Making the Most of Your Opportunities Is the Recipe for Success

by Martin Lieberman, Staples

“Do what you love” is at the root of so many successful entrepreneurial ventures, including Cush’s Homegrown, a business that began when Christopher Cushing and his wife, Lisa, decided to make more happen with something they’d already been producing for friends and family for years. Today, Chris’s delicious salsa, which comes in flavors such as Peach Mango and Red Zone, can be found in more than 400 independent retail stores.

How did he do it? By understanding the retail market and making the most of his opportunities with buyers. We spoke with Chris to learn more about this, and hear why his motivation comes from more than racking up sales.

Tell us a little about Cush’s Homegrown. What gave you the idea to start a business like this?

Some years ago, I needed a way to use the extra produce from my first garden, so I started making salsa as a hobby. After I had been making salsa for three years and had not found a way to overcome the bitterness of the hot peppers, Tom, a friend of mine who kept beehives in my garden, brought me two quarts of honey. Out of curiosity, I dumped some honey into the pot one day and wow! There it was: the final ingredient.

In 2009, when the economy went off a cliff, my woodworking business of 20 years all but dried up. With four children, a wife and a mortgage, I knew I needed to make a change. My wife said to me, “You make the best salsa in the world. Let’s try to market it.” So I cashed in my life insurance and racked up the credit cards, and today our salsa is in over 400 stores. We started with mom and pop stores, and more recently have been speaking with national chains.

You’re in a competitive industry. That must provide a lot of motivation. 

The challenge of getting the next supermarket chain is a big rush, but growing the business so that I can support my family and share our success with people in need is all we need for motivation. We’re committed to making a difference in our community and beyond by supporting many worthwhile charities, such as Wounded Worriers Foundation, Drilling Wells in Haiti, the Red Cross and many other deserving causes.

Other than by sales, how do you define success?

We are a natural food company and do a lot of tastings in supermarkets. One of the best ways we know we’re on the right track is the reaction of people when they taste Cush’s for the first time. Needless to say, you know they love the taste when they go off with Cush’s Homegrown Salsa in their carriage.

What challenges you the most, and how do you handle it?

The largest challenge is dealing with the buying process at most supermarkets. They only talk to the salsa category once a year. You have to be diligent about keeping all of the schedules organized and not let a single opportunity get by. Once you have that appointment, you have to make the most of it.

Also, not only acting professional but looking professional right down to the folder you have your proposal in. And yes, I buy them at Staples!

Glad to hear it! What are your favorite marketing channels? How do you spread the word about your business?  

We work with social media — Facebook and Twitter — and when we have the opportunity to do a TV show or get into the newspaper, that is just an added bonus. But the best way to grow the name is just by word of mouth; once we get a new customer they will almost always tell their friends, and they tell their friends, etc.

Do you have a mentor, or is there someone specific who has influenced you?

My brother, Paul Cushing, owner of Pro Tek Auto in Niantic, CT. He’s been in business in the same location since 1985 and has seen it all, but he takes the time to continue taking courses on how to improve his business and be a better manager. When I need advice, I pick his brain.

If money were no object or you received an investment, what would you spend it on to help your business? 

I’d definitely invest in my employees. I would set up incentive programs and make sure they had a fully funded retirement program. Employees are the most important asset any company has. Happy employees are a company’s best asset.

Finally, what’s your secret for making more happen? 

Your customers, employees or just the person you meet on the street — treat them the way you want to be treated and everything starts to fall into place.

Do you have a great small business success story? Let us know in the comments section below, and we might feature you in a future article!

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