Craftsmanship and care: Ventures partnership helps small producers with big ideas
By Jill Lightner, guest contributor
This article was originally published in November 2019
Small producers can face a maze of challenges trying to get their products on retail shelves. Watch for holiday offerings at PCC stores from some of these talented entrepreneurs, thanks to an innovative partnership with a local nonprofit.
The most common route for small producers to launch a business is direct retail sales—think of pop-up craft fairs, farmers markets and online marketplaces like Etsy. While this method is an inexpensive and flexible way to get started, it has limitations, too. PCC sources from hundreds of local producers of all sizes, and through a deepening partnership with Ventures, hopes to help a new crop of small local entrepreneurs navigate the roadblocks to a wholesale-oriented business.
Based in Southeast Seattle, Ventures is a nonprofit center that helps budding entrepreneurs launch businesses, emphasizing individuals who are low income, people of color, immigrants and women. Founded in 1995 by Peter Rose, today Ventures has helped over 2,500 regional businesses through more than 350 training sessions and more than $1.6 million in loans, offering sliding scale class fees and Spanish language programs. Ventures clients who operate food businesses can access centrally located, affordable kitchen space, always a struggle to find amid the region’s rising rents.
In addition to providing $20,000 of financial support to Ventures in 2019, PCC helped develop the syllabus for a new five-session course titled Scaling for Success, delving into all aspects of developing a wholesale business. It covered topics like creating business plans with a focus on wholesaling, inventory management, and efficient communication between business owners and potential customers.
Four representatives from the PCC merchandising team attended the first class to help introduce the world of wholesale; they were on hand for the final class as well, where students had a chance to pitch their products in a style that mimics the trade shows they may someday attend.
Betsy Earl, the product client services manager for Ventures, came with a general outline for the first class, but students rapidly charged ahead. Note-taking was fast and furious as differences between brokerages and distributors were explained; later, bakers listened intently as Senior Grocery Merchandiser Scott Owen talked about the prevalence of genetically modified sugar beets and how to avoid them. A brief question about package design had all four merchandisers chiming in, but Associate Center Store Merchandiser Noah Smith had heads nodding around the room when he said, “Live up to the label! If it says ‘spicy’, then be spicy! If there’s a strawberry on the package, we want to really taste that berry.”
PCC carries several products from Ventures entrepreneurs. This holiday season, Capuli Club is returning to the shelves, joining Sunday Drive tea towels and Sister Sage herbal tinctures and balms, which are carried year-round. New this year is the Ooliva line of bath bombs and melts. Health & Body Care Merchandiser Terry DeBlasio is excited about these, saying, “We’ve never carried a bath melt before, and I love everything about them—the packaging, the scent and especially how they soothe winter skin.”
That’s part of the joy of working with microproducers—their craftsmanship and care can create impeccable and unexpected new products. While Ventures clients may benefit from PCC’s assistance, we all benefit from their creativity and effort.
Jill Lightner writes about eating, drinking and farming. Her latest book is “Scraps, Peels, and Stems: Recipes and Tips for Rethinking Food Waste at Home.”