EXPO Intro: Meet Steve Gaither of JB Chicago Agency
Edited by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
In the run-up to FamilyFarmed’s 15th Anniversary Good Food EXPO — March 22-23 in Chicago— we invite you to meet Steve Gaither, a longtime friend of FamilyFarmed who is CEO of the JB Chicago branding and creative agency. Steve describes his company’s approach to marketing and its recent merger with C.A. Fortune, a sales and marketing company with national reach.
Hear more from Steve on an EXPO Good Food Trade Show panel, “Attracting E-Commerce Customers,” Friday, March 22, 4 p.m. at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum on the campus of University of Illinois at Chicago. Ticket information is at the end of the article.
FamilyFarmed: JB Chicago is described as an integrated agency. Please describe what that means.
Steve Gaither: It means we are a holistic branding and creative agency as well as an agnostic marketing agency… we don’t care what works as long as it works!
FamilyFarmed: Your new partnership with C.A. Fortune is a big deal. How will this benefit JB Chicago and its clients?
Steve Gaither: We’re an independently run, wholly owned division of C.A. Fortune. So, this means we have:
- Access to their BUILD sales incubator
- Access to in-depth CPG/category data and analytics, as well as their full analytics team
- Access to each retail buyer group (Austin – Whole Foods Market, Cincinnati-Kroger, Bentonville, Arkansas-Walmart, Phoenix-Sprouts, etc.)
- An awesome partner that wants to add value to JB and our client base
- C.A. Fortune’s privately held culture and level of client service mesh very well with JB’s own values, making this a seamless and beneficial move for both parties
Notes from C.A. Fortune:
- This latest transaction with JB Chicago helps solidify C.A. Fortune’s place as the nation’s leading lifestyle brand agency for consumer products. With offices across the U.S., the company offers its clients a holistic solution from brand incubation and sales management to marketing and branding, retail services and beyond.
- Much more than a sales agency, the C.A. Fortune team is constantly looking to evolve and redefine the CPG brand sector via comprehensive and high-quality service offerings from those most knowledgeable and experienced in the industry.
FamilyFarmed: Your client list is a mix of food and non-food companies/organizations. Do the marketing and advertising needs of food clients differ greatly from those of other clients? If so, how?
- The discovery and branding process is the same. We unearth the key insights to craft the story of the brand through the lens of the customer, regardless of the vertical
- The creative platform is similar: the look, feel and voice of the brand. But the main deliverable for food and beverage is the package design — the ultimate 1.5-second punch in the face
- Tactics may be similar, but in different priorities based on the stage of the food and bev company
- The block and tackle are first — the tactics that don’t drive ROI [return on investment] but are necessary for ROI. The website, pitch deck, sell sheet and tradeshow booth.
- Typically, the earlier stage companies should focus their efforts on their own e-commerce, Amazon and trade spend for retailers.
- Once they hit a critical mass of distribution, they can start focusing on social, digital, experiential and other mass mediums.
- I always argue it’s more cost effective to catch the fish in the pond (at the point of retail) than to drive fish from another pond into your retailers.
FamilyFarmed: As you know, FamilyFarmed works with many early-stage entrepreneurs through programs such as the Good Food Accelerator, EXPO, and Financing & Innovation Conference. For startups seeking to develop a go-to-market strategy, what first steps should they take (besides becoming a JB Chicago client)?
Steve Gaither: Any early-stage company should have a multichannel approach and focus on velocity and sales with margins over distribution:
- Their own e-commerce/Shopify: There is a cap on the amount of revenue, but margins are in your favor
- Amazon: Work with a quality third-party vendor. Weigh the difference between retainer-based and commission-based
- Alternative foodservice: QSR [Quick-Service Restaurant], hospitality, airport, office delivery, etc. Higher distribution cost, but lower trade spend
- Retail: Velocity over distribution. Start small and see what works to increase turns between packaging, pricing, placement and display.
- A correct package design is usually the cheapest, most impactful lever on velocity.
- Basically, shoot bullets, not cannonballs.
FamilyFarmed: One thing you hear a lot from entrepreneurs is that they don’t know what they don’t know. You have worked with a lot of early-stage businesses. If you can generalize, where are their learning curves steepest (and are there places in which startups generally know what they’re getting themselves into)?
- Focusing on distribution over velocity
- Not listening to the consumer or being willing to pivot
- Oversimplification of other companies’ path to success: It’s hard to rinse and repeat the online rise of the food unicorns of the recent past
- RXBAR and its gym approach: Founders Peter Rahal and Jared Smith were brilliant at hitting the gyms and grab and go’s, but the distributors now own those relationships
- Online (Amazon/Shopify/Etc.) are necessary paths, but the Amazons, Facebooks and Googles of the world have turned it into a bidding war with diminishing returns
- Trade spend needs to be thought of “above the line” with distribution and brokerage, and you need to have a placeholder of 20-30 percent for free fills, slotting, demos and promo pricing.
- Any product requiring consumer education is DOA. Creating a category is impossible, stealing from a few are much more effective.
FamilyFarmed: Optional bonus question: You have participated in many of FamilyFarmed’s Good Food EXPOs. What would you say are the biggest advantages for small businesses in exhibiting at the event?
- Exposure to the panels of experts and peers that have “been there, done that”
- Access and introductions to buyers and investors
- Not just for distribution and dollars; more for their needs and problems they need to solve
- Access to consumers and customers
- The ultimate focus group that doesn’t cost you $20K for qualitative research
- The FF gang is a talented and beautiful crew
To learn from Steve Gaither and other great experts at FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Trade Show on Friday, March 22, please purchase your ticket on the Good Food EXPO website. The Good Food Festival on Saturday, March 23 is free, but pre-registration is requested.