July 12, 2013

Entrepreneur Spotlight – The Goods – Gluten Free Treats

gluten free treatsMark Berger’s wife describes him as a renaissance man.  Throughout his life he’s had a multitude of jobs ranging from photography to landscape contractor but it’s this wide range of careers that have given him the skills necessary to be attract the eye of Whole Foods less than a year after he started his new food venture.

Mark Berger, founder of The Goods – Gluten Free Treats, is humble about his life experiences that led him to starting up a gluten-free baked goods company in October 2012.  In addition to his artistic and landscape work, he’d also spent time working in and, later, owning a successful restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It was a series of health issues, including being diagnosed with kidney cancer and later taking care of his ailing father and father-in-law, that made him take stock of his life and determine what it was he really wanted to do next.

Around that same time he was also diagnosed as gluten-intolerant and when he began to change his diet it dawned on him how sick he’d been and how terrible he’d felt for years.  The only downside was that he desperately missed baked goods and couldn’t find anything on the market that he felt was a good substitution for the flavors and mouth feel he was used to.

As Steve Jobs said his in famous Stanford University commencement speech, it’s always interesting to look back at all the paths you’ve taken in life and realize that without each one of those you wouldn’t be where you are today.  That saying is very true for Mark because when he decided to start selling the baked goods he’d created, he found that his other life experiences had given him the tools he needed to be successful.

Leaving Room To Grow

Mark knew, from his work as a photographer and in audio visual design, that he needed to create a strong brand identity and the goods gluten free treatsbrand design that would resonate with people.  He purposefully did not name his company “The Goods – Gluten-free cookies” or another more specific rendition of the company name as he wanted to leave room for his company to grow down the road.  “I’m trying to build a brand that’s recognizable and easy to read,” Mark said in a recent conversation.  “I created a look that was sort of retro so that it would invoke those feelings of comfort and we made it so that we can change the color of our label so that each flavor has a different color.”

“But what we’re really trying to do,” Mark continued, “is build a trusted, hardworking, honest, community-driven company.  That’s what’s behind the brand. I have a very large vision for this company.”  So large, in fact, that Mark is proactively trademarking not only his business name but also “The Goods” in connection with any other baked goods item out there from pizza to biscotti.  “If it’s a baked good or a gluten-free baked good that’s what I’m trying to get the trademark for.  That really does leave me open to grow.”

It’s All About Sales

It was the landscape design part of his life that really taught Mark the sales skills he’s relied on as he goes door-to-door opening up wholesale accounts.  Currently his products are sold in 15 stores in San Francisco and Marin County.  Recently though Mark was part of the Northern California regions Whole Food Next Entrepreneur.  A competition where food producers can pitch regional buyers, The Goods was one of 30 finalists out of more than 600 applicants and he was invited to come in and talk with the buyers.  “They loved our products,” he said, excitedly.  At this point the Whole Foods buyers have invited Mark back for a second review where they’ll be determining if they’re going to put his products into selected stores or into the entire region.

Planning For The Future

Explosive growth like Mark’s experiencing is exciting but it can also be unnerving.  Mark is currently working out of a dedicated gluten-free bakery that allows him to come in at night and do all of his baking.  This means that as sales increase, Mark finds it harder and harder to keep up with the orders.  He knows he has the passion and the product to be successful in this business, but the time has come, he’s realized, to nail down his business plan.

Mark remembers how his father, a leading business consultant, used to talk about business plans –  most of which were pages and pages long.  Working with advisors, Mark realizes that a today’s business plan can be a 1 page document if need be and it shouldn’t stymie you from getting to work on your actual business.  A business plan should be a roadmap to help you chart your company’s growth and how you’re going to achieve that.   “It’s not your father’s business plan,” Mark says with a laugh.  “I’m at a point where I really need structure to help me grow.  I am devising a plan to figure out who I’m going to be able to hire and trust that they’ll have the same values and the same passion to offer my company as I do.”  The business plan is one step in helping him get there.

The business plan will also come in handy as Mark begins to look for investors to help him fund his company’s growth.  Mark is picky in not just wanting anyone’s money but that he’s looking for a true partner that can see and understand his vision and what he’s trying to create.  “I’m slowly working on the business plan,” he says, “so that when the right person comes along, someone with the same values and morals, that I’ll have what they need in terms of financials and a strategic plan.”

The Goods – Gluten Free Treats website can be found here and the company also has an active Facebook page that has more information about where the products can be bought and some sneak peaks at new products in the works!

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