Click here for Part 1 A family-owned and operated business focused on natural ingredients, honesty, and fun Greg Vetter is the CEO and oldest brother at Tessemae’s All Natural. Based in Annapolis, Tessemae’s grew out of a family recipe: when Tesse prepared a lemon garlic dressing to encourage her three athletic sons to eat more vegetables at dinner, the recipe was an immediate hit among the brothers, and Greg told his mother they should go into business together. Years later, the brand is a regular staple at supermarkets nationwide, offering a wide selection of condiments and marinades all made from natural ingredients with as few additives and preservatives as possible. In 2014, Tessemae’s received recognition as Inc.com’s Young Company of the Year. Can you take us through how the company got started—from your mom’s kitchen to what it is today? GREG VETTER: It’s crazy. We started in one store and we just did demos, and so our target market is the millennial mom. So you put me and my two brothers behind the demo table talking to young moms all day—we’re going to sell a lot of salad dressing. And so, we realize that if we demo that way across the country, we would be able to build the brand, and so that’s what we sold Whole Foods. Every region of Whole Foods is operated independently for the most part. We took our success in the mid-Atlantic and then we pitched the south region, and we said “We promise that we will sell this and become your number one selling salad dressing. We’re going to do this through in-store demos.” Store by store, region by region, we hired people and we would do demos four to five days a week in all of these stores across the country. That’s how we were able to become a national vendor with Whole Foods, almost by default, because we were already in all of the regions. Most brands would go to the global headquarters and say, “Hey, I want to be a national vendor.” We called them after we were in every region and said, “Hey there are inefficiencies that we can pick up with being in every single region of you guys?” We were the first company to ever do that. The company almost moved out of Maryland once upon a time. What was behind the decision to stay, after all? I was a college athlete. You make your decision on where you’re going to go to school by who gives you the love, right? And so here we are a brand. Yeah, we were really small in the beginning—everybody is. It was just a matter of who actually cared and so I had reached out to the state economic development and county economic development and just said, “Hey, is there anything you guys can do to help?” And it was just always, “Uh, yeah, kinda, use this, use that, maybe reach out to this person,” and then we use Maker’s Marks wax—literally, the wax vendor they use, we use. The pull-tabs that they use, we use. And so we went down and met with the VP of bottling for Maker’s Mark and he just couldn’t believe that “you boys put the wax on the dressings?” And we said, “Yes, we do.” And so he called Kentucky State Economic Development, and next thing you know we are having a meeting with these guys to move our entire business to Kentucky. We’re like, “Wow, they’re really loving us right now. Where else are great places to do manufacturing?” North Carolina came up, Virginia came up, and New Jersey came up. We reached out. All of them were super, super supportive, very aggressive to try and get us there. Then the Baltimore Business Journal wrote an article about us leaving the state, and I got a phone call from Ken Ulman, and he said “I am not going to let you move out of the State of Maryland.” And so he spearheaded really us staying in Maryland, then he found us our manufacturing facility in Baltimore County even though he was the Howard County executive. And then, in kind of that validation or that energy or that momentum, we told the story about it. We told the story to Merritt properties; they signed on. We told the story to Baltimore County; they really started getting interested in it. You saw this momentum building. So, when all of that happens, when you move from making it at a rib restaurant at night to a 36,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Baltimore, you then move on to the next chapter of your business. And, so, you’re able to bring on different people to work for you, because they are no longer working from 11 at night till 3 in the morning. We get to work during the day now, during the week, not at night and only on the weekends. That allowed us to build our brand and really leverage the context that we have made just growing up in this area, playing sports in this area, to continue to build a brand.
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