The backstory itself is inspiring. A career military aircraft inspector who served during the Korean and Vietnam wars, Charlie “Mutt” Ferrell, Jr. also had sharp culinary skills, embodied in what was literally a secret sauce that traveled with him across Asia, and eventually stateside. For years, Mutt’s sauce was a highlight of many a party or cookout until Mutt passed away in 2005.
He never thought to commercialize his sauce during his life, but the recipe was a bequest Mutt left to his granddaughter, Charlynda Scales, who like her grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force. After receiving this news in 2013, Major Scales eventually decided to bottle it, label the sauce with his name and face, and a company was born.
Mutt’s Sauce found success, was humming along, gained press coverage on big-time media outlets… and then the pandemic hit.
“Mutt's Sauce was doing increasingly better every year prior to the pandemic. In fall 2019, we had opened an Amazon store online and were promoted by CNBC as well as Yahoo Finance for the trajectory of our growth,” said Scales, Mutt’s Sauce’s founder and CEO during a recent email exchange with TriplePundit. “We hadn't really embraced e-commerce, and didn't quite know how handle the volume of orders online.”
At one point, Amazon had paused the company’s online store as the online retailing giant’s algorithm concluded that Mutt’s Sauce was not fulfilling orders fast enough. The news was not a huge disruption to the company, as its business model was one largely focused on selling at in-person events and festivals. The summer of 2020 looked promising, as those months were booked for various events.
Enter March 2020.
“I gave birth to my first child, and had exactly six weeks planned of downtime before I'd be traveling [with her baby] - to all the events,” explained Scales. “The announcement of the pandemic happened the day I was bringing him home. My email inbox was full of cancellation notifications: Every event I booked that year was cancelled with no refunds.”
Business advice that Scales had received in previous years then became timely for her company; for example, many mentors who had worked with Scales had long urged her to shift toward more of an e-commerce business for several years. “The Amazon traffic was scary in my eyes,” continued Scales. “It's true that having too much demand is harmful if you're not ready to respond properly.”
From March to May 2020, Scales and Mutt’s Sauce were in business remodeling mode. She revamped and reopened the company’s website, allowing for a more seamless process when receiving online orders. The entire product line was repriced so it could become more profitable. And, the company received some Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) funds, which the company used to develop packaging that was both easy to assemble and could help prevent breakage during shipping.
The pivot was underway, but Scales did run up against some challenges. “Instituting processes and re-examining all of the costs of goods sold took time, and we were under an invisible ticking clock to sink or swim,” explained Scales. “In the beginning, the resources being offered by the government had not taken the food industry into consideration, so PPP was basically all that was readily available. On top of that, we had to learn how to service our existing contracts - grocery stores - when people only cared to buy the essentials.”
Fortunately for Scales, her status as a veteran opened some doors. “Having an American-made, veteran-owned product did help during the pandemic. The support from the local community and Americans at large has been unwavering and humbling to say the least,” affirmed Scales. In addition to PPP funds, the company also was awarded a grant from the local Chamber of Commerce, enabling this southwestern Ohio-based company to buy new technology that helped with fulfilling online orders.
Also lending advice to Scales was SCORE, a nonprofit that connects volunteer small business mentors across the U.S. SCORE also runs a bevy of programs that partner with women-owned startups and small businesses, runs a small business resilience hub and also offers personalized business advisory services for Black entrepreneurs.
“SCORE has always been there for Mutt's Sauce,” said Scales. “I worked with the SCORE team to create webinars for fellow veteran entrepreneurs and they gave me a platform to talk about my journey, which has led to increased sales as well as great referrals for other business opportunities.”
According to Scales, Mutt’s Sauce is now performing well despite the hardships the pandemic had piled on the company. “Our sales were higher and now we know we can thrive as an e-commerce product. On top of that, we are even more connected to our customers and fellow veterans,” concluded Scales.
For the Fourth of July, Scales, a proud Black female entrepreneur, Air Force veteran, TedX speaker and winner of a wide range of awards, agreed to share a recipe with 3p. More can be found on Mutt’s Sauce’s Facebook page and Instagram feed.
Image credit: Mutt’s Sauce/Facebook
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.