It's rare for any company to survive for a century. Entire industries have come and gone in that time frame, and yet, one steak company has not only kept itself afloat, but has managed to keep the business in the family.
Omaha Steaks was founded in 1917 by J.J. Simon and his son B.A. By the 1940s, the brand had managed to make its way across the country. Once a simple butcher shop, the company now sells its steaks through many channels—mail, retail stores, telemarketing, Web and B2B—bringing in more than $450 million revenue each year.
How do they do it? Two key ingredients: They keep the business in the family, and keep the entire customer experience in-house.
Working for Your Family
Todd Simon is the second member of the family's fifth generation to join the business. He is the senior vice president in charge of all consumer sales and marketing, including its wide-reaching, multi-channel marketing approach.
It wasn't always guaranteed that Simon would join his kin in the family steak business. However, upon graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, it wasn't only the logical place to go, but a good fit for Simon.
"You're an owner in training," explains Simon. "This is how owners act: They work harder and work longer than somebody from the outside. You always have to set the very best example."
There are more than a dozen non-family executives at the company now, so there's a healthy mix of internal and external sources of decision-making. In the end, the family has the final say, but it's still not always easy. They have to argue amongst themselves to answer the hardest questions.
"The board is still family. We'll close the doors in a room sometimes and yell at each other about something," Simon says. "We're not a big family. There are only four of us involved in the business today. If we had 67 first cousins all fighting over where they were getting their allowance this month, we might have a problem."
Controlling the Customer Experience
Omaha Steaks has always kept tight control over its operations. It's one of the most important facets of its business, Simon says. By keeping things in-house, the brand can deliver the best experiences possible at every point that touches the customer. The responsibility lies on Omaha Steaks—no one else.
"We own the customer experience from start to finish," says Simon. "Manufacturing, packaging, shipping, call center, customer service, IT development, website—it's all in-house."
Another big differentiator Omaha Steaks has over its competition is the number of channels that it makes contact with the consumer. It has 80 retail stores to go along with its hefty online and mail order operations.
"We try to circle the whole 360 degrees of the marketing of food," says Simon. "We do have competitors, but we think we're about 20 times larger than our closest competitor."
Things have changed a lot in the food business over the past 80 years, but Omaha Steaks has done well at keeping up with innovation.
For instance, packaging has been key. After all, the vacuum-sealed packets are what makes Omaha Steaks' mail order business possible.
"We want to make sure that they're 100% air-tight so they last as long as possible," says Simon. "The current innovation is around the pre-cooked and value-added products. Things that are ready to eat. Things that you can just thaw out and eat."
Omaha Steaks has research and development teams in house, and the company's executive chef works with the production department on new things. It also relies on some key suppliers.
On the marketing front, Omaha Steaks is working on expanding its marketing reach through social, mobile and more. With all digital on the rise, it's working hard to keep up and move forward.
What steps does your business take to stay relevant?
Photo credit: Omaha Steaks