People travel all over the country – heck, even all over the world – in search of the perfect barbecue. S&S Brand, a new line of barbecue sauces, rubs and brine mixes, aims to blend the regional flavors of barbecue with a touch of "San Francisco swagger."
Owners Spencer O'Meara and Sarah Burchard have more than 30 years of restaurant experience collectively, honing their talents as chefs at some of the top dining spots in San Francisco and beyond. After years of perfecting barbecue seasonings and sauces at home and for their restaurants, Sarah and Spencer – who has deep roots in the south – decided to turn it into a full-fledged business. Their company, S&S Brand, officially launched in 2010.
S&S Brand barbecue sauces and spice rubs also line the shelves of specialty food and grocery stores across the Bay Area, including Bi-Rite, Bluxome Street Winery, Falletti Foods, Sonoma Market & Glen Ellen Village Market, Roberts Town Market Place and more. The company also makes frequent appearances at food and drink festivals, artisan markets, cooking demonstrations, fundraisers and private parties.
Like many newly minted small businesses, S&S Brand encountered two huge challenges: not enough time to dedicate to an online presence, and a customer base it needed to keep in touch with and nurture repeat purchases.
Online marketing and setting up an e-commerce website "weren't our No. 1 priorities when we were starting out," says Sarah. "Our focus was just to make sure we had incredibly flavorful sauces and rubs that everyone would fall in love with, and that we got them in front of enough people to sample and hopefully buy."
Once they saw how enthusiastic people were about their products at events, Spencer and Sarah realized they needed to keep that enthusiasm alive long after the event ended.
"That person who tasted our sauce or bought a jar – how do we make sure they remember us or buy from us again?" says Sarah. "That's when we realized we really needed to give online marketing a good, hard look."
Without a lot of time or resources to spend on marketing, setting up an email newsletter to send to customers was the clear choice. Sarah and Spencer were attracted to VerticalResponse because the company has strong roots in San Francisco, just like S&S Brand.
"We liked that Janine started VerticalResponse in the heart of San Francisco, and that the entire company is very involved with the local small business community," says Sarah. "We try our best to support other SF-born-and-bred companies and entrepreneurs whenever we can."
The San Francisco connection may have initially attracted S&S Brand to VerticalResponse, but it was the company's easy-to-use, affordable email marketing platform that sealed the deal.
"I love how easy it was. Choosing a template was the hardest part, and everything else was a piece of cake," says Sarah. "Now, when it's time to send my next email, I just create a copy of my last one, upload new pics and type in my content, and that's it. Everything is super clean and easy to navigate, and we've gotten really great feedback from family and friends on the design and content."
These days, S&S Brand sends anywhere between one and three emails every month. The regular monthly newsletter includes a calendar of events, at least one new recipe and product news, as well as links to the latest blog posts. Additional email campaigns might promote a local special event, discounts or seasonal promotions. And, of course, every email includes prominent links to S&S Brand's Facebook and Twitter profiles.
Past subject lines include "Spencer Throwin' Down Cheese Steaks at the Java House" and "We Are Not Jerking You Around! Or Are We?"
"We try to add a little humor and fun to all our emails and social media posts," says Sarah. "We want to let our personalities shine through."
At each event they attend, Sarah sets out an email sign-up form front and center, so people can leave their email addresses.
"It's pretty straightforward, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves to ask people to sign up," says Sarah. "Obviously it's a lot more natural for us to talk about food and cooking and our obsession with barbecue, but as a small business owner you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone."
S&S Brand's most successful email campaigns so far have been promoting their holiday gift boxes. Last year, their Black Friday- and holiday-themed email campaigns had an average open rate of nearly 26 percent, well above norm.
The company's website also is ready for e-commerce, so customers can purchase S&S Brand goods directly from the source.
"VerticalResponse has gone above and beyond to help us succeed," says Sarah. "I learn something new about marketing from them all the time, and it feels great to know they support the little guys like us."
Biggest challenge being a small business owner:
The biggest challenge of being a small business owner is trying to juggle all the responsibilities of running the business yourself. You have to be the website builder, salesman, marketer, the purchaser, producer of the product, fill orders, deliver or ship the product, and be the accountant. Luckily I have a lot of supportive friends who have shared their expertise, contacts and sometimes even hop in the restaurant with us to bottle barbecue sauce. I could not have done this without people like those.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned as a small business owner:
Watch your books very closely and stay on top of deadlines for renewing permits, licenses and reporting sales for tax purposes. Any slip in any of these and you could end up owing money that you might not have.
What do you like best about your work? What keeps you going?
We are very passionate about food and cooking and enjoy being in the business. Owning the sauce and spice business strengthens our brands as chefs and ties right into the kind of cooking that we specialize in.