The act of trading of goods and services on the internet – known as e-commerce – continues to grow in the United States and worldwide as businesses search for ways to reach more consumers.
With many people looking for advice on how to make an e-commerce business work, Wells REV (Rural Entrepreneurial Venture) hosted a class on the subject led by Colette Drager of The Meatery, Wes Otto of Otto Media Group and Bryan Hoffman of Hoffman Consulting. The event was held on Tuesday evening, Feb. 28, at the Wells Community Center.
“Our call to action was the pandemic,” Drager stated. “We decided to take our business and sell on the internet.”
What the Dragers did with The Meatery was form partnerships with producers and small meat markets from across the state of Minnesota to make an online platform which is a one-stop shop for consumers to be able to get a wide variety of quality meats delivered right to their door.
“We call these consumers meathusiasts,” Drager explains. “They are people who are driven by the idea of sharing their appreciation for procuring, preparing and consuming quality meat.”
Drager shares one of the advantages their e-commerce business has is not having to maintain and operate a physical store.
“Online customers can be from anywhere in the world, although we have chosen to operate just in the United States,” she notes.
The Meatery is based out of Mankato.
“We put an emphasis on community and recognize the need for small town businesses to join in working together to strengthen Main Street,” Drager comments.
One of the disadvantages or criticisms sometimes associated with an online business is the lack of personal touch; the ability to get to know who you are buying from.
The Meatery has taken great strides to make it easier for their customers to connect with those they are purchasing their products from.
As Drager explains, “When people visit our website, they not only see the products available for purchase, they also are able to read and learn about the background of the people producing the product. It helps build a connection between the consumer and the producer.”
Included among those producers featured on their website are three businesses from Faribault County, including The Country Butcher in Easton, Blue Dirt Farm of Blue Earth and Goette Farms of Bricelyn.
Otto offered this advice when beginning an e-commerce business.
“Start by offering your most popular products,” he said. “People should also utilize multiple channels to get their name out to the public. If you rely only on social media you can lock yourself into one set of consumers.”
The Meatery began their online sales less than one year ago and already have shipped packages of meat to over 20 states. The business has been featured on the television show Minnesota Live on KSTP in Minneapolis and on Minnesota Public Radio.
There are many options for ordering on their website – themeaterymn.com – with different selections of beef, pork, lamb or chicken available.
Once you place your order for a box, or boxes, of meat, the order goes out to the producer or meat market and is assembled and shipped.
“Another thing we have done is designed an eco-friendly packing product with a focus on convenience,” Drager adds.
She also emphasizes one of the keys to getting The Meatery off the ground was the support of family and friends.
The family part of the equation includes Colette, her husband Bill and their family along with Bill’s brother Bruce, his wife Jodie and their family.
“Two generations and 12 family members contribute to the business,” Colette Drager says. “We are a team that brainstorms and tests food together.”
Drager, who has a background in human resources, was originally the only full-time employee for the business, but her sister-in-law Jodie recently left her full-time position in the finance industry to join the business.
Another aspect of getting The Meatery up and running was choosing a platform to host their website.
“People need to make sure they understand the technology commitment starting an online business requires,” Hoffman told the crowd. “There are many platforms available and each has its advantages and disadvantages.”
The panel of speakers told those in attendance to take advantage of other resources when contemplating whether they want to start an e-commerce business.
Those resources include the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), which is a partner program of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Drager acknowledges there have been many challenges since her and her family began the journey of starting their business.
“There is definitely a learning curve. You have to get people to make the purchase,” she comments. “So, do your homework before you start your business. Then, don’t be afraid to jump.”