have surprised me, but did only because I kind of lost perspective for a time, was that business successes don’t necessarily come as quickly or dramatically as it might appear from a cursory reading of Inc. Magazine. Success generally comes after a series of failures, and/or after a great deal of time or hard work.
One challenge has been trying to maintain the balance between growth and, as I perceive it, the integrity of my product. For example – a number of people have told me that, in order to grow more quickly, I’m going to have to outsource production. I may discover that is what I have to do, but, for now, the idea of breaking that very close connection with my product goes completely against my gut and I am willing to let the business grow more slowly if necessary.
What do you think the future holds for your company?
That’s a great question. There are several opportunities I am looking at right now. Most notable over the past year, is that I have spent many hours in the kitchen developing a caramel sauce. It will be released later in 2012, and I am very excited about that. I don’t think I have ever delved quite so deeply into honing specific flavors and textures as I have with this project. The Slickepott version of caramel sauce is going to reflect the current appreciation for salted caramels, but doesn’t stop there. I focused on creating a caramel sauce that I would want to eat from the jar – and I think I have achieved a really big flavor. The only disconcerting thing so far is that some of my biggest fudge fans, who have tasted the caramel, are saying they like it even more than the chocolate! But I guess that is not a bad problem to have…
The good news is that if you’d like to try Slickepott all-natural fudge sauce for yourself (which my husband, who ate it directly from the jar, highly recommends), it is available for purchase online or through these retail partners.