If you ask Jacki Hildreth about the genesis of her thriving business, she made the obvious analogy to a common kitchen staple. “It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion”. Jacki’s lifelong love of local food began working in her parent’s backyard garden and enjoying the bounty. In the early days of her relationship with her husband Tim, they often dreamt of one day owning their own food truck. Her husband’s two-time battle with cancer, now fully in remission, required that they put the best possible food on their family’s table. Their pursuit of healthy local food had them traveling all across Massachusetts just to pick up the best CSA box they could find. They also got plenty of encouragement from her brother in law, fresh off a once in a lifetime experience playing hockey in Switzerland, whom suggested they adopt some of the food practices he saw across Europe.
All of these “ingredients” combined to push Jacki and Tim towards planning and opening Central Mass Locavore; a local food home delivery service based in Westminster, Mass. They focus as much as possible on organic, local products, but also include some made with non-certified, sustainable methods. Keeping true to her roots, the storefront prominently features a weekly CSA style box, full of local, seasonal items. After speaking with a local developer who quoted them a hefty price tag to set up a shopping page, Jacki and Tim worked with our team at Local Food Marketplace to get their website and market up and running and have been working with us ever since. After beginning with nothing more than weekly boxes, they have since expanded to offer a la carte items such as eggs, prepared foods, cheeses, and meats. They offer home delivery to nearly all of their customers for the added personal touch.
When Jacki and Tim decided to jump into this venture Jacki explains that it was a “little like the blind leading the blind”. They had little to no business experience and her knowledge was based on her online research. She quickly found that between her busy family life, her career as a nurse, and the new business there wasn’t enough hours in the day to make everything happen. “Trying to get everything done in time and learning that you can’t fit 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag was one of our first revelations”. Their biggest hurdles were finding out and working through the legal paperwork and as with most small startups, capital. There were the usual setbacks, and sometimes it felt like two steps forward and then one step back. Jacki is self admittedly the risk taker in her family, and while sometimes that can be cause for alarm, she says that in this instance it was a great thing that helped them take the leap of faith. If she could pass along one piece of advice for a home business she recommends checking zoning requirements.
After operating for a few months, the team was feeling as though they were getting busier and busier, but not working smoothly. They had already run into the small bumps in the road that any new business working with small local producers encounters. “Tim would get to the farm to pick up product only to find that it wasn’t available. This gave me sometimes a 1-2 hour window to find a replacement. We quickly learned which producers would be our core suppliers that could be counted on and who were the farmers flying by the seat of their pants.” They quickly learned that local agriculture is constantly shifting, and thinking on your feet to find supply solutions is a critical part of their operation. “Nobody is dying” quickly became a mantra that their team embraced. Even their packing team of retired Corrections Officers were learning on the fly. “These guys knew what a carrot and potato was, but everything else was complete guesswork for them. You should have seen the situation with the Broccoli Romanesco.”
Jacki and Tim took time to re-evaluate what they were doing and at that time realized that they needed to not only add and expand their business, but use their time wiser. “You aren’t going to get more hours in the day, so you need to work smarter, not harder”. They took time to evaluate the parts of the business that were taking up a disproportionate amount of time and restructure the weeks workflow to fit them better. “We had a few customers in the beginning who were really excited, but because of our limitations, we were delivering their orders as late as 9pm. Those customers left and haven’t come back.” They reorganized their work week, added some new modules to their LFM set up, and asked for and received a lot of support from family and friends. Jacki is quick to point out that without this needed support she would have a hard time doing what they do. Today Central Mass Locavore is as busy as they have ever been and they are gearing up for a wild holiday season.
“Local Food Marketplace has been an invaluable tool for our business. We literally could not do what we do without it.” Jacki is quick to point out that LFM is not only a technology that helps her business operate, but acts as a mentor for her to ask questions and bounce ideas off of. “Working with LFM is a whole package, not just software. It is straightforward and easy to use, the personal support is there for me when I need it, no matter how small an issue is to them, they understand that it may be a big deal to us and offer help accordingly.” Jacki found the technology by looking at one of her flagship producers, Caroline Pam at the Kitchen Garden Farm, and loved how clean it looked and its ease of use from the customer side. “The price point is there, the support and tools are there, and the customer service can’t be beat.”
Jacki and Tim hope to continue to grow and add more delivery areas. They have explored wholesale sales, however it isn’t a priority right now as Jacki reiterates that their main mission is to “Bring healthy food to the people” and home delivery is where their heart is. They plan to add on to their work space over the next few months roughly doubling their storage and adding a walk in cooler. If all goes as planned, they hope to someday open a storefront and add the kitchen that they dreamt about when they were cooking together on their first few dates.
We asked Jacki for any advice she might offer to anyone who is currently planning or starting their own food business. At first she said “Remember, even when you have your doubts, keep going. Don’t give up” and then she remembered a phrase often uttered by superiors in her days as a nurse. “If you do the right thing by the customer, you can never be wrong”.