Instead of waiting to be discovered, Tim Lawhorn has taken his seasonings to the grocery chain's corporate office where top executives can "taste" his successful new seasoning brand that is taking the Nation by storm. So far, the results have been well worth the out-of-the-box marketing pitch.
The guy is just plain charming. He is living a "Cinderella Story" that is truly inspiring.
"The growth of our seasoning is truly an amazing phenomenon" admits CEO, Tim Lawhorn from Lawhorn's Signature Seasonings. Tim also never fails to share that "God has smiled generously on our company over its short but successful history." Now he is embarking on his biggest challenge yet, to go Nationwide with only a grass-roots marketing campaign and a "hit-the-road cooking" tour that will "meet and feed" top buying executives of the largest grocery chains in the US. Is there a method to his madness, you bet there is!
Tim has taken a strong pro-active approach by taking his show on the road. Starting with a few well placed emails and phone calls, doors are being opened to present the product in person. Maybe the big boys figure "hey, if this guy is willing to drive from Florida to cook lunch for us, why not?" The ball started rolling this past December and shows no sign of slowing down.
It all started in early December of 2010, when a "shot in the dark" email turned into a phone conversation, that turned into an opportunity to pitch Lawhorn's in person. Leaving the beautiful sunny hamlet of Haines City, FL on a warm December morning was not easy. After all most folks come to Florida in December, not the other way around! But Tim Lawhorn was a man on a mission - to bring his one-of-a- kind blend of spices to the shelves of Bi-Lo Supermarkets. BI-LO is a supermarket chain headquartered right outside of Greenville, South Carolina in a little town called Mauldin. BI-LO operates over 200 supermarkets in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. After an all day trek, with his grill in tow, Tim settled into a local Hotel about two miles away from the Corporate Headquarters of Bi-Lo Supermarkets. Next step, hit the local Bi-Lo and grab his choice meats and fresh veggies for the next day's "convincing cooking". The meeting was set for 10am, so that meant an early start to get set up and ready to deliver the tastes that Tim knew would seal the deal.
Tim arrived at Bi-Lo about 8 am and set up his table and grill right outside the front door of the headquarters. Cutting and cooking the samples up is second nature to Tim, a former chef and restaurateur himself. One thing this southern boy did not bargain for, the morning temps hovering in the high teens. Oh yea, now that is a bit chilly for a native Floridian. But this was important work and it could mean entry into over 200 stores in states that previously did not have Lawhorn's available.
When everything was prepared just right, the bite sized morsels were loaded up on party platters and carried right in the front door up to the conference room. Tim's first encounter with Mike McShane, the National Category Manager for Bi-Lo that had agreed to the meeting was with food in hand! After a few social exchanges, the chomping began in earnest. The smiles, the ooh's, the ahh's, the "wow, this taste is amazing's" began to mix with the aromas of freshly grilled meats and veggies. It was a moment to remember for Tim, the lights went on full power. THIS is the ONLY way to convince them that we are what we claim to be!
On the spot, Mike said "I want this in my stores". Even though the category review was not until July for Spices, special exception was made to introduce Lawhorn's into Bi-Lo stores as soon as all the paperwork could be completed. Oh, did we mention that slotting fees were waived and many of the special deals that usually accompany product introductions were also not really what sealed the deal? It was all about the taste, and about Tim of course. This guy loves what he does and it shows, he just wants to share what he has created with everyone.
Tim had spent hours agonizing over his totally awesome and convincing power point presentation to really wow them. Turns out that he could have forgot that in the hotel room and it wouldn't have matter a bit! The entire group in the conference room was abuzz about the taste and the product, there was no need for slides to explain why this product would succeed.
So, what is the rest of the story? As of March 2011, Bi-Lo now carries Lawhorns in all of its 200+ stores!
So what was next for Tim? Well, hey if it worked once...
The email was sent to Kroger Headquarters in late April. This time Tim was reaching out to Larry Jones, the Category Manager for Kroger. The call came a few weeks later. Turns out that category review was coming up in just 2 weeks, Larry wanted to know if Tim could make it up the following week, May 2nd! Hmmm, could Tim drop everything and drive to Cincinnati to meet with the second largest (3600+ stores) grocery chain in the country? You bet he could!
Tim enlisted the help of his daughter Brittney and they launched their journey from Gaineville, FL where Brittney attends the University of Florida as a senior in Avdertising & Marketing major. Driving a straight shot was the intent, but terrible weather grounded the Lawhorn's Express in Atlanta overnight, arriving in Cincinnati the day before the big "eat and greet." They checked in to the Garfield Suites just a couple blocks away from Kroger headquarters. When Tim and Brittney took a look out the window of their room they had a bird's eye view on the target audience for the next morning! So, with less than a weeks' notice the next day found the pair setting up right at the doorstep of the multi- story corporate headquarters of industry giant, Kroger Marketplace.
The scents of cooking wafted through the downtown area of Cincinnati, capturing the attention of many a passer-by. They would approach wanted to buy something, as if we were the local street vendor. We obliged with a sample of course. Even Kroger employees were passing by and taking note (and a taste). They would they return inside raving about the good stuff we were cooking up. Soon, even the executive chef of Kroger paid us a visit and gave us an approving taste test. It was hard not to attract attention when you set up a grill in a downtown area, right in front of Kroger headquarters!
Once all the samples were readied, Tim and Brittney loaded them up and hit the boardroom once again. The taste test came through for Tim again, as the discussion moved from promo deals and social media strategies to the fact that everyone in the room was impressed by the amazing taste enhancing effects of the seasoning. Tim gave Mr. Jones a bottle to give to his daughter, who it just so happens is also an executive chef by trade. Chef to chef, Tim knew that she would have an experienced assessment of the power contained in that little bottle of seasoning!
Now the ball is in Kroger's court. Tim has had some very encouraging hints, but he also knows that with a company the size of Kroger decisions do not always come as quickly as he might hope. Tim is very confident that this road-trip will also have a happy ending, after all with the past track record he is stacking up not many things are standing in his way to achieve National distribution by mid 2012.
Truth is, once someone tastes this seasoning they can also taste what a ringer this product is for hyper-growth. Tim tells it like this, "once consumers try our product - they are in love with it." Depending on what meat or vegetable the all-natural mix is cooked with, the molecular chemistry of the ingredients actually produces different flavor profiles for each item that the seasoning is cooked with. Tim has his own chemistry too - with customers and buyers, whether they are top executives or consumers visiting one of his in-store demos.
Tim has discovered in the 3 short years of promoting his amazing all- in-one seasoning that the key to success is all in the taste buds. You can talk a good talk, have the best brokers in the country and give a great buy-down introductory deal too - but that won't hold a candle to the top executive buyer savoring the flavor of a freshly cooked piece of chicken sprinkled with Lawhorns and cooked right on the grill minutes before. Then, perhaps sampling the steak, the pork, the cod and even the veggies sautéed with butter and Lawhorn's Signature Seasonings. By the time they are done chewing, there isn't much else to talk about except how soon they can get the product in their stores! In other words, once the Category Manager or Grocery Buyer has a taste - they are sold. It works as well on top executives as it does on Tim's consumers. he has raving fans across the fruited plains, but the sad part for them is they can't always find Lawhorn's on the shelves of their local grocery chains. Well, Tim the traveling CEO is changing all that, one taste at a time.
Tim has been told every step of the way, that he is not doing things the way they are supposed to be done. The food brokers, distribution chains and grocers all have protocol for the (expensive) way products get introduced to the market. Tim is not about protocol though, he knows that the demand will be there once people try his unique blend.
So for Tim, things are working just fine the way they are going.
Has this unconventional approach to find inroads into the Nation's biggest supermarkets worked? Judge for yourself. So far, Tim's seasoning has made a great Southern start, finding its way into Winn Dixie, Publix, Bi-Lo, Whole Foods and several smaller markets. Nationally, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets began ordering the product with absolutely no effort from Lawhorn! One day the orders just started rolling in from their stores and the way things have gone for this product that is just par for the course.
If you think Lawhorns Signature Seasonings should be in your grocery chain, maybe we need to put your corporate headquarters on our itinerary for this Fall!