Says CEO Kim Wall: "We have strategy here ... You can't just instruct people and let them go. You have to follow up." Kim Wall did her time in corporate America as a public accountant and as a banker. After being a part of hierarchies she did not agree with, Wall left her 9-to-5 job and started a spice business in 1991 called Sun Wild Foods Inc. She has been head of Baensch Food Products Co., 1025 E. Locust St., Milwaukee, since buying the firm from its third-generation family owner in 1999. "I think there is a huge disconnect between upper management and lower management in larger companies," Wall said. "Even though the motivation is technically the same, (at Baensch Food Products) the more money we make, the more money we share. We have strategy here and are doing some of the right things that other corporations just can't figure out. You can't just instruct people and let them go. You have to follow up." Wall said her company executes by focusing on four priorities: the brand; the people; the marketing/sales; and the corporate strategy.
The company makes the Ma Baensch's herring appetizer that Wisconsinites have served during the holidays since the birth of the local company in 1932. Wall believes her Wisconsin brand of herring should be the only jarred herring sold in the state. Since taking ownership of the firm, she has worked through trial and error to assemble the best-fitting staff for her corporate mission and has received advice from advisors and friends to improve her product line. She moved the herring from the dairy section to the meat and seafood sections of grocery stores. She added a gold lid and changed the artwork on the jar to create a more upscale and attractive image. She received kosher certification to appeal to a wider customer base, and most importantly, she hired people who understood her vision.
Wall plans to introduce a salmon spread this fall. "We really want an environment where we come in, we get it done, we have a great time, but if something goes wrong, we fix it," Wall said. "We are packing herring. Our saying is, 'There is a smile in every jar.' We are not dealing with heart and lung transplants here. So someone drops a jar or worse? We always figure it out. There is always a solution." Wall said she has had her share of problems finding staff members to fit her mold. Wall has gone through 102 employees since 1999.
"The thing that amazed me the most about people and hiring is you pick a person because you can see something in them. They have the X, Y or Z personality that you are looking for. But not always do individuals have the desire to carry out these qualities," Wall said. "There are many people that I have tried hard with and given many chances to, and in the end, it was only me who still believed in them."
Wall says the current Ma Baensch staff knows what she wants and knows how to work together. "Sometimes you hire someone for one position, but as you see their strengths, you can put them into a position where they can use their strengths and have a counterpart to cover their weaknesses," Wall said. "It is very interesting when you finally assemble all of the people like how we are now. Together, we have all the parts to run." As for sales strategies, Wall said she has to sell the idea of her herring to a grocery chain before she reaches the consumer, and she must always understand how both consumer and retail preferences can change. "My favorite book on the subject is 'Who Moved My Cheese?' because it says you have to pay attention to your market. You are not always going to win, but you need to be able to understand," Wall said. "Together with my distributors, I am serving a customer who is Roundy's, for instance. If my relationship with Roundy's goes bad, I will no longer get my product to the consumer."
Wall's marketing strategy behind the introduction of salmon spread was two-fold. She wanted to offer something more than the competition offered, and for marketing purposes, the new product had to sit next to the herring on the shelf. Wall said she chose salmon for the spread because the new product had to be kosher. Along the way, Wall has tried and abandoned many strategies, but she has held firm in her belief that she is a leader and a coach, not a conductor.
"Small businesses don't pick leaders, they pick people," Wall said. "My philosophy is that if you're in charge of the floor, you hire and fire the people you are in charge of. If you have any questions, ask, and I will talk to everyone involved if there is a problem. But whether I agree or disagree with you, I will stand 100% behind you, no matter what you do. I may talk to you about it later, but I believe you are making the best decision you can possibly make."
Holds staff accountable by promoting those who execute and reassigning or firing those who don't.
Repositioned Ma Baensch's herring products from the dairy section to the meat and seafood sections of grocery stores.
Gained kosher certification to maximize potential clientele.
Created shifts with scheduled breaks to ensure efficiency and production continuity.
May 28, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI
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