Thinking Out Of The Box

Seeing Greens

In 1995, Simon, a former TV agent in Los Angeles, ran into Dukakis' son, Peter Zorich, a high-school friend, after returning to the East Coast to serve as PR manager for Planet Hollywood International Inc. in New York City. When asked what Zorich, a young guy in career tran-sition, should do with himself, Simon recalled those afternoons in high school spent hanging out at the Dukakis compound, feasting on Olympia's tasty cooking. When Zorich suggested Simon team up with his movie-star mom on a food product, Simon agreed-even though he says Dukakis was slightly em-barrassed at the thought of taking her Greek salad dressing, passed down by her mother, to the public.

None of the prospective partners knew a thing about bringing a food product to market, so it seemed almost fated when Bauer, the younger brother of Simon's best friend and a fellow Boston University alum, agreed to lend a hand. Bauer, who, at 21, launched his food and beverage industry career as the sales manager for his family's business, a Long Island, New York-based beverage wholesaler for companies like RC Cola and Diet Rite Cola, fine-tuned his skills in sales manager positions with two other food companies (one Greek) after his family's business closed its doors in 1994. "After working in a family business, it's hard to go work for somebody else," Bauer says. "I knew I had to eventually do something on my own, and I used the other companies to get experience."

With one well-connected former talent agent/public relations whiz, the endorsement of an esteemed actress and a guy who'd been in the business his entire working life, you'd think these guys would be scooping up their profits with silver spoons. Not so. "It doesn't matter-rich, poor, young or old-it's tough to get these products onto the supermarket shelves, which I didn't realize going into it," says Simon.

sales manager positions with two other food companies (one Greek) after his family's business closed its doors in 1994. "After working in a family business, it's hard to go work for somebody else," Bauer says. "I knew I had to eventually do something on my own, and I used the other companies to get experience." With one well-connected former talent agent/public relations whiz, the endorsement of an esteemed actress and a guy who'd been in the business his entire working life, you'd think these guys would be scooping up their profits with silver spoons. Not so. "It doesn't matter-rich, poor, young or old-it's tough to get these products onto the supermarket shelves, which I didn't realize going into it," says Simon.

When you have to pay "slotting fees"-which cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per item, per supermarket account-to get your unknown product on the shelves, the desperate search for funding occasionally leads to desperate measures. It may be easy for some to give up 50 percent of their company to get $250,000 in seed capital, like Simon and Bauer could have done had they accepted offers from leery venture capitalists. But they weren't about to forfeit such a huge stake in their dream. Instead, they took a risk and secured a $200,000 credit line through a bank. "We had enough faith in it that we were willing to personally guarantee it," says Bauer, "and we didn't have to give away any equity in the company."

With the loan, they designed, packaged and started distributing Olympia's Greek Salad Dressing, taking the small-budget approach when appropriate. For instance, after realizing it would cost upward of $10,000 for rights to use stock photographs of the Parthenon and the Greek Islands on the dressing bottles, Bauer spent $2,000 on a trip to Greece and took his own pictures.

Simon believes 1997 was the perfect time to launch because there was no similar brand-name dressing available. But, according to Bauer, it was still difficult to get brokers and supermarkets to carry it: "People just aren't up at night saying, 'God, I wish there was a Greek dressing,' you know?"

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Thinking Out Of The Box.

Loading the player ...

4 Behaviors You Never Want to See in a Leader

Ads by Google

Share Your Thoughts