Taking our “show on the road” has its challenges, but it’s also very rewarding. Although Tippin’s got its start in Kansas City, our products are now sold in 14 states, and we’re not stopping there. We asked Curt Lafferty, the head of our sales team, what it’s like to go on the road with Tippin’s pies and the Tippin’s story. Curt shares some of the highs and lows of being the face of Tippin’s in a new market.
What’s it like to represent Tippin’s in a market where no one has ever heard of Tippin’s?
The fact that Tippin’s pies are so good certainly helps. Even when the brand has no recognition, the pies speak for themselves, and that’s what most buyers are looking for anyway. We try and sell them on our brand, but a lot of retailers like to put their own name on our pies, and we’re begrudgingly okay with that, but we think they are missing an opportunity to carry a brand that has cachet and a pretty loyal following, and one that we can promote with our marketing and social media.
What’s it like to call on a customer where you have to drive a long ways or fly?
It is a great deal of planning and work. There are times I have to check as many as nine coolers to get the product in the best shape possible to the destination. Then I must plan my whole travel time and the facilities I have to prep in upon my arrival. This can be a great deal of luggage, and if I’m flying, imagine the hassle of that. I have learned over the years many ways to make it easier. My biggest headache is when the car rental location is off-site and I have to load the product on a bus to get it to my car, and then hope it all fits.
How do you travel with pies?
We have a great support team back at the bakery that helps me get ready for these sales calls. They make me look good every time. They pack frozen pies in coolers with Styrofoam peanuts to keep them secure. I land at my destination and get to a walk-in cooler or freezer to make sure the pies stay at the proper temperature. Many times the team needs to pack dry ice in the coolers, and dry ice and altitude are mortal enemies of a Tippin’s cream pie. Our cream is so delicate that it needs to be treated with a lot of care; that’s part of what makes it so easy selling Tippin’s because no one makes a better cream pie than we do.
How do you keep from eating everything before the meeting begins?
I see so many pies on a daily basis that it is often the last thing I want to eat. (Right now I’m dreaming of a cheeseburger and could definitely eat too many of them.) One of the things I always try to do though is eat a bite of everything I am sharing with a prospective customer. Even though I know what it tastes like, it shows them how much I love the product too, and if they ask a question about an ingredient or the crust or maybe a sweetness or tartness level, I’m ready to reply.
What is your funniest story from making a customer presentation?
One of my very first presentations was to the Bakery Director of a supermarket chain in Phoenix. I was new to Tippin’s and my pie decorating skills were limited. I asked the Tippin’s bakery team to pre-decorate the cream pies and ship them fresh-made to Phoenix. Big mistake. When I arrived at the buyer’s office I opened my coolers and gasped. The pies were a disaster. I looked at the buyer and said, “I have an issue,” and showed him what had happened. I asked that he close his eyes and taste each flavor of pie. He agreed and said they were the best pies he had ever tasted. I walked out of the office with a purchase order and they have been a loyal customer ever since.
I have another story that is memorable. We were making a presentation to a Perishables Vice President and his Bakery Director, and we had more than a dozen different pies to sample. When we sample a pie, we cut a decent-sized piece of pie, probably like what you would serve if you were having pie at home. This gives the buyer a chance to see how it looks on the plate, and how it tastes. Typically no one ever eats the whole slice because there are lots more varieties we still need to try. In this presentation, the Bakery Director LOVED, LOVED, LOVED our pies and cleaned her plate of the first sample, and then cleaned her plate again on the second sample. I suggested she might want to “pace herself” because we had a lot of flavors to cover. By the end of the meeting she wasn’t feeling very good, and she jokingly got mad at me and said, “This is all your fault that I feel this way.” We had a great outcome though, and that particular retailer has been carrying our complete line of pies for over three years now, and their sales keep growing every year.
Do you ever burn a pie, or drop one, or just make a big goof?
Can’t say that I have, and I wouldn’t admit to it anyway. It is very easy to bake our pies, and I now am really good at decorating our cream pies too. And I’ve learned to improvise in the face of a potential goof-up.
What do you like most about the travel?
Travel is dreadful, but the opportunity to see new cities and find new opportunities to sample Tippin’s product is great. I love to see the joy and positive expressions when someone tastes our pies.
How do you explain Tippin’s to someone who has never heard of Tippin’s?
Tippin’s creates feelings of home, comfort, sharing an experience with someone, and decadence. There’s always a smile on someone’s face when they are eating Tippin’s pie.
If a supermarket chain doesn’t buy Tippin’s, what are their reasons?
More often than not it is price-related. Tippin’s is a premium product line and we use premium ingredients. Our pies are made by bakers without much in the way of automation. Some retailers are looking for lower price points, and that’s not where we belong. We do a pretty good job of steering clear of those types of accounts because they aren’t very productive, and I am comfortable walking out of a presentation where I don’t get the sale because we are priced too high. We know that the consumer who buys a quality pie will buy it again and again, and that’s the space we want to occupy. Even though we are priced a bit higher, we are still a heck of a value. When someone buys one of our pies, they typically become repeat customers. And our grocery store partners love that story.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Pies are one of those unique items that are best when shared. If I’m eating a cheeseburger or a steak, you’re not getting any of it. But if we have a pie, we share, and I think that’s one of those intangible things that creates such positive memories when you share a Tippin’s pie. You probably don’t even know it’s happening, but you sure do remember the experience. And you want to have that experience again and again. I love helping people create those experiences.