Peter Garbowski is the founder of BulkBeefJerky.com, a website whose function you can probably guess. In this third installment of Jerky Week, Fast Company caught up with Garbowski to look at how economies of scale operate in the burgeoning and oft-overlooked meat snacks space. With his revenue doubling annually for the past three years running, Garbowski has the last laugh at the Michigan beef jerky company that rebuffed his initial offer to build them a website.
FAST COMPANY: You’re the third participant in Jerky Week. Were you aware of Jerky Week before I reached out to you? Had you seen the stories?
PETER GARBOWSKI: I read through them after you contacted me.
But had people been emailing you before, saying, "Have you seen Fast Company’s Jerky Week? This is really exciting!"?
This is just Jerky Week 2012. Next year’s might be bigger. You kind of got in on the ground floor.
Our business philosophy is to provide beef jerky lovers the option to buy in bulk to save a few bucks. We create our own jerky, but we also offer a marketplace where people can buy their favorite brands.
How much can a consumer save by buying jerky in bulk?
At retail, it would cost $30 a pound. In bulk, you can get it at $17 per pound. Someone buying beef jerky every week might be spending $200 a month, or $1,200 a year, so you save about 40% of that, after shipping.
That’s some considerable savings there.
When did the light bulb go off, that you were going to sell beef jerky, in bulk, online?
This was in ’05. I was in web design, and there was a company around the corner that sold beef jerky. I said to them, "Hey, you don’t have a website, you’re missing an opportunity. We can sell your beef jerky on the web." They said no, thanks. That company went out of business two years later.
In researching the pitch, you found that a lot of people were Googling "beef jerky." How many?
Roughly around 7,000 to 8,000 people a day were searching for beef jerky, just in Google. I was surprised, since I didn’t think anybody would want to buy a food product on the web. So I wound up putting up a site. It would take orders and ship them out. It evolved into having a small storage facility and warehouse.
Were you into jerky before pitching this company?
How often did you eat it?
Do you like beef jerky now?
Yes. At first it was just a business type thing. Then you start getting into it. Now if I’m on a road trip and I see a different brand, I’ll pick it up and try it.
You sell exotic types of jerky.
We have venison, buffalo, and elk, plus turkey. Of all the jerky, turkey is my favorite.
Do you have alligator jerky? I’m seen some companies that sell alligator jerky.
No. Right now we don’t carry alligator.
What were some growing pains for your company?
We tried to do an online TV show.
An online TV show? Can I see it?
It didn’t work out the way we planned. Let’s just leave that in the chapters of the past.
Talk to me a bit about jerky and gender.
I think initially, you think it’s a guy thing—raw beef, chewing it. It’s a guy-type thing, from stereotypes. But at the end of the day, our customers... it’s everybody: it’s women, it’s kids, it’s college students, it’s guys, it’s girls.
You’re expressing a very inclusive, American vision.
You nailed it: it’s definitely an American product. Though in the Netherlands, we have lots of customers there, too.
How is your business doing, overall?
It’s doubled every year for the last three years. But this has always been a secondary project for me. I’m more in the web, web marketing, ad space. It’s always good when meeting with potential clients: "Yeah, I’ve got a beef jerky website." They always want to learn more, because it seems like the one thing you’d never think would work on the web. But I think beef jerky is really proof that you can make almost anything work on the web, if you think about it long enough.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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[Image: Flickr user nzgabriel]