November 2, 2012

Entrepreneur Spotlight – The Jam Stand

The Jam Stand BrooklynLeave it to two 20-somethings from Brooklyn to take your grandmother’s jam and make it hip again.  With flavors like Drunken Monkey Banana Jam and Blueberry-Bourbon Jam, The Jam Stand is putting a modern spin on traditional jam and making it so that jam is not just for breakfast anymore.

Like many new food artisans, Jessica Quon and Sabrina Valle didn’t start out looking to create a food company.  Friends at the University of Florida, these two were focused on a career in marketing and both even worked in marketing and merchandising fields for several years after they graduated.  However, a trip Sabrina took to Argentina while they were still in school was what laid the groundwork for their future company.

The Sweet Inspiration

While visiting Argentina during a school break, Sabrina had the opportunity to taste jams at a local market that were made out of berries from the Patagonia region.  The flavor was so different and so much more powerful than anything she was used to in the United States that she immediately knew she wanted to learn how to make ‘this type’ of jam.  Back home in Florida, she and Jessica – the two in their group of friends who were always cooking and baking together – started experimenting and learning how to make jam.

Their time spent making jam was really meant to be more of a stress release than anything else and after graduating they followed the corporate path which took both of them to New York.  Several years of working 9 – 5 (or 8 -8 which is more likely in the corporate world these days!) and the two decided in 2011 that they should bring those jam experiments back and see if they could sell them.

Their initial idea was simply to make some jam, put it online, and sell a little bit.  More of just something fun and creative that was different from their day-to-day job.  Even though they initially thought this was just going to be a little side gig they still thought it was important to protect themselves – especially since they’re working with food – so they formed a Legal Liability Company (LLC) to better help protect their assets.  “Getting that legal paperwork back and seeing how legit we were made us realize that we were a real company now and we just ran with it,” Sabrina said.  “We had met a lot of people over the years who were doing food businesses on the side and we realized that they weren’t getting very far very quickly.  We decided then and there that if we were going to do this then we needed to be all-in and really try to make this into a substantial business.”

There was one rather large initial problem that the two faced though.  They wanted to focus on making jams from fresh seasonal fruits but it was winter which left them with very few options.  “We knew we could get bananas,” Jessica remembers.  “So we started playing with banana jam and came up with a fun flavor and then a friend suggested the raspberry and jalapeno.  We decided to do fun and inventive flavors.”  Taking classic recipes and adding fun twists to them has become what The Jam Stand, as their business is called, is known for.

Keeping Expenses Down

The Jam Stand BrooklynEarly in the company’s existence they put something online – which they shared via Twitter and Facebook – saying that they were coming out with a new batch of jam and if anyone was interested they could pay online and the women would mail the jam to them.  Within hours they sold out of the batch which made Jessica and Sabrina realize that they needed a nice label to go along with their delicious jam.  With limited resources available for packaging, Jessica decided that they would make their own label.  She headed out to the nearest stamp store and found a stamp that – after part of it was cut out – was perfect for The Jam Stand.  For their first year of business, as they sold online and through multiple markets in the New York City area, they simply created their own label by using this stamp and then writing the flavor name in by hand.  Once they started to move into wholesale sales though they realized that they needed a real label so worked with a graphic designer to get the look and feel that they wanted for their products.

Like many small businesses, the fact that finances are limited is a constant struggle.  “Cashflow was definitely something we had trouble with,” Sabrina admits.  “That was something new for us to adjust to.  This year we started to experience those growing pains of getting all of these wholesale orders and trying to manage it all, manage the inventory, and find a way for us to product everything ourselves and learn how to realistically grow.  That’s been an interesting learning curve for us.  But at the same time it’s really exciting!”

Growing The Wholesale Business

With new wholesale orders coming in every day, Sabrina and Jessica pulled back somewhat on farmers’ markets this year to focus on growing their wholesale business.  “Lately, as soon as we make the product it’s headed right out to someone who placed an order,” Jessica says.

It helps that Sabrina and Jessica are self-admitted ‘chatty Cathy’s’ and can talk to anyone anywhere.  “We’ll meet people on the street, start talking with them, and next thing you know they own a store or know someone who owns a store and are interested in trying your product,” Jessica says.  “You can’t be afraid to market yourself and talk to people – just being friendly can go a long way!”

These two entrepreneurs admit that it’s not always so easy as simply meeting someone on the street to get in front of a new wholesale account and have developed a wholesale strategy based on what competitors who are a few years ahead of them on the wholesale experience scope are doing.  “When we determined that we wanted to focus more on wholesale we took a look at similar companies and used them as a template for what we wanted to achieve and then developed a plan around that,” Sabrina says.  “We would like ourselves to go national next year,” she adds.  “We have a really strong presence in Brooklyn and in New York City currently.  Watching the company grow and seeing it more readily available is something we’re working towards for next year.”

The Jam Stand products can be found in stores throughout the New York City area and online.  Because of the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy please note that orders may be delayed as Jessica and Sabrina help their city clean up.

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