Tahlequah business woman Danielle Coursey, the operating partner of Backwoods Food Manufacturing, gave the Battenfield-Carletti Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture at Northeastern State University on August 25 in a packed Webb Center auditorium.
Coursey, an NSU alumna, related her journey from running an in-the-home business to overseeing full-scale food preparation and packaging.
Incorporated in 1999, Backwoods Food Mfg. is an FDA licensed and regulated plant that bottles acidified food products such as salsa, barbecue sauce, pickles, relishes, condiments and dry seasonings for over 40 different companies all over the United States. Coursey has grown the company from a small part-time effort at launching a line of food-filled gift baskets called Backwoods Baskets to an 8,400-square-foot full-scale manufacturing facility employing 10 people in rural Cherokee County.
"We started off as a small gift basket company," she said. "When we researched our business project, we found that we were marketing the product illegally. We couldn't sell food products from our home. We incorporated in 1999 and started putting more thought into it. We redesigned our labels to meet FDA requirements and legalized our business. It was a huge learning curve."
As her business grew, Coursey rented kitchen and packaging space, accumulated customers and even assisted competitors, figuring "if we can make a dime off every case they sell, that's better for us."
Drawing on her personal experiences, Coursey offered several pointers to those in attendance with entrepreneurial aspirations. Among them were being open to change and "creating your own market," citing her efforts to have schools sell her products for fundraisers and split the revenue.
"The market has peaks and valleys," she said. "Right now we're in a peak, but in November we won't have as much to do. I'm trying to fill in that valley with my fundraiser idea."
She also advised that all phone calls, conversations and business relationships should be regarded as opportunities, and that entrepreneurs must be prepared to work long hours for delayed financial gain.
"I have never worked so hard in my life," said Coursey. "Physically, mentally, every decision I make, it takes its toll. You'll find me out in the warehouse if we're short-handed. I do whatever it takes to get the business by. And early on, you have to do it with no immediate monetary reward. The first 18 months of my business, I didn't draw a salary."
Published: 8/26/2010 11:53:13 AM