Some very seasoned meat processors have a tendency to dwell on problems. Fortunately, the industry is seeing a steady flow of optimistic, young blood entering the trade and a background in meat isn’t a prerequisite among these entrepreneurial newcomers.

One of these remarkable newcomers is Chad Stuckey, the founder of The Red Barn Market, a Fort Wayne, Ind., enterprise that was established less than a year ago as a meat reseller.

“I’ve worked in advertising and marketing for over 15 years,” he explains. “Before starting my own agency, I worked for other similar firms for six years. I wanted to create an online retail business from scratch so that our agency could gain more credibility with clients, especially in e-commerce.”

He is the president and creative director of Brand Innovation Group, a branding and marketing company and a self-described “country boy good at marketing.” Chad wanted the chance to work on a small business with his dad, Tom, a retired contractor and also his partner.

Ideal product
Getting started in on-line commerce first meant finding a product he believed in and nearby Grabill Country Meats, a meat-canning operation featuring beef, pork and poultry, seemed to fit the bill. The company is just 10 miles away in Grabill, Ind. “Those who have tasted Grabill’s products feel it is superior to others,” he continues. “However, the product is only available for purchase in a very limited region. The manufacturer told us they get requests from snowbirds in Florida as well as people in California. They often get people from out of state driving to the cannery to buy cases of the product. So, it seemed like an ideal product to sell online.”

Chad, 40, took on the marketing and his dad agreed to handle the shipping and fulfillment. The limited, but very effective, Web site ( www.TheRedBarnMarket.com  ) is an exercise in business planning. The Stuckey’s market the canned products to enthusiasts of camping, boating, RVers, hikers and survivalists, an easy sell given the products require no refrigeration and come with a five-year use-by guarantee with proper storage.

The site posts offerings of canned beef chunks, boneless chicken, pork chunks and boneless turkey, available in 14-oz. and 27-oz. sizes. To whet the appetites of online visitors, Chad recently posted some photos of cooked dishes using the products, including such recipes as “turkeyzilla,” a waffle gobbler sandwich, cluck stew and other appetizing meals that can be prepared from the canned meats. Replete with its own Red Barn photos, the Web site even offers a case of meats to winners of red-barn photo contests.

Shipping challenges
The total operation is confined to two rented locations about 20 minutes apart with only about 800 sq. ft. combined. One leased office space is used to market and handle orders while the other is used for shipping and order fulfillment.

The biggest problem Chad and his dad had to overcome was shipping costs. In many cases, shipping can cost as much as the product itself. They’ve toyed with different shipping rates and are currently offering free shipping on orders of $100 or more. Lesser orders are shipped for a flat $8 charge.

“Shipping and fulfillment was the one lapse we didn’t have in place at the outset,” he admits. “We actually got a better rate for air shipping, but in May there seemed to be a great volume slowdown when we tried to discontinue ground shipping. If there is one thing I’ve learned it is you have to give the customers what they are comfortable with in that department. Now about 20 percent of our orders go out by ground.”

Initially, customers order a few cans to try the product and then come back with orders for cases. The average order for repeat customers ranges from $200-$220.

Keeping it simple
Since opening in November 2009, the firm has focused on its diverse customer base that is interested in quick, healthy meals. In July, the Stuckeys got an order from a university anthropology department looking for supplies to take to Alaska on a field research project, demonstrating their entire potential hasn’t been reached. Chad also reports several military families regularly order his product for shipment to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much of the success for this enterprise lies in its simplicity. The young entrepreneur claims that sales volume has jumped about 50 percent each month since its startup, the exception being the period when shipping changes were made.

There is plenty of inventory on hand and orders received by noon go out the same day and those received in the afternoon are shipped the following morning.

In the future, The Red Barn Market will feature other regional brands with a good following. Chad says he’s looking at adding some noodles and sauces that might be a logical fit with his canned-meat orders.

“The Midwest is full of some great producers of regional products that we’ll be looking at,” he points out, “but right now we’re concentrating on building volume.”

Steve Krut, an industry veteran, is a contributing editor writing exclusively for Meat&Poultry, specializing in small business issues. He resides in Marietta, Pa.