Wisconsin winters tend to be a bit chilly. That’s just fine at Maple Ridge Farms, where the company’s sizzling hot sales season is a beneficiary of the onset of cold weather.
The reason is obvious. Maple Ridge Farms specializes in corporate food gift programs, with temperature-sensitive chocolates, cheese and smoked meats at the top of the best-seller list. When 80 percent of the company’s annual orders are shipped after Thanksgiving, it helps that Mother Nature has the thermostat turned down.
While Maple Ridge Farms keeps an eye on temperature control, credit the company’s founder and president, Tom Riordan, for sticking with a 30-year-old recipe that has resulted in the company becoming one of the nation’s premier suppliers of creatively packaged foods. Start with a variety of delicious gourmet foods, wrap them in unique and memorable packaging and finish things off with a heaping helping of over-the-top customer service with a satisfaction-guaranteed guarantee.
Oh, yes. Let’s not overlook who’s doing the serving. Riordan unequivocally relies on the promotional products industry to drive sales.
“I went door to door for a couple years, but you can only call on so many people yourself,” Riordan said. “I became aware of what was then known as the ad specialty industry in 1981. It proved a wonderful fit. Distributors are tremendously important to us because that’s the only way we sell our product.”
That said, it’s from the distributors’ perspective that Maple Ridge Farms performs. The product has to be both memorable and of high quality in order for distributors to make the sale and then keep the business. The company places much emphasis on getting real and virtual samples to distributors.
“We believe it’s important for distributors to let their clients taste the quality of the food,” Riordan said. “It generates enthusiasm on the part of the client and makes it easier to make the sale. There are lots of pretty pictures of food on the internet and in catalogs, but the only way to be sure of the quality is to taste it”
Per Riordan, the majority of Maple Ridge’s competition doesn’t come from within the industry, but rather from big retailers of national or international scope.
“We have to create more attractive packaging and provide a higher quality food to help distributors compete with the food gift giants.”
Both the packaging and the food as sold by Maple Ridge Farms are created specifically for the company by an assortment of high-end vendors.
“There is no single food manufacturer who can produce everything really well,” Riordan said. “So we search out vendors who do a really good job at making a particular food item, Cocoa Dusted Truffles for example, and purchase that that product from them. We have dozens of vendors who produce gourmet food products and specialty packaging items specifically for us. We put it all together as gourmet gifts.”
The “we” Riordan refers to is a well-tenured team that numbers 25 in the summer and then balloons to over 300 between August and December. Most the seasonal workers come back year after year, according to Riordan, so training requirements are minimal and there’s an ingrained understanding that the level of customer service must match the quality of the food gifts.
Maple Ridge Farms is housed in an 85,000-square-foot facility in the heart of cheese country. A four-story warehouse is fully racked for significant merchandise capacity and a 15,000-cubic-foot cooler/freezer keeps product fresh regardless of what’s happening with Wisconsin weather. Seems the only space problem at Maple Ridge Farms is the parking lot during the company’s busy season.
“When we start getting busy, it can be hard to find a place to park if you don’t get here early,” Riordan said.