To get a rack of delicious ribs or tasty pulled pork, barbecue aficionados typically have to drive to their favorite barbecue restaurant or fire up the grill or smoker themselves. Thanks to Pig of the Month BBQ, the longest trip anyone has to make is to the front door for a BBQ fix.
No matter what regional barbecue specialty is preferred, Pig of the Month (www.pigofthemonth.com) has something for everyone. From beef brisket to ribs to sausage to bacon to sauces, it provides all the necessities for a feast. The secret to the company’s success, says founder and “head hog” Lea Richards, is to start with better ingredients.
“I want to sell the best barbecue in the country, but I use only antibiotic- and hormone-free, free-range meats, with no preservatives or additives,” she says. “We don’t use corn syrup in anything. I just want it to be all-natural, good food that’s free of all that junk that’s in a lot of food at the supermarket.”
In an effort to take the hard work out of barbecue, every meat product is shipped already cooked. Any product from brisket to ribs can be taken out of the box, thawed, reheated and served with a minimum of time and effort.
Richards says that barbecue is a family tradition, and she learned to man a grill properly at an early age. Her parents would take the family on vacations, “and no matter where we went, we would be on some crazy hunt to find this little hole-in-the-wall place they heard about on the Travel Channel,” she adds.
Richards originally planned for an entirely different career, graduating from college in 2009 with a degree in finance and moving to New York.
“That was an awesome time in the history of our country to be a finance major,” she says, laughing. “I got laid off almost immediately. The last ones in were the first ones to go.”
Richards headed back home to Dayton, Ohio, and after some conversations with her father, she decided to put her love of cooking to good use.
“I had no idea of the rabbit hole I was going to go down, but here we are today,” she says.
“Here,” in this case, is a busy, 12-employee operation that sends out more than 2,000 packages per week. Orders can include not only the meats but also a variety of sauces, such as a smoky, Texas-style sauce, a fruit-juice infused Key West grilling sauce and a tangy Memphis-style sauce. Ordering dessert is also an option — Richards says that chocolate-covered bacon was a recent introduction that became a surprise hit.
Along with individual products, consumers can choose from a series of popular packages, too. The “American BBQ Greatest Hits,” for instance, includes 1 rack each of Texas-style ribs, Memphis-style ribs and Key-West style ribs, as well as 1 pound of pulled pork. It’s been featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and Oprah Winfrey’s “O List.” The bacon sampler pack bundled together three of the company’s most popular styles, with 1-pound packages of Chipotle-Spiced, Applewood Smoked Maple Sugar and Four Pepper Crusted bacon.
Pig of the Month cooks all its meat, with the exception of sausages, which are produced by a company farm in Indiana using the company’s recipes. Richards says that sales are pretty steady year-round. Starting with the Super Bowl in winter through Valentine’s Day (a favorite for husbands), March Madness, Easter, summer grilling season and Christmas, there are plenty of reasons to eat barbecue, Richards jokes.
Making the sale
There is a misconception that all a company has to do is set up an online store, and orders will start to pour in. Shoppers may be used to buying products online, but that doesn’t necessarily include buying food from an unknown company, with the assumption it will be good.
“People still feel a little funny about ordering a perishable meat product from some company they’ve never heard of,” Richards says.
Right from the start, Richards instituted a 100-percent, no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. If a customer is unsatisfied with a purchase, they can get a replacement or a full refund. That type of assurance gives shoppers more comfort when ordering online. The lost art of customer service is also important in creating loyal customers.
“We’ve had people call in and say, ‘I didn’t think your apple pie bacon tasted apple pie-y enough,’ and we’ll offer to send something else,” she says. “We just want them happy, and they’re stunned, because they’re so used to having to fight tooth-and-nail to get what they want.”
Given the risks involved in shipping perishable food items across the country, the company works closely with FedEx to ensure all packages arrive within two days. All meat items are chilled to -20F degrees before being placed in a fully insulated cooler. The amount of dry ice needed varies by season, from 3 to 4 pounds in the winter to 10 pounds in the summer.
There are many ways to grow an online business. One of the most effective (and cost-effective) ways that Pig of the Month has found has been to partner with other businesses that have online stores as well. It teamed with a company called Naked Wines for a coupon exchange, where Pig of the Month included a coupon for Naked Wines in its packages and vice versa. Richards says the venture had an excellent conversion rate for her company.
“We give each of our customers some added value,” she says. “It’s a cheap and easy way to reach out to consumers who are already buying food online.”