October 19, 2012

Entrepreneur Spotlight – The Right Slice

The Right Slice PiesRight about now with the Fall weather rapidly chasing away Summer, you may find yourself dreaming of sun-drenched Hawaii.  It may not yet be possible to bottle sunshine but some would argue that The Right Slice pies are the next best thing.  And that is something you can have delivered directly to your front door!

Sandy Poehnelt, a Wisconsin native, was drawn to the Hawaiian Islands when she realized that a career as a chef was not in the cards for her.  “I hated working the line,” this culinary graduate says, “I hated the stress.”  So she opted to move to Kauai and figured that if she could find a job within six weeks she’d consider staying.  Though she hadn’t loved working in restaurants, Sandy fell back on her culinary experience and got a job at a little cafe working the lunch shift.  When she added an apple pie to the menu and customers clamoured for more she started experimenting with the local fruits available on the islands.

Finding Kitchen Space

When Sandy initially decided to strike out on her own with her island-inspired pies she worked for a short while out of the cafe kitchen but it quickly became obvious that that situation was not ideal.  “I ended up sharing another kitchen space,” Sandy explains of the kitchen she operated out of for nearly two years, “they were kind enough to let me come in and use their space when they weren’t working.”

This space made it possible for Sandy to sell her pies at local farmers’ markets and art festivals which got her pies out in front of a broader audience.  With unique flavor combinations like Mango Passionfruit and Chocolate Coconut Macaroon, her sales exploded and within the first six months of business she had to hire her first employee.

“It got to the point where we were doing six different community events a week with 2 employees and then trying to bake in between,” Sandy remembers.  “Trying to fit everything in and trying to work around the shared kitchen schedule was becoming harder and harder.  I felt we were getting to the point where we needed to find our own space so I started looking.”

Sandy was looking for a space that could house her kitchen but that also had a small storefront.  She spent months checking out commercial real estate but couldn’t find anything that would work and, as she says, she had more or less given up hope.  Finally she stumbled upon a great space that met her criteria but she had to do some sleuthing to figure out who owned it.  When she finally tracked the owners down they led her along for a few weeks before telling her that they’d sold the building to another party.  Thankfully this time the new owner was interested in renting out the space and thought that Sandy’s pie business would be the perfect fit for the space.

The shop is located in Puhi – we’re in the back of an industrial center,” Sandy says with a laugh.  “You’d never normally come across us.  You have to find the pie!”

Get Your Mango Passionfruit Fix Direct To Your Door

Sandy never necessarily planned to ship her pies but she continually got questions from customers as to whether she could ship to their homes on the mainland and from Hawaiians wanting to ship her pies as gifts to friends and family.  “How are we going to ship a pie?” Sandy wondered, so she went to her local UPS store to see if they could help.  “The nice thing about UPS stores is that they’re locally owned and the owner and manager worked with me to figure out how we might be able to ship them.”

One thing Sandy did was order food from other companies to see what type of packaging products they used.  “I went to the UPS store and showed them the packaging I’d gotten in and they made it work.”  Shipping a pie is certainly no easy task so when a small story in the UPS intercompany publication caught the attention of higher-ups in UPS they contacted her about doing an advertising campaign focusing on how UPS not only assists small businesses but how UPS stores are small businesses themselves since they’re independently owned.  UPS sent out a crew out to The Right Slice and they ended up doing a photo shoot for Martha Stewart and Entrepreneur magazines.  UPS also used Sandy’s story in some of their online advertising, print advertising, and even a short video (definitely worth watching!).

The Right Slice PieFocusing On The Local Market

While it is possible to have the pies shipped around the country, Sandy’s main focus is on her local market.  “We don’t really do advertising to visitors,” she says.  “Almost all of our marketing has been word-of-mouth and from Day 1 that’s what I’ve depended on.  I feel really strongly that with food especially that word-of-mouth is critical.  We do some radio advertising now but that’s mostly focused on the locals.  To be successful here you have to be successful with the locals or you won’t survive.”

Her nod, so to speak, to the thousands of tourists who visit Kauai each year, is her presence on travel-centric sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp.  Her fanatic fans on those sites rate her pies so highly that tourists literally seek her out when they get to the island.  In fact, Sandy does have a travel box that allows customers to grab a pie or two on their way to the airport and take it on the plane with them.  “You’ll be able to get through security – no worries there” she says, though she doesn’t promise the pies will make it back to the mainland without someone dipping into them!

If you’re headed to Kauai in the near future you can pick up The Right Slice pies at various farmers’ markets on the island or drop by on your way to or from the airport to their storefront in Puhi.  If you, like me, will sadly not be heading to Kauai this winter you can still taste a little Hawaiian sunshine by ordering pies for shipment.  You’ll never be so happy to see that UPS driver!

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