When she bought the family business at age 22, she didn't receive a lot of support from the industry- but now after 18 years running a successful sausage operation, Nicole Makowski has proven herself.

Making her mark

The company’s name wasn’t the only change Nicole brought to the family business. After running operations for a couple of years she wanted to pursue the all-natural, organic market and custom manufacturing. This entailed tweaking existing operations.

“A couple years in, when I was about 24, I did a restructuring of the business with management. I removed myself from the office and I went onto the floor to develop better processing procedures – better ways of doing things,” she explains. “We had been in a rut of always doing things the same way we’d always done things. And from a process flow standpoint, it wasn’t working well.

“In order to be able to become organically certified I needed to go out into the plant to learn what it took – what we had to change in our operations to pursue that business,” Nicole says. “Besides, I like my employees to see that I’m okay with putting on boots and a frock and getting out there on the floor.”

Making changes in operational flow allowed Makowski’s to build a name for itself in custom sausage processing.

“In this market you have to define yourself as a small processor,” Nicole explains. “By going out there and doing all these custom products it has really put us on the map as being someone different in the sausage business. The referrals from customer to customer are really what keep our business going.”

Today, the company has more than 200 SKUs, which include different proteins, seasonings, package sizes and product claims, such as organic, grass-fed, humane-certified, Halal and nitrite- and nitrate-free. “We do co-packing to the extreme,” she says. “We are a specialist in product development – in creating something really unique for the market. There are very few companies that are doing what we do.

“The difference between the third generation and fourth was that I wanted to be different and creative in the sausage world. I didn’t mind all the work that came with balancing multiple projects,” she explains. “Not that my uncle and dad didn’t like creating new creative sausages, it just wasn’t as popular then as it is now. I wanted to make a new name for the business, but still keep our old-world gourmet sausage line alive.”

Man's game

Nicole Makowski has been making a name for herself in the sausage business ever since she took over 18 years ago. The industry wasn’t as confident in her abilities to run the business as her father was – but she’s proven herself one customer at a time.

“When I first took over the business, there was some negative chatter in the industry: ‘Jerry’s daughter is running the business – we’re not sure about that.’ There wasn’t a lot of support, which was hard. But then again, I was pretty young,” Nicole explains. “But now that I’ve been in the business for 18 years, it no longer bothers me. I feel very confident in my ability to run the business now – and I’ve had some great successes through the years.”

In addition to her successes, Nicole fully admits that she made some mistakes early on in her career – “but that happens to everyone,” she says. “I made mistakes not costing out things correctly, biting off too much, taking on too much business and then losing some of that business because I couldn’t handle it all,” she explains. “They were all really important lessons that I needed to learn which have helped me make the right decisions for the business today.”

She adds: “I love being a woman in the meat business. Even with all the four-letter words – not including pork and beef – I’ve learned to have a tough skin,” she says. “Hard work and dedication pay off no matter what sex you are.”

Nicole and her husband Chris have two sons – Anthony and Christian – who could one day be the fifth Makowski generation to run the family business. Currently only 10- and 7-year-olds, the boys have a few years to go before their grandfather sits them down to talk them into taking over the sausage company, as Nicole’s grandfather did with her at age 19.

“I don’t know if they will want to take over the business, but I certainly hope they will,” she says. “I hope I can build a brand and diversify enough to allow us to be successful into a fifth generation.”