The Bolling family’s idea for the meat market and deli in Iola was a topic of discussion for a number of years before it became a reality. Their idea? To open a full-service meat market similar to something you might have experienced from the past – with a local butcher that knows you by name and where customers can buy every cut carved to their specifications.
The Bollings were familiar with meat and the meat business. The family had owned a meat processing facility in Moran, a nearby community, for a number of years and had great success with the retail portion of the business. But over time they noticed their customer base was overwhelmingly from out of town. The question became, “Should we bring our business to our customers rather than relying on them to travel to Moran?”
Then in 2003 they thought they had their answer. The Moran meat processing facility burned. Destroyed by a devastating fire, perhaps this crisis had provided the perfect opportunity to relocate. But you don’t just pull up stakes and move a business. It’s not that easy. After careful consideration, the family decided it wasn’t the ideal time to assume the risk. The family rebuilt in the same location.
Over the years, the idea never died. In 2010, the timing was right, and they expanded their operations to Iola keeping the processing facility in place in Moran. To successfully operate two locations, the family divided location responsibilities. The Bolling’s daughter, Cara Bolling Thomas, manages the Iola meat market and deli, while Mitch and Sharon continue to operate the Moran meat processing facility.
The Story Behind the Story
And while you can see two locations for Bolling’s Meat operating today, what you don’t see is the story behind the story. And this is where the Kansas Small Business Development Center begins to help.
Knowing they needed to expand, Cara began looking for assistance to improve operations of the business and explore ideas to expand the business. She received a recommendation from another business that had used the KSBDC at Pittsburg State University. Cara then contacted the center and began working with KSBDC consultant Tom Byler.
As Bolling Thomas and Byler worked together throughout the consulting relationship, they uncovered challenges that could be addressed to help the company reach its goals. While the business was a retail operation, they were not using a point-of-sale (POS) system. With an effective electronic system in place they could get a better grasp on sales, costs, or profits. A consistent accounting system could also reduce the guess work around inventory, cost of goods, and sales tax.
To help them achieve their goals, Byler researched several systems and provided them to the client for comparison. To nail down the market potential Byler used the KSBDC’s extensive market research tools and provided data that the company could use to identify their market including what their market looked like, who their potential customers were, and how they could better market their base.
As a result of KSBDC assistance, the Bolling’s have purchased a POS system, implemented accountability in their paperwork, re-worked their marketing strategy, and re-priced their product accordingly. Today, they readily admit their business is much more efficient. They have a firmer grasp on cash flow and profitability, and they have a plan in place to move forward with their business goals.
In Cara’s view, their greatest successes in opening the Iola facility have been establishing a loyal customer base and experiencing the need to expand three times since opening. The greatest challenges they faced have been finding a reliable work force, managing pricing to be competitive with national retailers, and accounting.
When commenting on their success, Cara has some valuable advice that we believe is so powerful we’d like to share in its entirety.
In the words of Cara Bolling Thomas…
The secret to success is not just one secret. It’s many.
First, you must have a passion for what you do. You need to believe in your product and sell it as such.
After you firmly believe that you have the best available product in your market, you need to have the drive to sell it. You must be willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make this viable.
You must also KNOW your product. You need to know everything about it, from where it was made, to how, to why.
Do not go into a business green. Get a mentor or some experience in the field.
And we know that her attitude, determination, and work ethic is without a doubt part of that secret. “I work every day at improving our product and our customer service. I talk and listen to our customers and find out the reasons they spend money with me and how I can make sure that they continue,” says Cara. “I know our product, I know our customers, and I know the work it takes to keep it that way.”
Her advice to someone thinking about starting a business is to “know who your potential customers are, how to attain them, and how to keep them. Realize the people who work for you are a direct reflection on you, the owner. Never employ someone you cannot trust.” For current business owners, Cara would recommend taking time “to stay on top on the ever-changing scene. A business will need to evolve through the years and the owner should embrace change or the business will not grow.”
Learn more about Bolling’s on Facebook | 20-331-3784
Assisted by Tom Byler, KSBDC Consultant | KSBDC at PSU | Chanute. PSU KSBDC NCCC Outreach | 620.431.2820×285 | pittstate.edu/bti/sbdc | firstname.lastname@example.org
Represented by Senator Pat Roberts | Senator Jerry Moran | Fed. Dist. #2 – Lynn Jenkins | State Sen. Dist.#12 – Caryn Tyson | State Rep. Dist.#9 – Kent Thompson