#PandemicPivots Episode 1: Paul Family Farms
Missed out on the first episode of #PandemicPivots with Paul Family Farms? We've got a treat for you: here's the full episode and the transcript of our first episode of #PandemicPivots. Watch and/or read how Travis has pivoted his business from B2B to direct-to-consumer and amplified the footprints of 60+ local businesses that partner with the farm!
George Cook: Travis, I know that the business has been around for 150 years. Welcome, welcome to Pandemic Pivots. Why don't we start by telling us a little about yourself and this five generation family business.
Travis Paul: Yeah, thanks, George. Thank you guys for inviting me. This is super exciting, I admire what Honeycomb is doing. I know I have a lot of friends that have been part of it so exciting that I can be here and talk. When you look at the farm, we've actually been on the property since 1865.
This is our family's 155th year on the farm. My great, great grandfather to my great grandfather, my grandfather, and now my dad and his brothers and sisters and their spouses live on the farm where the original plot was.e've transitioned a lot over the years, and it's one of those things that the world changes, we continue to change and we're now producing maple syrup and honey, traditionally we were a dairy farm.
We say, of our 155 years, 130 of them were making milk and being a dairy farm, and also having some horses and chickens and pigs and all the other things. And, as we transitioned now that dairy farming became so difficult, we then moved into, now we're tapping maple trees, and we're making maple syrup and producing honey.
And that's really our main focus for our business. We kept the property together, which is exciting and we have about 250 acres on our farm. We've been able to keep that property now for over 150 years.
George Cook: That's awesome. So talk a little bit about your involvement with the farm. How long have you been involved? Probably since you could walk. But how long have you been involved?
I know you've been doing some really interesting things over the past few years to help adjust the business model a little bit and what is increasingly becoming kind of a commodity market for maple syrup. How do you stand out in that type of environment?
Travis Paul: Yeah. And I obviously grew up on the farm when I was 18, moved away, went to college, would come home in the summers and was involved but really from the time I was, about 18 until I was 30, was away from the farm.
I would come home a little bit involved, but not very much. As I moved to Pittsburgh for the first time with my day job, I wanted to get more involved with the farm. So, I spent quite a bit of time in corporate America, I moved seven times in nine years and a number of different projects and really wanted to do more with the farm. I moved to Pittsburgh, at this point, our maple syrup business had been growing and was moving from sort of this hobby phase to like, 'Hey, we think there's a big opportunity there'.
My dad and his brother Tim, were the ones that said, I really think this will be our next phase of the farm as we start to plan this out. And I said, ‘well, if we're going to do this, let's put a plan together and go forward’.
We look at a timeline around 2015, I'm moving to Pittsburgh for the first time, the back half of 2015, I'm back and forth, as I'm moving here, but we're saying 'Hey, for the 2016 season', so for those of you that maybe aren't super familiar with maple syrup, we make maple syrup about 30 days a year and for us, that means it is the month of March.
We want days above freezing nights, below freezing, lots of sunshine and before the maple blooms, so once the maple trees blossom for the year, we're done. We're putting in a ton of work planning. We went from a couple hundred taps, maybe 1000 taps, to up to over 5000 taps that year. We put in new equipment, built a new sugar shack, and said 'Hey, we think there's a really big opportunity'.
Come the 2016 season, we make maple syrup and for most maple syrup producers, it gets sold on a commodity market, which is similar to a lot of farming and has been for a long time. And kind of like when we had the dairy cows, the milk went into a milk truck, and I went to the milk plant, and we never saw it again.
Our first year we made this big expansion and we took maple syrup, and we took it to one of the commodity buyers for the maple syrup auction. And, we get this certified check and that day we walk away. But the prices are so tough, because you have no control over your product.
You have to make all this product, they go through it, they grade it, they test it, they say this is what it's worth, and then that's it. They write you a check and you really have no say over it. I think also what's interesting with maple syrup is 95% of the world's maple syrup is made in Canada, so you think about this pullback. Ontario is making the majority of maple syrup, Vermont makes up about half of what's left and then everybody else makes a little bit from there.
The price of maple syrup at a commodity market is really driven by 1) their volume which each year is setting record volumes but 2) currency fluctuations. If you look at the Canadian dollar versus the strength of the US dollar over the last 10 years, it's dropped significantly. So now one point the Canadian dollar was actually stronger than the US dollar.
Now it's trading 70/75 cents on the dollar, which in turn, if I'm someone that’s buying, tons and tons of maple syrup can go to Canada and get it much cheaper than I can get in the US. After our 2016 year, we said, we really think we should try to go with our own brand; we have this great story, we have this great product, we make really good maple syrup. Why should we sell it all in Canada, Vermont or New Hampshire?
We did keep a little bit of syrup back in 2016. And that's when we decided to say no, we're going to go out to the farmers market business. We're going to go after restaurants, we're going to really start our focus there.
That's where we really started to launch the brand of Paul Family Farms. That is what brought us up to why we decided to get out of the commodity market and it was really just a price driven piece. There was no way we were going to make money selling it at the auction.
George Cook: Wow so you were at 5000 trees in 2016. Approximately how big is the operation now?
Travis Paul: Now we're in between six and 7000 taps. Our largest trees will tap three times and we continue to add more and more taps. Hopefully this year, we're closer to about 8,000 trees going into the season.
George Cook: Wow, that's, that's really exciting.
Travis Paul: To put it into perspective, the largest Maple producer in the US has 465,000 trees tapped. So, we still have room to grow.
George Cook: Wow. That's very cool. Thank you for sharing that. So, March rolls around, I guess even in late February. When did it become clear to you that this business model was gonna get shaken up, that the world was changing? What were the warning signs and what were some of the first things that you did?
Travis Paul: We took a step back in 2016 and said to ourselves, ‘This doesn't really make sense for us to sell at the auctions. We're going to try to go after putting our name around it and our brand and lots of learnings through there’. As we get through that, we said, 'Okay,we don't really know a lot about the food industry or the restaurant industry, or how people buy this’.
Therefore, we started at some farmers markets. We're really fortunate. Our first ever restaurant customer when we did this was Jacqueline and Nate Schoedel at The Speckled Egg who worked with Honeycomb. They had a restaurant at that time called 'Josephine's Toast' and they brought us in and that was really where we started.
I said ‘We should really go out for these restaurant businesses’. So we were doing farmers markets, we had an online store, and we had a couple retailers. But really, we were focused on ‘How do we keep growing the restaurant business?’ because it was easy, it was consistent, it was a ton of business, and it was fun.
We were partnering with other small businesses and working together. As we look into the back half of 2019, in the first couple months of 2020, it was off the charts in terms of how much we were selling to restaurants. Hundreds of gallons of syrup every single month were going to restaurants.
And then that stopped, and it’s been really slow since then. What I would say is that it was the end of February when I started saying ‘something's happening, you're hearing all this buzz, in the US,’ we weren't really talking about it yet. But, if you're following world news, it was clear that something strange was happening.
I'd say the first week of March is when I started to get really nervous and say, 'Okay, something big is going to happen'. Going back through my notes with this right around March 15, was when I said, ‘We're going to have to figure out how to change our business. We need to plan for massive shut-downs, people won't be going to restaurants anymore, and I assumed that a restaurant would never buy syrup again’.
I said to myself, ‘If I can figure out how to make money with this business and change our model, with the assumption that I'll never sell to a restaurant again, if the restaurants when they reopen, and they start buying again, that'll just be extra business because we already knew how to sell to those’.
The first thing I did was I said, ‘Okay, I have to change our business. How do we get in touch with all of our customers? How do we get in touch with everybody that has bought from us at a farmers market?’ The first thing we did was start to utilize our newsletter. We already had one, but we really didn't use it. It sort of became one of those nice, fun hobbies as well.
I'm not a good writer. That's not a thing that I'm very good at. I'm good at putting bullet points on a page, but that's about it. I said, ‘We need to leverage this tool and get out and talk to our customers’. March 17th was the day we sent our newsletter out. And it really just said, 'Hey, we don't know what's going to happen here, but we're going to do our part'.
A couple things we did right away was on social media: we were giving away gift cards to all of our restaurant partners. For a lot of these restaurants, things were going great and then immediately, there was no cash, and the restaurant business is a very lean business to begin with.
My best friends in Pittsburgh are now all restaurateurs. I said ‘We need to do something’. Right away, we started giving out gift cards. We were buying 10 $20 gift cards, not a ton, but to all the different restaurants that we partner with.
And to put in perspective, that's about 80 different businesses that we went out and bought business cards or gift cards from. We just started giving them away on social media. So doing contests and trying to get out there helping them with a little bit of cash and keeping an excitement going.
In the same time when we did that I also said ‘We need to be part of our community right now’, thankfully for us, if you look at the maple syrup business, we already planned for March and April to be tough because essentially we're making all of our inventory in one month. By April 1, we have 365 days of inventory, and then it's our job to try to figure out how to sell it over the next year and move on with it.
We kind of planned for this cash transfer, okay, we're going to spend a ton of money to make all this syrup. April is going to be a little slow, and then March or May and June, so on starts to move up. So we had already planned for that. But as I said, we need to help our community right now. And I'm not a big fan of sales.
I'm not a big fan of promotions or discounts, especially as a small business because all that does is hurt cash flow, and especially in times like these. I feel like the gut reaction is to say, give 5% off or free shipping. Well, we didn't turn it down.
Rather than do that, we started picking a different community organization each month to donate a percentage of our online sales too. We've done Feeding America.org, which was our first one because they seem to be the best response in getting money to food banks. We did one and helped relaunch farmer's markets.
We're doing one for our hometown, Gelten, where we had to cancel our fourth of July celebration, which brings a ton of money to our small town. August will be a community kitchen here in Pittsburgh. So we're actually going to keep this going. Every month, we're going to donate 5% of our online sales to different community based organizations.
George Cook: So I think it's really interesting. You talked about how you basically assumed that restaurant sales were going away. But at the same time, one of the first things you did was really proactively launch this campaign to bolster the allies that you have within the restaurant community. Can you talk through that community that you've built.
Travis Paul: I think many people think of Paul Family Farms as a catalyst that has really brought the Pittsburgh restaurant scene together in many ways. I'm talking about the importance of that community, both before COVID, but also going through the COVID crisis.
I'd say one of the things I've learned, over the years with both my day job, and then with Paul Family Farms, is that you want everyone in your pipeline to be really strong. For example, we want our supplier to be really strong. Our supplier, (which most of our material for maple syrup comes from a business in Vermont) is where we get our packaging for all of our equipment.
I want them to be really strong and healthy also because in times like this, we can go back to them and say, ‘We're going to do our best to pay our bill on time, but, let's be realistic, we just lost a ton of our business. Can you give us some dating on some of these invoices?’.
My first thing was ‘I want this’ but, then the second side of that is I want the whole pipeline really strong. As we started learning about this business, I realized quickly, we have a job to make maple syrup and a safe quality product that meets our customers' demands but really our job is to help our restaurant partners bring product, bring customers in, and buy dishes with maple syrup.
For example, if someone comes in, they order your pancakes, or they order a maple fashion, or they order ice cream, or something with maple syrup, it helps all of us. I also want them to be healthy as well because it's really a network. The more people working together, the healthier everyone is.
And so I said, for my business planning, I'm going to build a model that can sell syrup without restaurants. But, at the end of the day, I knew I needed that business and that's really what has helped us grow: this word of mouth and that's relationships.
Also, each year, we take a group of chefs to the farm to learn to make maple syrup. And one, it's a lot of fun. It's really neat. But, it also helps us start to understand our customers. I think that has got to be a key thing for any small businesses, to really understand what motivates your customers, what scares your customers, what gives them anxiety and how to partner together. I never wanted to be just a vendor of maple syrup, I wanted to be a partner with these restaurants and I wanted to because selfishly, the bigger the restaurant, the more they sell, the more maple syrup they buy.
And that's good for me but, it's really a healthy thing that helps smooth things out when you go through bumps like this. I wanted to build a model that doesn’t need restaurants, but, at the end of the day, we need them. We need them to be healthy. I need them buying syrup. The quickest thing I can do right now is to buy gift cards because it gets them some cash in the door right away.
George Cook: Travis, you talked about engaging with your online audience and really kind of solidifying some of those relationships. So what tips or tricks, any ideas, to share about how to bring that online audience together and engage with folks and also how to switch rapidly to online fulfillment. I know, we talked offline about some of the things you did to make your life easier in terms of fulfilling shipping orders in your garage. But we'd love to hear some of those best practices.
Travis Paul: I think one of the key things, I try to really live my life by this and, there's a great Mark Twain quote that says, "the first thing you should do every morning is eat a live frog, because your day will get better after that."
And, I think that if you take the approach of: I'm going to do the most difficult thing that I need to do. And that was kind of what I said, back in March was, this is not going to be easy, but I can't just sit around and wait for things to be different. I can't wait for this to change. I need to say it's going to be really tough, how do we figure that out?
Admittedly, I thought that we wouldn't take so long. I thought that, within a couple months we'd be okay. Things with restrictions would lift if we had this under control.
And, I would say my if you asked me back in middle of March, what I said is let's start taking this into bites. One of my other favorite sayings is, "the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time," so, how do you start?
I really wanted to take this approach of: everybody has stress right now, everybody has anxiety right now, but we still have a lot of things to be grateful for and really happy about. What was nice for us is that maple trees didn't really know there was a pandemic so we actually had a fantastic year making maple syrup.
We made a lot of maple syrup. We made really good maple syrup, some probably some of the best tasting syrup we've made. That's just season-to-season, batch-to-batch, and at the same time, in the first week of March, we actually had bought a new bottling system. So that was going to be delivered that week.
We also had custom jugs made. We had a ton of expenses going out. And I said, ‘We have to stay the course’. There is almost this idea that there was a little bit of fun in “going for broke”, like what does it matter if all this collapses, like, let's keep doing it!
When we were telling that story, we tried to keep our messaging really positive, grateful, and excited. We started saying things like, “Hey, things are really crazy right now. And no one knows what's going to happen. But let's make the best of it.” So then we said, ‘Okay, I got to figure out how to sell online’, so we had an online store/
Before the pandemic, it was more for fun than anything, we would do a couple orders a month on it. And the first thing I said is ‘Okay, I need to just spend some time and figure this out’. We did that through GoDaddy, I'd recommend anyone who's maybe not an expert online or has the money, GoDaddy has a really simple solution to build a store, and I said, 'Let's keep it really simple,', our key items that people buy, not the whole product catalog.
So first we built that out. The next thing I looked at was shipping costs. We're all used to Amazon, and I can go to Amazon and I can buy anything in the fields that gets here in a couple hours. And it's free to ship and I said, ‘I'm not Amazon, and I don't want to be Amazon. But I also need to understand if I'm someone that's buying maple syrup, well, I could go to Amazon and get it with free shipping’.
We did the math, and we found that we can charge $5 shipping. Our average shipping cost is about $8.70 to ship. Therefore, if I charge someone $5 there's about $4 of cost that I'm eating, but I'm looking at this way of reaching people I can't reach right now, because I don't have an outlet.
We're not in grocery stores and we still wanted to reach these people. So I thought, ‘I'm okay if I give up a little bit of money here’. And once we did that, I would say immediately we saw lift in sales, because I was looking at a report from GoDaddy of people that put something in their cart, but they don't check out, and we're having more people do that then people checking out so once we switched the $5 shipping it it went through the roof.
To put things in perspective, outside of maybe the holiday season, we would ship maybe 4 or 5 boxes a month,10 at the most. In the month of April, we shipped 220 boxes. Immediately, we started engaging with customers, we did paid social media, we did all this but I said, ‘we got to figure out how to ship them’. We went from shipping 40, 60, 80 gallons at a time to now shipping a quart here a pint here and things like that.
At that point, we said, ‘okay, how do we do this in the first place?’. I went to Uline. Anyone that's looking for packaging or shipping, or materials, go to Uline. They'll send you free samples of literally anything in their catalog. I called Uline and said, "Hey, here's all my different ideas, I need you to send me all these different samples.
From there, we just started packing different boxes, different sizes. If you're someone that packs boxes and ships, get their newspaper stock,it's plain paper, but it's the same stock that a newspaper would be printed on, it's the best thing to pack with.
Once we moved to that we haven't had a single broken or leaked bottle. That was a huge step. So I said, ‘Okay first I need to engage my customers, tell them what's going on. And I also wanted this engagement of everybody's doom and gloom. Let's talk about the fun stuff that's going on the farm!’.
Let's talk about our new bottles and packaging on your filling line, all the syrup we're making. From there, I said ‘I need to figure out how to make this website better’. That was a lot of hours and just grinding it out too.
Once orders started coming in I said, ‘Well I need to get better at shipping’. I said ‘How do I figure out packaging’. When we did all of that, the last piece was figuring out how to lower my shipping cost. And what's amazing is there's a number of different websites where you can shop what freight costs are shipping costs.
I use a website called GoShippo.com What's nice is that it integrates with your website and you plug it in and it automatically calculates based on weight and size of products. Then it says okay, if I want to ship through UPS, it's this price and if it's FedEx, it's this price and so on.
We moved everything over to Shippo and it was a huge savings. I think a lot of people default if they're shipping to the flat rate if it ships. It's great if you're shipping to California, but if you're shipping more locally or closer and your product isn't super heavy and maple syrup is pretty heavy, it's 11-12 pounds to the gallon.
Even for us, it's significantly cheaper to ship through Shippo than it is to go through the flat rate boxes. We still ship everything through the postal service. Everything goes there. I scheduled a pickup, they came and got it. But going through them was a big step.
George Cook: I loved the tactical examples of Uline and Shippo as tools to help with the shipping and distribution. Any thoughts around email and social media marketing, you talked about the beginning of any particular tools that you found helpful there, as you were pivoting?
Travis Paul: Yep. So we were using MailChimp to send out our newsletters and, and quite frankly, I prefer MailChimp. But I would say the problem with MailChimp if you're not someone who's using it today, is it there's so many options and kind of going back to like me not being a good writer, this was very overwhelming to like try to write this giant newsletter and I just was like, This isn't this isn't going to work for me.
We now use Square, our point of sale system, and I really like Square. I think it works well for people that don't have to customize orders, like in a restaurant where you have to change a ticket seems complex, but with us it works well.
Square has a marketing feature, it is $15 a month to send newsletters. We switched everything over to Square. One of the first things we did is when you buy from us if you pay with a credit card, you have an email on file through Square, you get an email from us just saying "Nice to meet you”. It thanks you for buying the product, it gives you a link to our website, where you can find who sells our product, recipes, all these different things.
We essentially started there and I think the thing that I found was, people don't want long exhaustive newsletters, which, looking back on it, I should have known that because if I get a newsletter with one line and/or one topic, I read it and I usually engage with it. Whereas, when I get a super long newsletter, I usually start scrolling through and I tell myself I’ll get back to it and then I never get back to it. So I think that was big.
The next thing I found was planning out our social media. I have a little journal at my desk and I continue to make notes there, but, Sunday nights I try to plan my posts for the next seven days. Monday might be a recipe, Tuesday might be a promotion on what markets we're doing that week, Wednesday might be about someone we're partnering with, and Thursday we always do throwback Thursdays, which people love. Each week, I'm trying to plan all those out in advance. I know that makes posting a lot easier. I believe posting on social media needs to be consistent, so it's not something you can just post when you're busy, or when you're in season, or when you're trying to get in touch with people, you need to do it regularly. Like that, you can do some fun things.
So when I was starting to get brain freeze, I started the ABCs of the farm. So we did, "A for AB area", which is a term for beehives. "V was for gravy syrup”. That gave me another 26 days of posts which made it easy.
George Cook: What was x?
Travis Paul: "X was extraction" for extracting honey, so I just capitalized the accent. But I've thought about doing xylem which is the technical term for maple sap but I thought it was a little bit of a stretch. I'd say that another tactical piece for social media posting would be if you can include a picture of yourself, your customers, or your family, the response is always fantastic.
In one of the first posts, we were filling all these gallons of maple syrup to go to restaurants, and I had hundreds of gallons of maple syrup sitting in my garage and I thought to myself, ‘how many people are going to buy a gallon of maple syrup?’.
Therefore, we took a picture of me standing in the kitchen holding four gallons of maple syrup and said “Would anybody want to buy a gallon of maple syrup?”. And that was and still is our most liked and shared post. It's just a picture of me with a cheesy smile holding all these gallons of syrup.
On a tactical note, if you're doing newsletters, do it consistently, but not every day. And then I think I think the next note is to make sure you're giving human touch, that's what makes us small businesses different. We can provide a better level of service, we can provide a relationship, we can be a part of our communities, that's what you should really focus on.
George Cook: This is all great feedback and advice for businesses as they think about getting back in business in this COVID world. The last dimension I want to talk a little bit about was, I think you were one of the first businesses that I heard of, to go back into farmers markets and find safe ways to do that.
Could you talk a little bit about your experience of going to a farmers market in 2020, and what that looks like, how you had to adjust the Paul Family Farms brand,and the interaction with customers to be able to still have that personalization and to do so in a safe way.
Travis Paul: Yes. I have to give huge praise and credit to the Bloomfield Development Committee. I think at times all the vendors were asking when the market was going to open and what was going to happen.
I remember they were having biweekly calls week on what they were doing, what they're trying to get the market to, and why there were delays. I can tell you the first day that we had a market in early May, I got there early.
They were there with tape measures, measuring things out and drawing chalk lines. The amount of work they put in was phenomenal. So, I think we’re super fortunate, and I'm very grateful that we were part of a market that took it so seriously, but for me, as we started thinking about the market, I said we need to have an option where people can order in advance. We then worked on our website to say ‘Hey you can order in advance, it'll be ready at the pickup station at the market via contactless interaction’.
We have a really nice tablecloth, we have newsletter signs up, and we have tons of products on the table and we are giving away tons of samples of products. That was a big thing for us, especially our Bourbon Barrel Aged Syrup, where most people may have not tried it before.
So what we did is we stripped things down, we made it where we could easily disinfect between customers. We bought two tables so that we didn’t have to touch them. We bought a point of sale system that had a cord where it was a Square Reader. Essentially, they would insert themselves.
We created this really simple bucket system where and this was a lot of the honor code involved, but we had two one gallon buckets on our table. If you were paying in cash, we had you put your money in one bucket, and then you would make your own change on the other bucket. So we tried to make it as contactless as possible for people, and it was really tough. I’ll tell you that the first farmers market we did was fantastic. There was this built up demand, there were tons of people.
We sold a ton of products, but it was really scary. I remember that morning being so anxious thinking ‘what is this going to be like?’. And at this point, there's still a lot of fear of, what it will be like to be in public. From there, we've learned each week, and I can tell you I bought six cases of paper towels because I had no idea how many paper towels I needed to do a market. You did not need six cases.
You need basically only one roll for the season. We bought disinfectants and we kind of said ‘Let's go a little overboard and then start to pare our way back’. We've kept that as things have changed and we've moved into different phases.
We still really limit our product. We try to disinfect it between customers. The one nice thing with us is it's all sealed so it's not like we're handling produce that you're going to eat right away.
We did a couple things. For example, we had a couple farms where we worked with them and gave them some really good wholesale pricing to get our syrup,like our really good friends at Wise County Biscuits.
You look at their model where they sold a lot at the market. and they had to switch from being able to make hot food to packaged and they were doing honey butter. It’s something that makes me laugh because we had one customer come back and said I would have never imagined mixing honey and butter together.
We thought that it was a pretty common mixture. We really said, we're all in this together and we're just trying to figure this out, and I think there's almost a sense of peace in the fact that everybody's in the same boat. It's not like just our business is having these headaches, everyone wins.
But I'd say, if you're looking at the two table system, it is really good. It keeps the distance, if you're someone that' handling a lot of cash, doing the buckets really seemed to work. It's a little bit of a pain. But I think right now, there's trust. There's just a level of trust that has to happen. We have to be trusting each other right now.
George Cook: Thanks for sharing that. I was about to ask about what the future holds. And I think Drew just submitted a question here that probably sums it up better than I could. Drew asks, “As everything is going back to normal, one of these days eventually, do you anticipate that you're going to continue to go back to focusing on restaurants or will you continue to focus on the online store?”.
How as a small business with very limited resources and limited time, do you anticipate going back to normal? And will you focus back on the original market or continue to do more of the online world?
Travis Paul: I'd say, one, I think what's important when we look at what’s happening, the one thing that COVID has done is it has accelerated trends; I think we don't always step back and look at it that way. Because everything just seemed to get flipped upside down.
But really, I think you can look at a lot of things and say, well, this sped up a trend of people buying online. I think it also sped up a trend of people wanting high quality food delivered to their house.
When you look at things like Sun Basket and Blue Apron, some of these other things with high demand that are doing home-delivery systems. We've done a lot of work with another one who's similar to Medium Rare Foods, who did a lot of gourmet foods for restaurants.
And I remember it was the second week of March, he called me and we were talking about how to do a home delivery system? I think it was speeding up that trend for us. I think that it also speeds up the trend of people wanting to know where their food comes from. It feels a little bit safer if it's coming directly from someone rather than maybe passing through a lot of different hands right now.
But, I'd say the biggest lesson that I've learned and one that everyone should take away is we need to have multiple segments as a small business. If you're someone that's really dependent on one revenue stream or one segment customer. I think that we need to have multiple segments.
We actually hired two people. For the first time, we had non-family members working with the maple syrup business; we hired two people to help with farmers markets, because it just wasn't possible for me to work four markets a week.
My goal is we'll continue to do market and we're going to continue to focus on our online business, because I think that you might be able to touch customers in a different way. We're shipping to California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. And without the online business, we'd never have that opportunity. I might not make as much money as selling it at a farmer's market, but I'm still profitable, and it's cash flow that I wouldn't get elsewhere.
I think as we look towards the future, we'll try to get back into all the segments. As restaurants start to reopen, we're seeing it now at a different capacity, restaurants that might have bought four gallons are now buying four quarts or they're buying one gallon. I delivered to one of our customers recently who typically would take like 25 to 30 gallons to an order, they took four gallons, so it's going to be a little bit shifting there.
I want to continue the farmers markets, I want to continue the online business restaurants, and hopefully we can move into grocery. I think the next thing that I look at is creating a safe, comfortable experience in a world today where nothing really seems normal or comfortable.
We're talking a lot about starting to do some sort of farm dinner or events on the farm. We have 250 acres and of that we have about 80 acres of fields we're not using. We thought to ourselves, is there a way to work with those restaurants again, and do some sort of dinner on the farm? We have the space and my brain is turning now: how do we continue to make this experience?
And I think that's another trend that accelerated. I think when you look at a partner of ours, Wigle Whiskey, who, we get all of our barrels from the syrup, when you go to anyone other than any one of their spaces, it's not just a whiskey tasting or spirits tasting, it's a full event and they do this experience and you feel very connected.
I think that's where we all need to get to as small businesses. How do we make a very safe, comfortable experience for people?
George Cook: That's awesome feedback. And, I love the vision going forward as we start to, hopefully round the corner and think about what the future looks like over the next 6 to 12 months. One final question from the audience and it's changing gears a little bit, but I really like this question a lot from Steve.
“Your family farming is often a very traditional business, where older generations aren't always enthusiastic about the kind of innovation that you've been talking about. So how did you work with the extended family and the other members of the Paul Family Farms to be so nimble and implement a lot of the things that you've been talking about for the past 45 minutes?
Travis Paul: I think my dad is listening so it might temper what I say here. I would say the one thing with my family that I've always admired and have admired a lot more is, as I've gotten older and realize that if things weren't working, we tried something different, and I think that's got to be a key thing, that if you see something that's not working, quit doing it.
I think you could look to our family where dairy farming wasn't profitable anymore. We were doing beef farming, we did pig farming, we did chickens, and quite frankly, we all worked off the farm as well.
I'd say it's just really about being an open discussion and just trying things. And I think there's also got to be a lot of measuring things. And that is probably a little bit of my background too.
I always say, “What gets measured is what gets done”. As we started trying new ideas and testing things, and I can tell you, there's been a number of ideas I got thrown on the table that we were really close to pulling the trigger on, and we said, ‘this isn't maybe the right time for it or the right thing’.
There's things we've tried that I said, ‘No, let's not do that’. We just continually try to make changes and I'd say that the key thing is, managing; working with families is very different than working with non-family because it's really hard to have those planned out conversations.
Those may be tough conversations and then you can walk away from it, and then the thing is you can't manage a family like it is at the end of day, a family business. I think, for us, there's a lot of people involved; my dad and his two younger brothers, Tim and Kenny, they're the guys who are just there on the farm every day.
I'm producing the product and taking care of it all year; there's my mom, my sister, my aunts who are also very involved with the farm. We have more family members coming in.
But I think the one thing is we really try to focus on what we're good at, and each one of the family members has a different skill set. I think at the end of the day, it's a lot easier. Once you get through that initial bloody nose of changing the process, it starts to feel a little bit better and a little bit better.
The thing is when something doesn't work, just stop. Think to yourself, ‘Do I need to do something different ? Or was it really my fault that it didn't work?’. I think that's probably small business in general where we tend to double down.
I think the one of the things I always think about is the sunk cost fallacy, and whether that is money or time, we tend to get this idea of the ‘Oh i invested so much money, I can't stop now’. Well, that's not a good argument.
George Cook: Travis, last question for you before we end the call here. How can people learn more about Paul Family Farms?
Travis Paul: I’d say that probably the easiest thing, Paul Family Farms is our website. You have the ability to order online and we'll ship.
We are doing $5 shipping still. Probably the next thing that I want to focus on is our Friends of the Farm page. When you go there, you're going to see all the other small businesses we partner with.
If you're going to buy syrup and you can whether that's going to Defer Coffee in the Strip District, buying our syrup at Steel City Salt, or if you’re in Pittsburgh and you're having Medium Rare Foods deliver, or if you're visiting Potter county, and you go to A Stroll Down Memory Lane or the hardware store, a drugstore that sells our syrup, go out and support those other businesses.
Follow us on social media and come see us at a market or an event. I feel like we've gotten pretty good at running markets, being safe, making it comfortable, and we continually have an update. If you go to our website, you'll see all the different events we're doing in Pittsburgh and around the state of Pennsylvania.
George Cook: Travis, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been really enlightening. I learned a lot. I'm really inspired about all of the steps that you and the farm have taken to continue to find ways to grow and adjust the business through all of the craziness that COVID has thrown our way.
Travis Paul: Thanks, George.
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