John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past seven years. He knows their ups, their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for the Co-Founders of Off The Deck Hot Sauce and Flannel Fizz: Rachel and Jeremiah Utecht.
1. Will you please tell us your Off The Deck and Flannel Fizz elevator pitches?
Off The Deck Hot Sauce: We make fermented hot sauces using only peppers grown in the Red River Valley. Being farm-tobottle, we are able to partner with growers directly, ensuring a highquality and unique offering. The most fertile farmland in the world produces the most delicious chili peppers we have been able to find.
Flannel Fizz: We make soda pop using real food. Our sodas are honest reflections of the fruits we use, making for a fresh and delightfully refreshing beverage
2. What got you started with these products?
Off The Deck is the offspring of being a voracious learner and having the willingness to test historical food preservation techniques. We started very small but hit on something very delicious right out of the gate. Soda was what happens when a bunch of guys daydream about opening a brewery and talk about alternative products. Utilizing our whole food, local whenever possible ethos from Off The Deck, we applied that to soda with great success.
3. I understand you recently received some international awards for Off The Deck. Will you please tell me more about this and any other recent positive happenings for the business?
The annual Scovie Awards recognize the top fiery food products from around the globe. Our hot sauces received 2nd place and 3rd place awards among 1,100 submitted hot sauces. As for the soda line, some personal wins include increasing our units sold this year by 5X compared to last year, due to a combination of a robust wholesale program and scaling improvements that have turned out well and allowed us to transition to larger batches. The combination of increased sales and gained production efficiencies are so important in creating a sustainable business. With the hot sauce, for example, we’ve gone from bottling less than 1,000 units in the first year to over 10,000 in the fifth year, and made these dramatic increases in the same amount of production time.
4. How do you go about getting your products to your customers?
We started at farmers markets, learning by interacting directly with consumers. We figured out our ideal retail profile and sought out businesses that fit. For Off The Deck Hot Sauce, we started in boutiques and Co-Ops. For our soda it has been restaurants and liquor stores.
5. How does someone get their product in the retailers?
The hardest part is figuring out your target market and then matching that audience to their preferred retail spaces. However, with that figured out, it is possible to make a solid pitch that is beneficial to both us and the retailer.
6. What have you learned from marketing efforts?
Marketing is a moving target. Social media platforms and buying habits change. The need to be constantly producing and pushing marketing is essential to maintain sales volume and grow the brand. Frequently interacting on social media is critical.
7. With both of you having “day jobs” and these being soto-speak “side hustles,” how do you balance this and what keeps you going on days when you’re exhausted?
Balance is not something we live with. However, we love our products and our customers. So, when we are out of gas we keep pushing because the delight we see in customers is totally worth it. Loving the work is essential
8. What lies ahead for Off The Deck and Flannel Fizz in the near future?
Christmas season is upon us so we will be pushing there. After the holiday season we are testing a series of recurring events at Fargo Brewing Co. and to makers markets, and expanding into the Minneapolis area.
9. If you could go back in time to Jeremiah and Rachel from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
It’s worth it. Take notes. Get comfortable shoes for the market. Most importantly, that this is possible; yes it is more difficult that you can imagine, but you can do it.
10. What can we do as a community to help Off The Deck and Flannel Fizz succeed?
- We are always on the hunt for good retailers in South and West Fargo, as well as growing in Bismarck, Grand Forks and MinneapolisSt.Paul, as we are not as connected in those areas.
- Buying locally is huge. Makers are all loosely connected. When you buy local it ripples out and helps everybody
- Attend events when you can.