Small Biz
The Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse operates out of the original building from 1855.
 
I
t’s possible, but you probably won’t find a continuously operated meat shop in the United States older than Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse in east-central Iowa. Still in the original building established in 1855, the shop has changed with the times and is an upbeat player in the arena of selling meats by mail.

 

Tim Blattner, 31, who came on board as “seasonal help” in October of 2007, now holds down the job as production manager. He relates some of the changes the enterprise has seen since it was founded as part of the Amana Colonies 162 years ago:

“The Amana Colonies is a group of seven villages established by German immigrants that wanted to retain the culture and lifestyle of their homeland. Living communally, each village had its own meat shop that provided hams, bacons and sausages made in the Old World tradition using long-held recipes.

“In 1932, the changing world and Great Depression forced the leaders to end communal living and form the Amana Society, a business corporation. Each member was given shares in the new corporation and continued to work in their designated trades. This historical landmark would put the Amana Colonies and the Amana Society on a road to major changes.”

Small Biz
The weekend of Oktoberfest sees 25,000 people gather at the Amana facilities.
 

Travel destination

As the Amana Society’s reputation for quality products, including heritage smoked meats spread, the Amana Colonies quickly became a destination for travelers. Three decades before interstate highways were built, visitors came by railway to experience special food and small-town hospitality. Today the Amana Colonies welcome visitors year-round, but there is nothing like its Oktoberfest weekend when 25,000 people gather at the facilities over a three-day period.

“We’ve had nearly 7,000 people in our small shop in a single day during these events,” Blattner says, “and on average days during the heavy summer tourist season we may get up to 800 in a day.”

Sure, they come for the historical element, but few leave without a visit to the 1,400-sq.-ft. retail meat store where a robust sampling program of jerky, snack stick and meat munchies entice them to become shoppers. The production and shipping area make up an additional 5,600 sq. ft.

“We greatly value our historical tradition,” he explains, “but we want visitors to enjoy a meat shopping experience. That means our service personnel are smiling, offering friendly service and facilitating a happy experience for them. They go above and beyond what the tourists expect.”

The shop is decorated in the style of the settlement and features a service counter where custom cut filets, steaks, Iowa-style thick pork chops (smoked and unsmoked), and fresh brats are on display. They offer a new flavored bratwurst on a regular basis.

“We remain true to our original recipes, but find that today’s shoppers like more spicy and smoked flavors than in the past,” Blattner adds.

A workforce of 12 full-timers and 20 to 25 part-time employees staff the shop and production area during the busy season.

Years ago, the shop went from a wood-burning gravity smokehouse to a stainless-steel processing oven and works with only one stuffer. With a fresh production room, cooked product room and a chill cooler, the business has manufacturing limitations but has “things in the works” to address that drawback. They partner with other companies to produce items like five styles of bacon and smoked turkeys.

Small Biz
Amana's mail-order business makes up 40 percent of its total volume.
 

Increasing business

Now if you can imagine such a volume of daily store traffic, give thought to the bigger end of the package...Amana’s mail-order business.

In the late 1990’s, the Amana Society began developing a gift box program highlighting their meats and some specialties like horseradish mustard and other local condiments. They originally offered seven varieties of gift boxes.

As internet traffic and its catalog evolved over the years, Amana’s mail-order business roared into cruising gear and now represents nearly 40 percent of the establishment’s total volume. It’s virtually impossible to take a quick peek at their website, amanameatshop.com. Just click on the colorful downloadable catalog and the appetite booms over the colorful products displayed and the immense variety of offerings. No one can look at just one page.

Amana operates under federal inspection and focuses heavily on the retail area. They serve a few foodservice operators in the local community with a population of about 2,000.

With stupendous growth in its mail-order business, Amana has its share of challenges associated with meeting the increasing demand.

“We target our production for catalog and gift box sales for Oct. 31,” Blattner explains. “We do our own shipping and don’t use a fulfillment house for our orders. That means Nov. 1 triggers our really busy season. It’s kind of ‘round the clock’ here so we can get our orders out.”

With the variety of products and assortment opportunities available, Amana uses a marketing department to churn out such ideas beyond the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. They cover the off-season with such features as barbecue and tailgate-themed gift boxes. Indeed, they sell a Smokehouse Club assortment that sends its “member-customers” different specialty products six times per year, a bacon assortment featuring four of their different flavored bacons, and even a four-times a year Holiday Club package that includes Easter ham; Independence Day ribeyes; smoked turkey for Thanksgiving; and a sausage, snack-meat-and-cheese medley for Christmas.

“The club thing isn’t that gigantic,” Blattner notes, “but when you can start a lot of months knowing you already have 40 or 50 specialty items sold, that’s a big thing for any small production shop.”

Stepping up capabilities for production seems to be on the radar at Amana Meats & Smokehouse. Blattner also believes strongly that the best effort will be in constantly improving the mail-order program to make it stronger and in promoting the Amana Colonies attraction as a whole.

“We’re not doing anything drastic, just taking thought-through steps that improve our efficiency and maintain the quality of our products and the experience of our customers,” Blattner explains. “We want them to open and enjoy their order and set their sights on coming back for the next one. That helps change the dynamic for our slower months.”

He said one check on the quality of their meats has been in competition. The company has won the Judge’s Choice Awards in the area Wurst Festival three years running and this year took home the People’s Choice Award. Blattner says they want to get out to stronger competitions at different levels to keep their products on a quality level with others while tapping into new product innovations.