Jerky Truck?? Jerky Truck!
First, a little background.
Jerky.com was founded in 2008 with the goal to be the online destination for jerky enthusiasts looking for a better selection of best quality jerky products in flavors and varieties that aren't found in the places they make most of their jerky purchases. We are constantly bringing new products to market and we are always looking for new ways to meet the needs and wants of jerky enthusiasts, everywhere. As we have opportunities presented to us, we try to jump on any opportunity that seems to help us continue to deliver on this goal. One opportunity that keeps being presented to Jerky.com is to participate in real live events, such as farmer's markets, fairs and festivals, or any event that draws people from the community to a particular venue. Admittedly, we have always intentionally steered away from these events. Day-to-day, we are an internet company. Our strengths are online marketing, product knowledge, order fulfillment, merchandising...and a whole list of things that require us to be behind a computer. We have always (ie. TRIED) to focus on what we are good at and not get distracted by things we aren't so good at or know nothing about. Selling at live events has always been categorized in the "things we aren't so good at or know nothing about" category. Until recently.
In the Spring of 2013, for the umpteenth million time we were given the "you guys need to participate in Event X because I think you could really do well at it." Maybe it was timing...maybe it just struck our mood at the time...maybe it was just to do it once, decide it wasn't for internet marketer types and actually have a good reason to tell people "we aren't interested" from then on...I don't know why, but we finally said "ok...we are in. Let's do this." So we started to put together all of the parts that we thought we needed to have a semi-presentable display and we jumped right in. Here is our first show:
Pretty basic, right? Well, it worked...the show went well. We had a TON of fun, we met a bunch of great people, we got to make spectacles of ourselves with our unpolished sales techniques, everybody had a good laugh (mostly at our expense) and we actually sold some jerky. It really was awesome. For once, we got out from behind our computers, where too often our customers are "faceless" since we very rarely get to put faces with names in online retail, and we met with, talked with and made direct relationships with our customers. And what's more, they are people in OUR community. That was awesome! That coupled with the fact that the event actually turned a profit, it quickly became a no-brainer...we need to continue doing events like this.
The good news about our first event was that we fit right in. Everybody who was set up at the show had a very similar set-up: products merchandised on folding tables underneath a tent. We were relieved that we weren't over-the-top with unnecessary "stuff" and we were definitely glad we weren't obviously the new kids on the block. The bad news was, we blended right in. It's not exactly "bad"...but to us, we prefer to show a little more of our personalities and if our merchandising experience taught us anything it was that for proper merchandising and positioning in a marketplace, differentiation was key. If everything looks the same, there is very little appeal or reason for people to be drawn to your product. For future events, we wanted to have something that set us apart from other vendors. The other thing that we wanted to be mindful of, was the logistics involved with participating at an event. There is a lot of time, labor and preparation to set-up for an event and then break-down after the event. We have to pack up the inventory and all equipment before we head out to the show then set everything up once we get there and then, at the end of the day, we have to do it all in reverse to pack it all up, take it back to the office and put everything away. We decided that we needed a new display that not only allowed us to differentiate ourselves from other vendors but to also make set-up and break-down a breeze. This would allow us to participate in nearly any event that came our way...and at the drop of a hat. We brainstormed and came up with a whole bunch of ideas. We are pretty crafty people and we tend to think that we can literally build anything...so the ideas flowed pretty freely. We had many ideas that easily solved our differentiation problem...but most ideas didn't pass the easy-to-set-up-and-break-down test. It seemed impossible to make something that displays very well but is easily broke down and loaded into a vehicle to be transported. Inevitably, this process made an otherwise perfect merchandising display too bulky and cumbersome to set-up. It became obvious to us rather quickly that instead of loading a display into a vehicle, if we were to incorporate it into a vehicle that was dedicated for these events, we could probably achieve all of our goals: it would be a unique display plus it's completely mobile (literally), removing the need to "set-up and break-down". We thought we were on the right track. This should be easy, right? Get a vehicle and let's get started! Not so fast...
So, it seemed to make complete sense. We get a vehicle, plaster it up to be a rolling billboard, use our self-assessed awesome eyes for design and our abilities to fabricate anything to make the coolest mobile jerky display ever. But what vehicle are we going to use? Really quickly we figured out...this was going to be the biggest problem with our seemingly fool-proof plan. As we put together what the requirements for the vehicle were, we started to get an idea for what we needed to look for. We needed a good amount of volume in the interior to provide the space needed to hold all of the product that we needed to display...and access to this space to utilize it in the most efficient way possible is going to be very important. We know we needed a compact-ish vehicle but we didn't actually know how compact it needed to be until we figured out that the size of the booths at these events seem to be in multiples of 10'...with the smallest booth space being about 10' x 10'. That's when reality set in. Where in the World are we going to get a vehicle that will fit in a 10' space and have all of the space we need, let alone have any sort of character to give us as much differentiation as possible??? Where in the World, indeed.
Really quickly, our searches led us to the conclusion that nothing "standard" was going to fit our needs. Even the smallest consumer cars are either too big, too expensive, not enough room for what we need, or more frequently...all of the above. The more challenging this became, the more determined we were to figure it out. We started searching further and wider than usual channels and somehow stumbled across these tiny Japanese trucks.
Around Oklahoma, these are a little more common than most places. Largely, because they are perfect for light duty work trucks on the large ranches around these parts. They are really pretty utilitarian...they get great gas milage, the bed sides and tailgate fold down to make a flat bed (great accessibility!) and they are just the right size for most one or two man jobs. With some work, they aren't too hard to find. And best of all, for our needs, they are slightly over 10'! They would be able to squeeze into a 10'x10' booth without much griping. We may be on to something here!
As excited as we are about the possibility of being on the right track, there are still some challenges with these trucks. While these trucks are street legal in many states, they have been imported from Japan as Utility Vehicles with the intention of being farm trucks so many of them don't have the proper paperwork to get tagged. Also, while they have very utilitarian beds on them, our truck will still require extensive customization to enclose the back end and protect the products and displays from the elements...so there will be an added cost there. Plus, with the hot Oklahoma summers, it would be nice to find one with A/C. They are out there...but not easily found. The more we looked, the more variations of the truck we found. Many different makes, models and even a few with full van bodies on the same wheelbase. The search continues.
We end up stumbling on to this unique variation of these trucks, called the Deck Van. This particular one is a 1994 Daihatsu HiJet Deck Van. We think it is AWESOME! Not in a Lambourghini kind of awesome, but in a way that is so goofy looking, so unique that it's somehow kind of cool. Of course, you need to have a little vision with it...but we think it could be perfect for our needs. Plus, it fits our size requirements, it looks to have plenty of space for us to work with both with the short bed in the back and in the back seat behind the rear sliding doors. On top of everything else, it has a clear title, low miles, and A/C! It's a couple of hundred miles away...but, let's go check this thing out. In all honesty, we knew the second we laid eyes on it that it was perfect. Fast forward a few days, some back and forth with the owner and we brought that thing home.
We already had a plan to try and use Kickstarter.com (if you don't know about Kickstarter.com, go check it out!) as a way to raise money to get this thing customized, so as soon as we got it home we went to work on the Kickstarter campaign. We contacted an old pal from a previous work life, Ben Ehrlich, to do the video production. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect with the video...i just assumed it was going to take a ton of work, a ton of back and forth between us and Ben, only to have a mediocre video at best. Nope. All I can tell you is, Ben is legit. He came down, we did a couple different "shoots" (thats what we call it in the biz) and he disappeared for a few days. We finally heard back from him and before he handed over his rough draft he prefaced it plenty with "now this is just the first take..." and plenty of statements lettind us know that if we weren't happy with it, he would be available to make changes to it. With our expectations being at basically an all-time low...we clicked play.
We were floored.
It looked good. It looked better than good. It looked...professional. Here we were expecting some shaky footage ala Blair Witch Project and some shoddy transitions cutting to and from different scenes and of course we were expecting Doug's unrehearsed "pitch" to sound like an 8th grader's first presentation in a public speaking course. But NO. Ben worked magic, literally. I mean...we saw Doug's pitch live and in person when Ben was recording it and it was far from polished, in fact, it was downright embarrassing at times. But Ben made the whole video transition so smoothly that it seamed together flawlessly. It's official, Ben is legit. I guess we didn't give him enough credit going in, but this guy knows what he is doing.
Let's get this thing posted on Kickstarter.
For the purposes of space and time, I'll leave out all of the details of the Kickstarter campaign for now. We fully intend on writing a whole post on our experience about our Kickstarter project complete with what we learned, what we would have done differently and what we will do differently in the future. It's for another time and another place. But what we can say is that we had some incredible support from friends, family, customers and complete strangers that allowed us to be successful in our project and take this Jerky Truck to the next level. Once the Kickstarter project completed, we started finalizing the details of the customization and got the truck shipped up to Omaha, Nebraska where Bruce Weigand of Future Audio Systems is going to transform this thing into the coolest Jerky Store on Wheels, anywhere.