April 2, 2015
Olivia Tang Lui has her hands full between raising two small young girls and working full-time. But that didn’t stop her from following her passion for entrepreneurship and turn her ‘real food’ granola into a thriving local business last Summer. Like many small entrepreneurs, what she lacks in marketing dollars she makes up for with social media savvy (in fact, that’s how I first became aware of O Made Granola) and the determination to teach herself anything that’s needed to help move her business forward – all while balancing a very busy life.
1. When did you start O Made Granola?
I was already making granola but I never thought to sell it until a car ride with my husband. We were talking about my crazy startup ideas like a food truck, a popsicle business and even franchising a UFC gym! My husband rolled his eyes at those ideas though. Then I literally blurted out ‘why don’t I try to sell the granola?!’ The business name was decided on and O Made Granola officially launched at a local farmer’s market in June 2014.
2. Tell us the story about how the company came about? What was your idea/motivation?
My daughters were the motivation behind making granola. When they were infants, I made all of their foods with fresh ingredients from the puree stage to solids. I, like any other mom, wanted the best and most nutritious foods for them.
I was introduced to a site called 100daysofrealfood.com to help get ideas for my toddler’s school lunches. I wanted something beyond hotdogs and cold cuts. I liked their idea of cutting out processed foods, which led me to take the real food challenge for my family and myself. The idea is to cut out processed foods and to go for foods in its most natural state.
Cutting out processed foods isn’t an overnight achievement. I took it slow and cut out the easiest items like any foods that had ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. This meant cutting out a lot of our favorite snacks and cereals. I also cut out refined oils like vegetable and canola. I was left with olive oil, which I never used for baking. A friend told me about coconut oil. We’re big yogurt fans and after having to cut out our favorite store bought granola, I decided to make my own. And it wasn’t until that car ride, that I decided to try and start selling it.
3. Did you come from a culinary background? If not, what were you doing prior to starting this company?
I don’t have a culinary background outside of cooking for my family. I am currently working full time for a large financial services company working on digital marketing. O Made Granola is my part time job/ hobby.
Since I still work full time, I look for farmers markets that are willing to accept vendors on a week-by-week basis. Most popular markets want a seasonal commitment, which I can’t do right now. So I sign up for what I know I’ll be able to handle and it’s a balancing act. I have 2 very young kids and a husband so I reserve at least 2 weekends for my family and the remaining for farmers markets and demos. I plan on hiring part time help for the season so it’ll be great to have a more consistent market presence.
I’m very grateful for my husband who supports me 100%. I’ve spent late nights baking and packing for markets while he’d take care of the kids. I also have the support from family, friends, co-workers and neighbors; without them, O Made Granola wouldn’t exist!
5. Are there aspects of being in the farmers’ market that have proved really beneficial to you beyond simply making sales? By this I mean, has it helped you build customer loyalty and gain a following, learn about your customers, integrate customer feedback into your products?
Yes! Being at the market isn’t just about selling your product. I avoid being transactional with my customers and I go beyond just making a sale. I start a conversation that allows the customer to remember me. I want them to remember how my product makes them feel. It’s about making a connection.
I source non-GMO ingredients and I sometimes get asked ‘what is a GMO’? I love educating customers about the topic and also educating them about the ingredients. I love it most when customers ask how they can enjoy granola. Granola is so versatile and can be used in so many different ways, sharing my ideas creates an ‘a-ha’ moment for them.
Markets will have slow days too and it’s a great opportunity to network with follow vendors and artisans. Since I’m new to the space, seasonal vendors have given me tips and advice on topics ranging from selling better at the market, strategies to increasing margins, where to get supplies, which markets are popular and worth looking into, upcoming events, etc. It’s not a competition to see who sells the most but really we all look out for each other. It’s a great time to socialize and the best part is swapping products at the end of the market!
6. The way you and I connected was via social media based on your amazing photos on Instagram. Who takes those pictures (and if it’s you, do you care to share any photography tips/tricks as the photos are stunning!)?
I take all the photos that are posted to my social media accounts. Before I started this company, I was really into photography b/c of my kids. I learned about rule of thirds, lighting and taking pictures from different perspectives. Using that photography knowledge and just my iPhone, I try to take eye-catching photos that will capture the viewer’s attention that will lead them to click and read the caption.
Some tips are to take 3-4 shots from different angles of the same subject. You’ll be surprised that one angle makes the photo pop significantly more than another. Lighting is very important, natural light is the best and don’t take the same photos for every post! By this I mean, don’t keep taking photos of just your product! Post different photos that might be interesting to your followers, but still relevant to your product. For example, I’d post a picture of coconuts b/c it’s one of my ingredients and I once took a picture of my table set up at the market. The idea is to capture your viewer’s attention and to share engaging content that you can connect on.
7. Why did you start using Instagram for marketing purposes? Have you found that it helps you meet your goals?
I originally had Facebook and Twitter for my business. A local blogger reached out to me and suggested I start an Instagram account. At the time, I had no idea how to use Instagram. I was already on Facebook personally and I didn’t want to have to deal with learning and managing another social media account. But after seeing how food companies were using Instagram and how they were connecting with their followers, I knew I had to join. With less than 70 followers at the time, I’ve had other artisans, food companies and bloggers start following me, so I knew I was posting the right content and using hashtags correctly!
I find that making these connections will definitely help me meet my goals long term. I would’ve never heard of these companies were it not for Instagram. A few of the long-term goals I have are to be included into popular monthly food subscription services and have my granola served on menus in area cafes/ restaurants. Since I have these connections via social media, I feel it’ll help open more opportunities.
8. What other types of marketing do you do? Do you use other social media tools and/or traditional advertising, word of mouth, etc. What have you found to be particularly successful? Anything that hasn’t worked as you’d hoped?
Since I’m a start up, I don’t have any budget to do advertising outside of farmers markets. I use social media to engage with my followers since it’s basically free and almost everybody is on social media. What I would love to work on is empowering my customers/ followers to share their experiences and opinions about my product to their friends and family, whether on social media or elsewhere. As any business owner will tell you, word of mouth marketing is the best kind of marketing.
My business is about handcrafting a product and I use that concept beyond baking. For instance, I hand draw all of the art used at the market. I taught myself how to use Photoshop and developed my own labels and sell sheets. Customers have really come to appreciate the artisanship of my business. What has also helped is to point out to customers what the O Made difference is. There are several other granola makers out in the market and my key value proposition is using a combination of 3 ingredients that make my granola really stand out from the rest. They are cold-pressed virgin organic coconut oil, pure Vermont maple syrup (grade B), and organic Ceylon (True) cinnamon. You can really taste the difference of a hand-crafted product and I’ve been told it is very distinct!
Ironically, when I did spend money on a marketing promotion, it didn’t lead to a single conversion. I jumped into the opportunity way too soon and should’ve thought it out (a costly rookie mistake!)
Yes, being an entrepreneur really made me step out of my comfort zone. I’m generally a shy person but when it comes to promoting my business and speaking with customers, the shyness goes away and speaking to complete strangers becomes so natural all of a sudden! This is where my passion for the business takes over. I absolutely love being at markets and meeting new people!
There are also some aspects I don’t particularly enjoy like traditional cold calling local businesses to look for new partnerships. You don’t always get to speak with the business owner right away so the key is to be persistent and to follow up. This is one of the biggest lessons I learned about being an entrepreneur. I landed a few partnerships with local businesses b/c I kept following up. It shows perseverance in trying to make things happen.
10. Where are you hoping to take your company next? What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
The next step for my company is to have ecommerce set up for my site that will allow customers to place orders online. I’d also love to have a few new flavors and new products rolled out by year-end. I’d also love to visit the next Natural Food Expo as an attendee and learn the ins and outs of the industry. The ultimate goal is to become an exhibitor at the Expo!
My plans for the rest of the year are to hire part time help for the markets so that we have a more consistent presence. I also signed up for 3 new farmers markets this year and I’m really excited about expanding into new areas. I’d also like to continue working on securing additional wholesale accounts and expand into subscription based food delivery services and CSA’s. Lastly, I’d like to run a few social media contests for product giveaways! It’ll be a busy and exciting year for us! I’m really looking forward to see what this year will bring. We’re already off to a great start!
For more information about O Made Granola, you can check out the company’s website here. They’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and – of course, you can follow O Made Granola’s mouth-watering photos on Instagram here or by searching for @itsomade.