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Customer Profile: Central Mass Locavore
December 3, 2015/in Customers, Solving local /by Ryan Crum
If you ask Jacki Hildreth about the genesis of her thriving business, she made the obvious analogy to a common kitchen staple. “It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion”. Jacki’s lifelong love of local food began working in her parent’s backyard garden and enjoying the bounty. In the early days of her relationship with her husband Tim, they often dreamt of one day owning their own food truck. Her husband’s two-time battle with cancer, now fully in remission, required that they put the best possible food on their family’s table. Their pursuit of healthy local food had them traveling all across Massachusetts just to pick up the best CSA box they could find. They also got plenty of encouragement from her brother in law, fresh off a once in a lifetime experience playing hockey in Switzerland, whom suggested they adopt some of the food practices he saw across Europe.
All of these “ingredients” combined to push Jacki and Tim towards planning and opening Central Mass Locavore; a local food home delivery service based in Westminster, Mass. They focus as much as possible on organic, local products, but also include some made with non-certified, sustainable methods. Keeping true to her roots, the storefront prominently features a weekly CSA style box, full of local, seasonal items. After speaking with a local developer who quoted them a hefty price tag to set up a shopping page, Jacki and Tim worked with our team at Local Food Marketplace to get their website and market up and running and have been working with us ever since. After beginning with nothing more than weekly boxes, they have since expanded to offer a la carte items such as eggs, prepared foods, cheeses, and meats. They offer home delivery to nearly all of their customers for the added personal touch.
When Jacki and Tim decided to jump into this venture Jacki explains that it was a “little like the blind leading the blind”. They had little to no business experience and her knowledge was based on her online research. She quickly found that between her busy family life, her career as a nurse, and the new business there wasn’t enough hours in the day to make everything happen. “Trying to get everything done in time and learning that you can’t fit 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag was one of our first revelations”. Their biggest hurdles were finding out and working through the legal paperwork and as with most small startups, capital. There were the usual setbacks, and sometimes it felt like two steps forward and then one step back. Jacki is self admittedly the risk taker in her family, and while sometimes that can be cause for alarm, she says that in this instance it was a great thing that helped them take the leap of faith. If she could pass along one piece of advice for a home business she recommends checking zoning requirements.
After operating for a few months, the team was feeling as though they were getting busier and busier, but not working smoothly. They had already run into the small bumps in the road that any new business working with small local producers encounters. “Tim would get to the farm to pick up product only to find that it wasn’t available. This gave me sometimes a 1-2 hour window to find a replacement. We quickly learned which producers would be our core suppliers that could be counted on and who were the farmers flying by the seat of their pants.” They quickly learned that local agriculture is constantly shifting, and thinking on your feet to find supply solutions is a critical part of their operation. “Nobody is dying” quickly became a mantra that their team embraced. Even their packing team of retired Corrections Officers were learning on the fly. “These guys knew what a carrot and potato was, but everything else was complete guesswork for them. You should have seen the situation with the Broccoli Romanesco.”
Jacki and Tim took time to re-evaluate what they were doing and at that time realized that they needed to not only add and expand their business, but use their time wiser. “You aren’t going to get more hours in the day, so you need to work smarter, not harder”. They took time to evaluate the parts of the business that were taking up a disproportionate amount of time and restructure the weeks workflow to fit them better. “We had a few customers in the beginning who were really excited, but because of our limitations, we were delivering their orders as late as 9pm. Those customers left and haven’t come back.” They reorganized their work week, added some new modules to their LFM set up, and asked for and received a lot of support from family and friends. Jacki is quick to point out that without this needed support she would have a hard time doing what they do. Today Central Mass Locavore is as busy as they have ever been and they are gearing up for a wild holiday season.
“Local Food Marketplace has been an invaluable tool for our business. We literally could not do what we do without it.” Jacki is quick to point out that LFM is not only a technology that helps her business operate, but acts as a mentor for her to ask questions and bounce ideas off of. “Working with LFM is a whole package, not just software. It is straightforward and easy to use, the personal support is there for me when I need it, no matter how small an issue is to them, they understand that it may be a big deal to us and offer help accordingly.” Jacki found the technology by looking at one of her flagship producers, Caroline Pam at the Kitchen Garden Farm, and loved how clean it looked and its ease of use from the customer side. “The price point is there, the support and tools are there, and the customer service can’t be beat.”
Jacki and Tim hope to continue to grow and add more delivery areas. They have explored wholesale sales, however it isn’t a priority right now as Jacki reiterates that their main mission is to “Bring healthy food to the people” and home delivery is where their heart is. They plan to add on to their work space over the next few months roughly doubling their storage and adding a walk in cooler. If all goes as planned, they hope to someday open a storefront and add the kitchen that they dreamt about when they were cooking together on their first few dates.
We asked Jacki for any advice she might offer to anyone who is currently planning or starting their own food business. At first she said “Remember, even when you have your doubts, keep going. Don’t give up” and then she remembered a phrase often uttered by superiors in her days as a nurse. “If you do the right thing by the customer, you can never be wrong”.
Westminster couple thriving with their 'farm-to-door' firm
By Jordan Tillery, jtillery @sentinelandenterprise.com
WESTMINSTER -- Diane Leger unpacked her groceries in her kitchen on Thursday afternoon. Apples, onions, raspberries, tomatoes and cucumbers filled her island counter. There was nothing unusual about her weekly groceries, except she only had to walk outside the door to get them. She is one of nearly 150 customers who have signed up for Central Mass Locavore, a Westminster-based service that delivers fresh organic and locally-sourced produce to 15 surrounding communities including Fitchburg, Leominster, Ashburnham, Lancaster and Lunenburg. "I've run the gamut of what they have to offer, I've ordered just about everything" Leger said while unpacking chicken, strawberry milk and other produce. "I've even ordered soap and laundry detergent.
Leominster natives Tim and Jacki Hildreth began their grocery-delivery service about a year ago. Customers choose online what they would like delivered that week, either a curated box or individual items. There are a variety of boxes to choose from including a fruit box, large and small produce boxes and the "anything goes" box with eight randomly selected items, ranging from $25 to $35. Customers can add other fresh, organic and/or local products such as peanut butter, coffee, handmade soaps, soups and homemade pastas.
The business is run out of the garage of the Hildreths' Westminster home. But it's no ordinary garage. Air conditioning filled the open room with three freezers, an industrial-sized refrigerator and a wash sink. Green boxes lined the tables in preparation for the next day's delivery with each order secured to the outside of the crate. "We always try to buy everything local and organic as often as we can," said Tim Hildreth, 36.
Local farms they buy from include Bob's Turkey Farm of Lancaster, Carlson Orchards of Harvard, Dick's Market Garden in Lunenburg and Hollis Hills Farm in Fitchburg, among others. The couple also purchase from farms in western Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.
Family and friends volunteer to sort produce and get each delivery ready for Tim Hildreth, who begins delivering at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, depending on the community, and finishes by 2 p.m. "It's like Christmas unwrapping all this," Leger said, unpacking the last bag. "I never remember what I ordered." She said she found out about Central Mass Locavore after a friend posted about it on Facebook a few months ago. She has been receiving weekly deliveries since. "I love how convenient it is," she said. Convenience is also the reason Westminster resident Bonnie Robinson signed up. "It's always been important for me to feed my family fresh foods," she said. "Having the convenience of it is a bonus.
Making local produce more accessible to residents of North Central Massachusetts is the goal for co-owner Jacki Hildreth, 36, who also works part time as a registered nurse. Having grown up in Leominster with access to a large garden in the backyard of her childhood home, she started her passion for fresh food at a young age, she said. The couple considered starting a food truck when they first began brainstorming startup ideas, but decided on the delivery service after Tim Hildreth's younger brother suggested the idea. They just needed a van. The van the company uses is equipped with a fully insulated and refrigerated cabin. On the outside of the white vehicle is a logo that was just finished on Monday.
There are similar "farm-to-door" companies like Boston Organics and Berkshire Organics, but neither delivers to homes in the north central region of the state. So what's in store for the future? "We're enjoying the ride for now," Jacki Hildreth said. "It's all about loving what you do."