The Value of Industry Storytelling for Manufacturers
The Value of Industry Storytelling for Manufacturers
If you want to learn how sharing the right industry-specific stories might help your manufacturing business listen to this MFG eCommerce Success show, where we are talking with Todd Underwood, Strategic Marketing Manager, CIFT (Center for Innovative Food Technology), about how telling industry-specific stories helps manufacturers.
Todd oversees the marketing and communications strategy for the Center for Innovative Food Technology, a national MEP partner. These include industry-specific work like:
- Identifying and connecting stories across the industry to organically highlight the important narratives.
- Looking at the various industries served and identifying potential crossover opportunities in services and communication.
- Working with various units to craft and drive the appropriate messages and context while creating and maintaining a cohesive brand.
For over 25 years, CIFT has focused on driving competitiveness for food processing, manufacturing, and agribusiness through a unique blend of business solutions, innovation, and technical expertise.
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Damon and Curt’s opening excitement energizes the Livestream. Todd is impressed by the liveliness of the hosts.
Curt asks the guest to talk about his childhood hero “as a little boy growing up in Ohio.”
“My grandfather,” answers Todd. His hero, Bill Underwood, was a religious man who traveled worldwide. He was a head of purchasing for Dayton Walther, “a very big company in Ohio back in the 70s.” Bill taught Todd work ethics and would tell him stories about how people tried to bribe him.
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Curt wants to know about the factors leading Todd to become a manufacturer.
At 30, Todd worked for his grandfather’s automotive supply company for OEMs. After Bill’s death, he decided to exit the company. His unfinished studies pricked him internally. So, he went back to college and completed his education. After completing his BA in economics degree, he moved to Japan and taught the English language for a year. There, he met his “beautiful wife.”
In Japan, Todd taught for a decade at four different universities. That was where he learned marketing because “I marketed myself as strategic communication rather than an English teacher.”
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After the babies, they decided to move back to the US. In California, his friend opened a UX design firm that worked with Yahoo.com. He asked Todd to go to India as their marketing and communications manager. The guest spent a few years in Hyderabad, India, and worked “with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
Because his Japanese wife could not keep up with India, Todd relocated to Toledo, Ohio. He started applying for jobs there and bagged one at the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT). Todd admits he has “never really worked in manufacturing in this sense.” But in a lighter vein, he tried to make his “ignorance” his “superpower.”
Todd talks about the misperceived stigma stemming from his incomplete education. This allows Damon to voice his concerns about the need for higher education. He relates that his son’s friends got pushed into colleges and received the education they didn’t need. They end up owing thousands of dollars in student debt. It would have been better if they received some vocational training or learned about manufacturing.
Curt Invites Todd’s comments on MEP and its benevolence to small and medium manufacturers.
Todd gives an invigorating introduction to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). It is a program through the Department of Commerce that has centers in all 50 states to help small to midsized manufacturers compete and grow. Ohio has multiple regional centers that create “some really cool synergy.” They also impart training on new or lean technology. Todd maintains that they “do some great work with standard manufacturing.”
Curt requests the guest to talk about his teammates and their superpowers at CIFT.
Todd talks about Shari Plimpton, Ph.D., the vice president, “who’s smart and knows food better than almost anybody.” She is a transformational leader who lets Todd perform his operation as he pleases. Todd adds that he has a soft spot for manufacturers, especially small business owners.
Curt asks Todd to talk about how he can convince a potential manufacturer to take the first step.
The guest refers to his previous work experiences, especially the one he gained in Hyderabad, India, as a marketing and communications manager of a UX design service. He comments on Domino’s marketing and sales strategy after their sales plateaued. “They embraced social media by taking pictures of your greasy pizza.”
Todd reveals that people want authentic products. We need not make them fancy. In the race between embellished versus all true, the latter always wins. He thinks that “authenticity is the key to everything.” In Curt’s opinion, this is the amazing mic-drop moment of the Livestream.
Curt plays a four-minute-fifty-one-second video shares by Todd. It is a video of one of the manufacturers CIFT has worked with. The narrator recounts the start of his entrepreneurial journey. Damon is moved to tears when he learns the story of selling buckeyes could bring such a big amount of success.
Curt asks the guest for advice for listeners as the time for departure approaches.
“Keep doing what you’re doing and be proud of it.” Todd thinks the world appreciates manufacturing and food more than anything else, especially in America. He is reasonably optimistic about the future.
The discussion ends with Damon and Curt thanking Todd for his precious time.
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Damon Pistulka, Todd Underwood, Curt Anderson
Damon Pistulka 00:01
All right, everyone, it is Friday. What does that mean? It means it’s manufacturing ecommerce success day. I’m one of the CO hosts Damon Pustaka. And with me my friend right over there, Mr. Curt Anderson. Gonna let you take it away Curt
Curt Anderson 00:19
Damon, man brother Happy Friday to you dude, how how’s your week going? How’s everything going?
Damon Pistulka 00:25
It’s gone just fine. I’m getting ready for Christmas all my Christmas presents or a year. I’m good. Oh, I’m on the downhill slide.
Curt Anderson 00:33
But nice way to show me off. Thank you I know in bigger now we’re gonna be out on Christmas Eve. So man, huge week this week Damon we kick things off on Monday, we had a gentleman from the NW IRC that is the Northwest Pennsylvania and EP Bob’s route up man.
Dude, I’m like still he’s like an old football coach and so fired up from losses, all the amazing things that they are doing in Pennsylvania. So Damon, what I decided to do is we’re going to slide over like one state. We’re going from Northwest Pennsylvania. We’re sliding over into the great state of Ohio. And I want to introduce my buddy, my friend, Todd Underwood, Todd. Happy Friday, my friend.
Todd Underwood 01:13
How are you? Happy Friday brothers. It’s good to be here.
Curt Anderson 01:16
Thank you. So I so I’m going to give a little shout out. So guys, you know if your job is to know, let us know that you’re out there and would love for you to connect with Todd do an amazing, incredible work helping manufacturers in the great state of Ohio. So Todd, I want to kick things off. I have a question for you that I want to start with. Okay, so are you sitting down?
Todd Underwood 01:35
I am sitting down? Yes. I
Curt Anderson 01:37
want to make sure you know, just making sure so I had my first question of the program today is as a young man, it’s perfect. I’m going to not miss a young man, little boys a little boy growing up. Who was your hero? Who was your hero growing up as a
Todd Underwood 01:54
little boy. If I’m just being honest, I hope this isn’t too cliche of an answer was probably my grandfather. He was a very good man. And he was he traveled a lot traveled the world. And he was one of the he’s a very religious guy, but he wasn’t preachy, if that makes any sense.
He just he lived it. He was a head of purchasing for a giant automotive company. Oddly enough, Dayton Walther that has now since gone, but it was a very big company Ohio back in the 70s. And he taught me a lot about ethics because as a purchasing agent for an automotive company, he would tell me these stories of things people would bribe him or trying to bribe him, I should say, the good man and he would travel all over the place and he would bring me back. Money.
Here are the 1000 yen 1000. Yeah, that’d be worth a million dollars, of course, was like $2. Yeah. Probably he had the biggest influence on me, because without getting too far down my story, I ended up living abroad for quite a while. And it was all because being a kid, he told me these stories, and it’s always a dream of mine. So I would say it’s probably my grandfather.
Curt Anderson 02:55
And what’s grandfather’s name? Bill Underwood. Well, all right, man. Dude, that wasn’t cliche whatsoever. That was an awesome answer. We then Damon, don’t you love these answers? We get week in and week out? Yeah,
Damon Pistulka 03:06
yeah. That’s awesome.
Curt Anderson 03:08
So So Todd, what I’m hearing is a couple of things I want to uncover right there. So number one, sounds like manufacturing is in your blood. Or it goes back
Todd Underwood 03:16
to grandpa that was around it growing up. Sure. Go,
Curt Anderson 03:19
you know, kind of hard to avoid manufacturing when you’re in the great state of Ohio. So I let’s get into let’s I want to cite in your career, I want to talk to like what led you to manufacturing, but you piqued my curiosity. You said you lived abroad quite a bit. Just enlightened, curious minds want to know, man, let’s like were some of the places that you live?
Todd Underwood 03:38
Well, I’ll try to make this quick. And people who know me are probably sick of hearing these stories, but I was 30. I work for my grandfather’s company. He started a small company in my late 20s. It was an automotive Supply Company for OEMs. Heat, my grandfather passed away. And I decided to exit the company. I had never finished my degree.
That was always a shame of mine. So I’m 30 years old, I went back did my last year of college and decided around 3132 I wanted to go abroad before I settled on a career path I did that sort of typical thing moved to Japan, for a year teach English. ended up meeting my beautiful wife without getting into that story was very fortunate that a job at a university opened up at the last minute, because usually you have to have a PhD to teach. I have a BA in economics, and they said, Could you come in for six months, and cover and I ended up doing it for 10 years teaching at four different universities.
It’s kind of where I learned my marketing because I marketed myself as a strategic communications rather than an English teacher and a program depending on the what they were studying, and then had a couple babies that decided we want to move back to the US. I had an old friend who had worked at Yahoo. He started a company in California but all their production was it was a UX design firm, which has been a big influence on me and what we’re going to talk about today.
He asked if I would come to India for a cup For years, and had their marketing and because of add new communications and the same as marketing, right, but whenever they I got my hands dirty to Hyderabad, India for a few years, that’s where I really cut my teeth I think because that was a high pressure startup tech company with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met 20 year olds who are like, and but India was a little tough on my wife who’s Japanese because there’s not much difference, a big difference in Japan and India. I’ll put it that way. And I ended up moving back here.
Toledo Ohio is where I was born, wasn’t gonna stay here. But when we move back, my daughter was seven years old, and she had been to five schools. And we really liked the school here.
And we decided to stay. So I started applying for jobs. And I applied for this place called the Center for Innovative food technology. What the heck, I could do that job and got hired and that’s how I ended up and I’ve been here for almost four years now and really never been in the food industry never really worked in in manufacturing in this sense. But really like I’ll talk about my I’ve tried to make my ignorance my superpower if that makes sense. Sort of my joke. Wow. Not knowing is not assuming you know, is how you ask the right questions. That good. belong there.
Curt Anderson 06:11
Dude, that was like, awesome, man. Like you did that before. Right? And hey, Damon, we got a couple. Hey, good morning, Whitney. You know what, shame on me, Damon. I don’t have my Santa hat today. But Whitney, happy Friday. Thank you for joining us.
We’ve gotten time. Syracuse time. Happy Friday, my friends. Glad you’re here again, guys. So we have man, you’re just getting a little sliver of some exciting, man. This is going to be so good. So I want to I want to share how I met Todd. So I met Todd. So Todd is part of the MVP network. We’re going to talk about that Damon unite interview tons of folks from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. And Todd specifically is with one of the agencies called sift and they are located in Ohio. Tide. I met you this earlier this year. We were at a conference in Chicago. Amazing. It was at Hotel magnificent. It was
Todd Underwood 06:58
awesome. I felt like Al Capone walking around.
Curt Anderson 07:01
Damon were in this hotel and like the legend has it like Al Capone used to run the halls of this hotel. It’s right smack downtown Chicago. It was right across the street from the Chicago Tribune. It was great in the heart of the city. And man, it was just it was spectacular experience. Michael Jordan’s restaurant was right downstairs.
So Todd was one of the presenters. And Ben Todd. Dude, you just blew the room away. I mean, this room was completely packed. I can’t count but you know, there were not dozens. I mean, I don’t know hundreds but man, this was a large room, large conference room. It was absolutely JAM PACKED game and probably a dozen to 20 people that have been on our program. All the marketers from the MEP network. Were in that room. I heard raving reviews I Jeanette Stephens Doctor Alyssa was there Kim Lloyd from New York, I mean, all sorts of people.
Excuse me, oh, Todd talk a little bit. We’re gonna dig into this. But taco. So you just shared your whole path, this journey Japan, teaching universities, India technology. Now you’re the marketing specialist, if I have that correct, right marketing specialists at sift marketing manager, marketing. Now, you I think you’re a specialist. Talk a little bit about you know, what you what you shared at that presentation. And then in a few minutes, we’re gonna pull up just a really powerful video, but just talk about some great work you’re doing in Ohio.
Todd Underwood 08:21
Well, like I said, I came in with a very, I told you kind of a very, very background, but communications based then marketing and but do nothing about food or really manufacturing other than some distribution, which I had done with my family when I was younger.
So I kind of came in with it. Like, because of my UX background, I really pushed the idea of like user journey maps and trying to understand our clients. So UX is a big I won’t claim to be an expert in UX, but I it was a big influence on taking me from communications to marketing. So we started doing empathy mapping, and boy, some of the people I work with, they’re like, this is stupid, but it really helped me. And, you know, you put yourself in the, in the clients shoes and talk about their feelings with post it notes and these ideation sessions, and I swear, they looked at me like I was nuts at the beginning.
But But I really got to learn about the from, from an empathetic point of view about manufacturers and especially food manufacturers, because and what the big transition for me was actually COVID Because my predecessor was a really good he headed the marketing. I came in as an analyst just to look at the websites and things he left three, two months before COVID hit and I interviewed for his vision to take over marketing.
I’m taking over market all sudden everything shuts down. And so what I did it and I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself, you know what one thing we did in India and I learned through design is these ideation sessions and how to run a structured ideation session within scope and how powerful that can be. And nobody knew it was going On You guys remember that? And I said, let’s have some roundtables with food companies to hear what’s going on and just share. And I won’t say I didn’t I got support from my company, but there was definitely some, like, what’s that gonna do? You know, it was a new thing.
But they supported it. And we just had these companies came. I mean, we didn’t promise them an expert, and I think is, who was the expert then? Right. But we got companies came, and they just shared and they told the stories. And I just realized that there’s so many amazing stories, that was sort of my lightbulb moment, like, I already understood the empathy side, but the storytelling, man, we got to tell the stories, we got to change the image of this industry, because I don’t know how old you guys are.
I’m 48. I grew up, I didn’t go to college. If I worked at a factory and nothing wrong with it, my parents would have kicked my butt. You know what I mean? There was some sort of stigma about it. And I realized that stigma is just wrong. And how do you change the stigma? Yeah. Would you tell the stories because that’s, that’s what the kids are doing now.
And again, I hope we’re gonna get but even as a parent, I don’t know that I want my kids to go $150,000 in debt to get a degree that they’re going to not be able to use. So I think this there’s a it’s a perfect Venn Diagram of timing right now, in our culture and society, that one parents might be more willing to look at these things. You know, you create that content, and you show that side. Does that make sense? So storytelling became kind of a thing for me. I that was, and that’s where we did our first video. And I’ll stop there. Now, oh, my God, I
Damon Pistulka 11:25
know, you’re, you’re hitting one of the things that we love to talk about. Because, you know, I’ve got a son, that’s 23. And every time I think back to when he had some friends, that really got pushed into college, but really, it wasn’t the right path for him.
If those kids would have learned about manufacturing, and gone into or gone into the trades or something, you know, just those kinds of careers are so good, that you don’t need to go to school for four years. And like you said, $150,000 in debt, that’s even at a state school. Yeah, that’s it. And then, and then to come out and realize that’s not what you want to do, or come out with a degree that you can’t make the money that you can, if you went into vocational school for a year, or just started working, I don’t mean just as in a bad thing, or you came out of high school and work for a manufacturer and work your way out.
Todd Underwood 12:20
And 100% 100%. Even me, I was unaware of it. Does that make sense? Even I was until I got into sift into the MEP. I mean, I have a stepfather who’s a tradesman worked at Daimler, Chrysler, I knew you could make a good living off it. Yeah, I even I had that. But until I saw it, man, these jobs and this technology, and we have this economist speak at an event.
And one thing that I thought was kind of interesting, he said that manufacturing, you know, people say it’s gone into China, but he said, Really, the stuff that’s made an overseas is the easy stuff. We still do the really high tech manufacturing here. And just like I said, these are just things that I love. I become an evangelist a little bit for this, if this makes sense in the last few years, and
Curt Anderson 13:03
you’re doing you’re doing awesome, awesome job, man. And just Hey, guys, so again, we’re with tight underwear and tight and I want to dig into the MEP network and sit in a second but I just I strongly encourage welcome invite everybody on here if you’re catching the replay down the road, but man, you want to connect with Todd on LinkedIn. Todd, you have one the best headlines dude, I think on LinkedIn, strategic communication and industry storytelling is driven by asking the right questions, listening intently efficient planning, and acting without fear of failure.
Todd Underwood 13:40
Curt Anderson 13:41
You trot them like and then you’ve got start with patients, manage with empathy and deliver successfully man guys, you need to stick with us. We’re going to show an amazing incredible video in a couple minutes. Not sure what is the a lot of our friends that come on our program. They they’re familiar with MVP, but anybody catching us for the first time? Sure. What is the MVP manufacturing extension partnership network and then let’s go into visibly what’s going on in your corner of the world what’s going on in sift in what how you guys make the world a better place.
Todd Underwood 14:11
I’ll give you the high level and I don’t want to get in too many details because I don’t wanna make any mistakes and make anybody at the higher level mad because we I’ve actually been learning more about the National Network in the last year. But yeah, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership is a program through the Department of Commerce that has centers in all 50 states to help small to medium sized manufacturers compete and grow. Some states which I took me two years to learn some states have a single center that are run through a university and it’s run very differently.
Ohio is kind of unique. There are other states like us, but we’re kind of unique. We have multiple centers that are regional. And we’ve got some amazing centers and amazing people which kind of creates some really cool synergy between between them. But um, but I just that they help the small to midsize companies. Sometimes new technology is hard sometimes lean training is hard and the really the sky’s the limit but our team can go in and kind of identify the problem.
And either we can give you the solution or because we’re nonprofit, and we’re not driven by trying to make a buck off, yeah, and leave, we can connect you with other service providers and manage that project for you, and kind of take some of that heavy lifting off. Because let’s be honest, manufacturers are busy right now, right? I mean, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned, you can’t get people to come because they’re on the floor, the owners are on the floor, because there’s such a workforce issue. So we really can go in and just help help these companies.
Like I always kind of say, Our success is measured literally in your success, like we because we’re nonprofit. And that was something that we didn’t always talk about when I first joined, we wanted to be more like a company. But actually, I think that’s a selling point to us that literally, we’re not there to make money art success is your success. And you get into the metrics and things I’m sure you guys are aware of that the scorecards, I mean, so that’s really what we do.
And then sift is kind of a unique Center. In Ohio, we’re in Northwest Ohio, we got amazing more manufacturing team. But we also for many years have had a food specialist team. So we help and support food companies throughout the state. Often times with in conjunction with the other centers, but we do automation, food safety, product development. I’m sure I’m missing something. I’ll get to that later. But we just do some really amazing work. But we do do regular manufacturing, too. We do some great work with standard manufacturing, but we kind of our niche is the food. Yep.
Curt Anderson 16:25
That was a perfect answer. And, and again, one man, guys you have whatever you’re doing in a minute, you’re gonna have to stop and watch this video. But Todd, let’s go into your team. I know like, you know, when you go on to the SIFT website, it’s, you know, Rebecca is your CEO president. You guys have just an it’s, it’s almost embarrassing.
How much talent skills have superpowers that everybody has on your team, you have an amazing team, you know, food, background food expertise. So you know, you know, you’re in your kitchen. And man, you you feel like, Man, I’m making the best such and such, maybe we should bring this to market. You guys help make that dream come true. And bring that to life. Talk a little bit about some of your teammates and some of the expertise. If somebody knocks on your door, what would
Todd Underwood 17:10
they? Sure so what I love about our company, is really we if you look at our success stories, we’ve helped companies that were just an idea all the way through very big established companies like a Myers. I mean, if you come to us, I remember trying to understand our company and asking our one of our vice presidents Shari, Plimpton, PhD, who’s really smart and knows food better than almost anybody.
I said, What do we do? What what do we do for clients? And she said everything, and I just, I was like, How do I market that, but it’s actually kind of true. Because we’re able to, to connect with resources as well as provide but so if you if you have a recipe, and you want to turn it into something that you can sell at a grocery store, we can help you.
If you’re a, if you’re a midsize company, and you’re having labor issues, and you need somebody to come in and maybe analyze your production. And see if automation makes sense for you, we can do that. And if you’re a big company, which if you’re a big company, sometimes you have gaps, that you can’t fill quickly, and our team could come in, put that put on your jersey and play for your team for a little while and get you through those gaps.
So it’s really a wide range of what we can do. Although I’ll be honest, my favorite where I’ve got a soft spot is the entrepreneur side, I we were talking before this, and I like Shark Tank with my kids. I love those hungry, people who like they have this dream and they go for it. And unfortunately, I’ve not done that yet. But if I have the right idea, I’ll let you know Kurt and
Damon Pistulka 18:33
Curt Anderson 18:34
well, and I think it’s awesome for Daymond myself as we get to interview folks like UTAD you know, week in and week out, we’ve interviewed dozens of amazing individuals from the MVP network. And it just, you know, what we talk about frequently. Daymond is like, you know, those entrepreneurs, that meant entrepreneurship is tough. It’s not for the weary, right? You feel alone, you’re in a silo and like who, you know, where are those trusted resources, those guides that can help us get through this. And what’s just fantastic is that you guys specialize in this, you know, a specific area.
And you know, you have a deep bench like you said, you have the entire state of network. So you know, if you need if client needs expertise that falls outside of your area, you know, we’ve had multiple people from magnet we’ve had Janelle Lee, we’ve had man. Gina has been on our program from magnet and so you know, you have seven other centers throughout Ohio that you can lean on, you have third party resources.
So really amazing. It’s just it’s just fantastic. So I man, I hope everybody’s on the accuracy for the video because I still have one more question before we go the video game and that’s it. So let’s talk about like, you know, your rate and a heartbeat of America. You know, Ohio, your rate in the center, you know, major, major state, tons of major cities, a lot going on their shirt like outside of food. What are some of the other fun manufacturing things that you’ve seen today that you’ve been surprised where you’re like, Man, I didn’t even know we manufactured this. Here. I know where you are very heavy auto, you know? Oh,
Todd Underwood 20:00
Otto, like I said Jeep is here, honestly, like, I’m just now learning, but we’ve got a lot of you just drive down the highway and you see these giant companies. And if you didn’t know, like, what they do, then now I get online and I google them, you know, and we do this. And I think that a change is your answer. But I think one thing that really shocked people and including myself is with with COVID, not to keep talking about that the supply chain issues, you didn’t know where that this company makes this that goes into this that goes into this.
And Ohio, really, it’s it’s such a diverse, diverse manufacturing and what also schools the sizes of the companies. I mean, some of these companies are five people shop, some of them are 1000 people I saw just is at Abbott Abbott just announced they’re going to be building a big facility here in Northwest Ohio, just saw that this morning. And I’ll be honest, I’m gonna make my Ohio friends mad when I was a kid. I just wanted to get out.
You know, if you told me at 30 years old living in Japan, I’d be back in Ohio, I would have told you you’re crazy. But now I would not want to be anywhere else. And in fact, I have a brother who’s in LA. And I wouldn’t say I did, but I definitely should move back to Ohio. You should move back to Ohio and he’s back here now seven months. He’s like I should have done this a long time ago. Ohio is booming. And it really is. I mean, I’m real proud of my state. I’m I’m a Bearcat fan. I’m not an Ohio State fan. But I still love the state.
Curt Anderson 21:25
But it’s all good for you, man. That is awesome. So exciting things. All right. Drum roll I am we’re finally if everybody’s let’s see. I’m going to try to share this. Let’s go share screen do this video. Damon. Let me know how I’m doing so far. Let’s go. Whoa, face your Chrome tab do on my show on a Chrome tab. How about this right there? Can you see that?
Yes, yes. Okay. I am going to make this big. Alright, everybody do me a favor. If you haven’t gotten the popcorn yet. Sit back, relax. I am telling you encouraging you welcoming you drop whatever you’re doing put the cell phone down for a second for four minutes and 51 seconds actually. And Todd you want to just do you want to just share give a little intro before I hit play.
Todd Underwood 22:08
Basically this was a video with a couple companies we’ve worked with that are medium sized and just I thought their stories were amazing of people taking risks and building companies and I’ll just leave it at that and I’ll let the work speak
Curt Anderson 22:19
words. All right. Well, this is perfect time. So anybody out there you have a call at the top of the hour man this is what this will take you right up to the car ready sit back. Damon you’re gonna love
was a guy in his kitchen one day and here we are working on the in the national brand.
My mom started marches Buckeyes back in 1984 out of the kitchen of our home. Anything is possible if you put in the work, and you have to plan in place to get you to where you want to go. And if the product is good enough, and the people the consumers love the product, you can do so much more than what you think is possible.
I think part of the biggest struggles a small company is you tried to get some of the larger grocery stores and are worried about getting a small company.
Well, how did Snickers the name of a family force? A candy bar become the number one selling candy bar in the world? Why can’t a buck I’d be that she started with selling the buckeyes at garage sales and festivals and things like that. And the Andersons was really what she considered her first wholesale account that took her outside of Perrysburg did some work with Kroger down in Columbus and some work with GM foods. And that ultimately is what led to the biggest opportunity for our company which was Cracker Barrel.
With our founder Dennis Dickey was young he used to be a blackjack dealer Binion’s casino in Fremont Street in Las Vegas. One of his buddies was from Mazatlan, Mexico, and his grandmother taught him the family recipe on how to make sausage. So every time they go out on the houseboat, his friend would make salsa and Dennis was like, you gotta teach me how to do this.
Fast forward about 30 years, Dennis moved back to Ohio, where he’s from, and he got a job at a local pool company. So every time they’d have a pool party opening a new pool, he would make salsa, bring it to the party. And one day his boss brought the competition, bought a cup of salsa grocery store bought it and the party was trying to get him to try to do something wrong. He just thought it tasted terrible. And they told him this is what we buy when we can’t come to a party and get your salsa. So according to Google’s boss to chose to call us credit cards, Martha’s house And that’s how he got started.
From a very young age, I was traveling the state of Ohio, in the back of a van delivery Buckeyes with my mom, we were carrying down supplies, we helped the move from our basement to the new facility down Perrysburg. Every snow day, every summer day, if she was short on workers, we were in the basement rolling and dipping. But guys, we were always a part of the business. My brother and I who’s my business partner, we both kind of had that realization. Around the same time, when we came back, we had a real vision for what we wanted to do.
So when I first got to Willie sauce has done a lot of work and built his customer base up to about 350 stores. And through all the hard work there really is in the last six years, we’ve been able to build that up to just over 12,000 stores.
Year to year sales, we’ve broken company records every years into well over 10,000 retail locations. We’re very blessed. We’re very thankful for what God has provided. But again, it all it all starts with my mom, it all starts with Marcia and Dave and what they created.
If you’ve got an idea, and it’s a good product, I think you should pursue it. You should find a cooperative kitchen somewhere that can help you and teach you how to commercialize your recipe and about the food safety requirements and everything that companies like us to try to help you along the way.
You’ve had that passion, if it’s truly what you want to do, and it’s what you were meant to do that by all means go do it. It’s not going to be easy. And many it on your own. Be willing to set aside and put in the work. And if you do that.
Damon Pistulka 26:54
Good things that doesn’t do it. That’s
Todd Underwood 27:11
awesome. Like it? Was that?
Curt Anderson 27:14
Damon? The guy the guy was doing it was deal it was dealing blackjack. Yeah. And then start to how just a tad just Alright, so like I like, I watched that I’m like, just so inspired. And I love you know, like the shout out to Marsha. And then the last thing, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to ask for help. Todd give us so you’re you’ve I’ve seen I’ve seen a couple several of your videos that are just very powerful. You did a couple through COVID that I’m familiar with. Just talk a little bit about, you know, tell us what’s going on behind that video right there.
Todd Underwood 27:49
Well, it’s it’s multiple things. Like I said, we have one of those roundtables. And first I want to give a shout out to Josh Nagel, who is the videographer on that. He’s been amazing. I’ve worked with some really good filmmakers, my brother’s a filmmaker, I’ve, I’ve went to college with people who want Academy Awards, Josh is up there. He’s really good. He’s one of those guys who you tell him what the vision is you sit with them, and he just creates. So if you if you want to do this, find a good partner like that.
But really, for me, it was just like we talked earlier, just stories, these entrepreneurs for that video in particular, like just taking a risk. I mean, one thing you don’t know about Brad, his mom started that company. And it was but he didn’t inherit it, he bought them out. And I hope I’m not getting that wrong, because I remember meeting him a long time ago and hearing it because you hear about, you know, second third generation, he was doing something else. And he decided that it but he still gave credit to his mom, because she’s the one who started it in his dad. And I just thought that was a beautiful thing.
And then Willie, he actually started out with us at our NOC our community, our commercial kitchen. And I heard the stories of this crazy guy who slept in his car, you know, and, and to me, that’s what you have to beat to beat. Yeah, maybe a little crazy to be an entrepreneur. But they made it you know what I mean? They made it and they’re still growing, we really wanted to find people that they weren’t done yet. And you can tell from that video, they they’re not done yet. They’re they’re, they’re they’re continuing to grow and grow.
So for me that and I and the other thing without rambling on too much, is I really wanted to create something inspirational. So people who have that idea will come to our kitchen, who will you know, or will go to another kitchen and try to follow those dreams because that’s really where all growth comes from as that’s a little bit to my economic degree. All growth comes from small to medium sized businesses and people taking risks. So it was I want it to be inspiring. So that’s sort of what that particular video came from. Right.
Curt Anderson 29:39
I love it man. And you know what an anvil career and Don’t you just love that you’re, you know, you are a dream supporter, you know, like, here you are helping these folks and then bring that story out. So you know, you said in the beginning of the interview, he had a little pushback or like, hey, this whole empathy map and the buyers journey, you know,
Todd Underwood 29:56
it was just new I shouldn’t say push but it was just new. I just yeah, it was it was new for His MEPA centers you kind of probably have some ideas of what I’m talking, you know, like,
Curt Anderson 30:03
what is this? So let’s let’s, let’s talk to the manufacturer out there. Okay manufacturer out there is catching us like, Man that that’s that video was really inspiring I have a similar story or like my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother started our company, what advice do you have for folks that start with the empathy side? So there’s manufacturers out there how like, this is like they’ve had no marketing, no social media. This is all brand new. How do you help a manufacturer take that first step?
Todd Underwood 30:30
Well, my advice would be and again, to just go back in my career, which has been all over the place when I first moved to India and basically was kind of thrown in the fire Hey, market, this new UX design service as you learn it, you know, I remember reading about marketing versus strategic communications.
And one of my first case studies I read about was Domino’s Pizza. And Domino’s for a while their sales had either plateaued or slumped. And they embrace social media by take a picture of your greasy pizza. It wasn’t it wasn’t it wasn’t make it look amazing. It’s like show us your greasy box. And they took off through the roof. So what what I would advise any company, especially manufacturing, where there’s that little stigma, don’t don’t try to be something you’re not lean into your story.
If you’re a family manufacturer, that’s a kick at a kick butt story. People want authentic, authentic stuff, you don’t need to make it fancy. Nothing you just saw in that video was was embellished, it’s all true. Just got to present it. Get somebody who can help you tell that story if you’re struggling. I mean, sometimes you just need someone to come in and ask you questions, because you don’t know what you got until someone tells you. But um, that would be my advice is to just embrace what you are and be proud of what you are and put it out there for people. And I think that’s what people react to.
Curt Anderson 31:46
is so good. Alright, so let’s dig in. Let’s take it one step further. Todd, were okay. So they’re like, Okay, I there’s a little mic drop moment, there was a mic. So yeah,
Damon Pistulka 31:55
brace and watch. What you are sharing it with people is so key. I mean, I sit there listen to that video. I’m getting teared up, man. Because you can just think, on the buckeyes, you can just think of them work. And
Todd Underwood 32:08
I gotta say on that one shooting at that place was the most best smelling place I’ve ever
Damon Pistulka 32:12
been. I’ve had them before, I didn’t know where they came from Martius is the best. The best. My goodness. But you know, you feel the energy. You feel that story? And the gotta let that out.
Todd Underwood 32:27
Yeah, I think authenticity is really the key to everything, you know? Yeah. Alright, so
Curt Anderson 32:33
let’s go. Let’s go here tight. So again, so manufacturer out there, they’re like, Okay, you know, you know, do I go video? Do I start blogging? Do I jump on a social media site? Like what would be? Let’s get like, can we get, you know, like, one on one that’s really stripped down basic for a manufacturer that has like, you know, you and I work closely with that, you know, with manufacturers that are just starting out? What would be like a good first step. So now okay, you know, I want to share my story, we have a really cool story. How do I how do I get that story out there? Well, I
Todd Underwood 33:02
think I think, again, it really depends. It’s individual. But I think you want to start small, because I think what happens is any kind of project, the video is the end result of this. Does that make sense? We didn’t just we didn’t just start making videos when I, when I joined.
Say for example, I talked about the empathetic voice. And that means a lot of things, a lot of people but I think I mentioned this in my presentation. One thing I noticed in our previous marketing and a lot of MSPs do this, they talk about themselves, I call it the grant voice. The third person sift is data. And sift is not a real thing. People don’t identify that we, our you partnership, start with the language you’re using. And I firmly believe that internal culture and external marketing have to match anyways. So you got to build that inside. But I start small, I mean, what are you what are you comfortable with?
Are you comfortable with just doing an Instagram and taking a couple pictures and just start there and see where it goes? I would not say start with a video unless you got a big budget, which a lot of people don’t have. I think blogging is a really easy thing. I don’t like writing but I do like writing if that makes sense. One of the easiest thing you can do is share your knowledge without giving away your secret sauce is what I say listicles BuzzFeed made billions or millions of dollars off it. Tell me when you’re when you’re doing something. What are the top three things that you make sure you get right when you do it.
There’s a blog right there, you already know it’s in your mind, write it down. And you know, and then the last thing I’d say is once you get the momentum, realize that one piece of content is not just one piece of content. A video can be made into a blog, a Facebook post can promote it’s a it’s an ecosystem, don’t try to do 20 different things and put them up on the shelf, do one thing and put it in 20 different places. Does that make sense? So that that would be my advice to somebody starting but start small start with who you’re comfortable with and start with your authentic you know where you are.
Curt Anderson 34:58
Can you say that one again?
Todd Underwood 35:02
also like, instead of creating 20 different pieces of content and thinking, I got all this content, take one good piece of content and put it in 20 places, if you have to tweak it a little bit, that’s the key, you know, because so many people, oh, I made this great video, or I made this and then they put it up there.
And then you know, okay, what are we going to do next? No, you keep building on it, you keep building on it. And it takes time. That’s the other thing. I would say it takes time. I’ve been at sift for four years, we’ve done a great job, I’m very happy or management has really been supportive of me. But it takes time. And sometimes you get frustrated.
You know, I go back and I look at my analytics, not as much as I should. But I try to make sure I look at him every three or four months. And every time I’m like, oh, okay, we’re doing better than I thought, You know what I’m saying. But progress is slow. And then it becomes fast. So, but like I said, don’t, don’t over, don’t overdo it, just do what you know, well, and put it in a lot of places. That’s the best advice I could give anybody.
Curt Anderson 35:57
That was fantastic. And I want to be mindful, I know you’re busy guy want to be mindful of your time as we wind down. You know, so Willies, and you know, Buckeyes, consumer goods. One last questions I’m going to have for you, let’s talk to that custom manufacturer, the job shop, where, you know, they’re strictly more in that b2b side, they don’t have that proprietary product.
And they’re like, you know, yeah, that’s all cool. You know, salsas, sexy and exciting. And, you know, Buckeyes, everybody loves a, you know, big chocolate and peanut butter, of course, but you know, like, for the job shop, or the custom manufacturer, in again, I know, would be the same premise. But you know, I don’t know, if you do, you know, lifetimes will get a little bit of pushback or resistance from a manufacturer on that side of things. Any advice for those folks that are that don’t have that proprietary product that you would have for like marketing success?
Todd Underwood 36:45
Um, again, that’s a tough question. But the best answer I can think of for you is, again, when we talk about workforce and things like that, and I promise I’m going to get to your answer. Yeah, I talked a lot about workforce, and younger people. And I’ve worked with a lot of younger people. That’s why it’s my joy. I love working with young motivated people. They want to be connected to something bigger, right? So you say, Oh, we’re just this one piece.
And you know, maybe we’re not very sexy, and we’re not an pakai. But you’re part of a supply chain. You’re part of something creating something bigger and bigger. And if ever, there’s been a time in history, and I’m 48 years old, where people are understanding supply chain, and how important it is. It’s 2022. Right? So don’t sell yourself short. Talk about your impact. Talk about, you know, do you remember though, the GOP milk commercials, do you remember? Do you remember how they came up with those? Do you remember the story of that?
Curt Anderson 37:36
How did they, they refused.
Todd Underwood 37:39
They refused to drink milk for a month or something like that. I’m probably getting this wrong. And they realize what they missed when they didn’t drink milk in the first milk. I don’t remember the first one was, this guy gets hit by a car. He thinks he’s in heaven.
He gets all these cookies, and he’s eaten all these cookies. And he goes to get the milk and there’s no milk. realizes he’s not in heaven. Is that got milk? And that’s the thing. Look at yourself. Don’t sell yourself short. It’s, you realize you’re part of something bigger. And that’s my say. And again, that always comes back to embrace yourself. You know, don’t try to be something you’re not
Damon Pistulka 38:16
got milk. I love it. I love it. You
Todd Underwood 38:19
know, my favorite ads as a kid Oh, Dad myself, but those are those are great.
Curt Anderson 38:23
Dude, that was Oh my God. Now, Damon just put your Todd live in a room with literally like hundreds of people and just you know, Todd, you just absolutely blew the room. I know you. You’re humble guy. But everybody I talked to you know, even I just talked to Jeanette Stevens a few weeks ago. she’s the judge in Virginia. And we were we were talking about the good. You made a great impact at the show.
Todd Underwood 38:45
I’m glad to hear that. That was my first time so I was really nervous. Well,
Curt Anderson 38:48
I’ll tell you our gifted speaker I was captivated. And you know again as marketers you sit there you know and I was I was just so impressed with your you know, with you, your presentation your passion for manufacturing. And what why Daymond I love doing this is like so manufacturers are out there.
You know there’s a little skepticism like Hey, what is this MEP is this is this government you know, and why we love bringing on guys like you you’ve lived literally all over the world. Yeah, bring a wealth of experience knowledge and most importantly boy your unapologetic passion for helping manufacturers I think your storytelling strategy is absolutely brilliant.
You’re just you know the vulnerability the empathy is just you know, lights out and I love what you said about you know, like the job shop to custom manufacture you know be authentic just you know be that guy give the top 10 You know top three reasons why we do this stop being the best kept secret the got milk was just an example. And dude as we wind down we’re coming to the holidays any any I’m gonna have one last question but any parting thoughts words of wisdom for our listeners out there?
Todd Underwood 39:56
No, I just say you know, keep keep following up. So if you’re interested, if you’re an organization interested in supporting us, I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this. But we are looking for sponsors for these stories next year. I’d like to do more than less so but you know, just keep doing what you’re doing and be proud of it. I just, you know, I think the world appreciates manufacturing and food more than they ever have, especially in America, because that’s the silver lining of the last tough, tough couple years, people really did that. You know, you have to think about things now. And that’s good. And that’s why it shouldn’t be,
Curt Anderson 40:28
you know, in you and I, you know what, shame on me, I should hit this put up tight. If I think it was you, you had a meme pulled up. And it said, If we went back, like hundreds of years, that’s, yeah, that’s your meme. Right? So they
Todd Underwood 40:39
didn’t make it. But it’s my favorite meme.
Curt Anderson 40:41
So picture this, I apologize. I don’t have it. So picture, there’s a picture of a bunch of technology, like, you know, a bunch of phones and what have you. And then a picture underneath? And it says, What do you think people would be more impressed with 500 years ago? And you know, the picture is showing all this technology? The picture below it is our grocery store shelves packed with food. Yeah. And Todd, you talk about like food shortages.
And like how we take for granted I mean, like, you know, we’re suffering other supply chain, you know, running joke about toilet paper during me just think, like, I thank God every single day, religiously without fail. Thank you that I have food in my fridge. You know, like, yeah, it’s think how, what a blessing that is that that’s one of other problems we have today. That is not a problem that we you know, there’s food and you know, and I want to be mindful, like bugling, or what happened, but there is an abundance of food, if we could get it out to everybody. But sure, I want to hit that one. I’m sorry to keep you.
Todd Underwood 41:40
I got plenty of time you got me, let’s find any
Curt Anderson 41:43
share that shared like that, that meme or just you know, what your your thoughts on like food that supply chain and just the abundance that we have?
Todd Underwood 41:51
Well, I think I think and again, I don’t want to sound preachy. But one thing after living abroad for a long time in Japan was a very wealthy country, and I’m not putting any, but we have such an abundance here in America, we really do. And we have a lot of problems. And I understand that, but I really push my kids and the people I know, forget, every once in awhile, forget the problems and think of how grateful you are, yeah, be what you have. Because I’ll tell you a little funny story.
We had been in India for two and a half years, and it was wonderful place, but the food was difficult. Put it that way. And I remember we had a 70 some hour flight because we missed three flights with two children. It was supposed to be a 20 hour flight, we slept on floors with a, it was the worst trip of my life.
I didn’t think I was ever getting on a plane again. We get back to Toledo in the middle of the night. And the next day, we’re super jet lagged. And my stepfather took us to Costco. And I swear to God, it was the most religious experience I’ve ever had my wife and I were just like, oh, and you know, and I just always think about that and how grateful we are to be here. And when I say grateful, be grateful that people who make that and keep those things running, and nobody went wrong being grateful. That makes sense. So
Damon Pistulka 43:01
no, nobody went wrong.
Curt Anderson 43:03
Nobody went wrong being great. So now and now. So tired. We have these things called moments of silence, where we just you know, like it’s lunchtime in the eastern time zone we just want to savor So dude, first off, thank you, man, you appreciate that blessing. Love your energy, love our connection. just thrilled to collaborate with you through 2023 as we’re coming into the holidays, you have a 10 year old seven year old big girl dad, who my last question for you. Please. Who is your inspiration coming into 2023? Who or what is your inspiration? As you excitingly look into the new year?
Todd Underwood 43:42
My inspiration that’s a tough one. Um, honestly, I don’t want to pick up you said don’t pick your favorite child. But my 10 year old really inspires me. And I mean this sincerely because she went to school in Japan didn’t speak any Japanese because we taught her English only at home because we thought we’re gonna stay in Japan. And she went to school in India, and we weren’t, we weren’t going to start up.
I wasn’t making a lot of money. We lived a normal Indian life. And she went to school with a bunch of Indian kids, which is fine, but she was an outcast there. And we moved to Ohio, she goes to a school, we buy a house, she has to switch schools again, then COVID hit.
And she stayed home for a year because we were real. We were real conservative with it, and we kept her home. Then she goes back to school. And then this year, she’s in a new school and just the fact and now she’s got to get up at 6am Every day, which is a struggle for me but honestly, I look at my little 10 year old and all the stuff she’s been through. I know that maybe again another cliche answer and I love Mary my seven year old too, but just how strong she is and I’ll get a little lady but she’s my inspiration. I hope I just hope that she is. Well. That’s incredible. And my wife of course I don’t get in trouble but my wife has
Damon Pistulka 44:47
given that’s a given
Curt Anderson 44:48
Todd wife’s name please. Magical. Magical daughters are 10 year old Ray and seven year old Mary. Awesome. Hey in guest Damon guest was in the house. Yep, Nicole, Natalie, and she has two beautiful daughters, Sophia and Charlotte.
Todd Underwood 45:04
Can I just say one more thing real quick. I’m sorry. Our next video which I can’t share yet, but I just finished our second is about women in food. And it’s about kind of for my daughters, if that makes sense. So I’m excited to send that to you guys. I’m kind of excited.
Curt Anderson 45:18
Oh, man, so much exciting things here going on. We covered you know, girl, dads, we’ve covered you know, living all over the world. We’ve covered manufacturing, all the exciting things going on Ohio is just booming. As to thank you, man.
Todd Underwood 45:34
Thank you guys so much. I really appreciate you let me come on and talk.
Curt Anderson 45:39
This was great. Okay. Anybody out there? Contact your local MEPs. I know right now you have if you’re in another state, if you’re outside of Northwest Ohio. I know you’re saying, Man, I might have to move to Northwest Ohio just so I can work with Todd. But guys, wherever you’re at your local manufacturing extension partnership, they are just a gift and a blessing to help manufacturers. Boy, if you’ve missed this, go back and catch that replay. Watch that video. Matt Damon, I thought you the whole time. What did you think of that video?
Damon Pistulka 46:07
Oh, man, it was incredible. It was Yeah. It’s just so cool. I mean, for me in manufacturing, and I will walk your manufacturing plant and just put your hands and touch the stuff they make is so cool. So yes, so cool. So great. So thank you guys. So
Curt Anderson 46:24
we’re gonna we’re gonna wind down. So Todd, you’re gonna love this on Monday, we have a woman, a client that I had the honor and privilege of working with an iMac that is the Illinois MVP. We have a great, wonderful success story on Monday with Jacqueline who is She’s a marketing specialist at iMac. And so Damon, we’re back here on Monday. Yeah, well, everybody go out there.
Have an amazing, incredible, wonderful weekend. If we miss you next week. Happy holidays to you. And you know what, go out there and be someone’s inspiration, man, just like Todd is go out and be someone’s inspiration. And one second Daymond take us away, brother. Merry Christmas, guys.
Damon Pistulka 47:04
Yeah. Well, Todd, thanks so much for being here. Man. It was fun talking about the value of industry talk storytelling for manufacturers and the video you shared today. Todd was incredible. Thanks, everyone for being here. Every week, week in week out. We had Whitney Tom, Christina and Nicole in today. And I know we had other listeners that were commenting and thank you for being here. We will be back again. Are we here next week. Kurt? Are we taking the day off?
Curt Anderson 47:32
You know what we’d love to talk about that we might have a little Christmas party so may
Damon Pistulka 47:35
have a Christmas party man speak so just hang out. We may be here next week. Thanks, everyone, for being with us today. We’ll be back again. Thanks for great Christmas.
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