In a YouInc exclusive, Peter Neal recounts a key transitional moment in the evolution of Neal Brothers Foods, the highly successful food distribution company that he runs with his brother, Chris.
It was the spring of 2012 and I was sitting in my recently renovated backyard – my wife and I had transformed our backyard, complete with a pool and a hit to our line of credit! The phone rang; it was a friend in our industry calling to tell me that one of our top revenue-producing lines was up for sale and that there was a high probability the purchaser would not want Neal Brothers to continue on as the distributor. As the news sunk in I started to sweat and feel sick – if this were true it would have a seriously damaging effect on our business. I suddenly wanted to be sick in our new pool.
We had worked so hard for 10 years to build this line and we foolishly let it become a high percentage of our overall income (bad business mistake). This had the potential to become the most transitional moment in our business.
I panicked. I had a stiff drink, then I started to map out the potential implications this may have on our business, then I slept on it – always a wise decision! I decided not to call my brother/business partner until I had a better idea of how to prepare a proactive defensive strategy. I didn’t want both of us worrying until I had a clearer picture of what we were facing.
I panicked. I had a stiff drink, then I started to map out the potential implications this may have on our business
By the time I sat down with Chris to deliver the news, we knew that we would be hearing the final verdict by mid-September – we had 3.5 months to prepare. We immediately started brainstorming ways to mitigate the damage and turn this potential negative situation into a positive one.
Our first step was to design a competitive product (a Neal Brothers’ owned brand that we could introduce to the market), as we knew this food category very well and had spent years understanding it, studying it and accumulating sales data. Even if we didn’t end up losing the line it felt really good knowing we were prepared to do battle with the new owners and had a backup plan if something were to change! We had worked hard for this line and we felt ownership.
The second step became very clear to us once we realized why we were in this potential predicament. We had become complacent after building up other people’s brands within our stable of distribution goods. We had neglected our own Neal Brothers line of products, the very brand that we owned and nobody could take away from us. So we decided that once September came along, regardless of the outcome, we would take half of our monthly profits from this line and reinvest it back into our own line through new packaging, marketing and innovation.
By September our strategy included hiring more marketing people, hiring a PR agency, designing a marketing strategy for our Neal Brothers line in an effort to reach out to consumers, tell our story and engage with them like never before. We realized that we finally had the resources to let people know that Neal Brothers was not a large, faceless corporation; we were in fact 2 brothers who had worked hard to establish our brand and this should be one of the main pillars of our business strategy. We started working on new products to launch, invested in a new website, taught ourselves to be more effective with social media, hired more sales people, opened Atlantic Canada with a stronger sales presence and invested in new hand-held tablets for our sales force. We also decided to commit to a big celebration for the fall of 2013 to celebrate our 25th anniversary!
Mid-September rolled around and with that the news that our prized line was going to remain with us – the new owners not only wanted Neal Brothers to continue representing the line, but they were also going to provide us with more resources to continue to build the brand – a win-win scenario. After a worthy celebration we got back to work and vowed not to lose sight of the potential disaster we had just avoided.
This transitional moment scared us into action and thankfully we reacted well. Two years later we are a much stronger company because of it.