The show on Thursday, April 15th offered a penetrating discussion on the topic of expanding a business while retaining the brand and culture. Our guest, Stan Epperson, founder of Deli Provision Co., Inc., joined Family Business Radio and hosts Meredith Moore and Pat Romboletti to tell us about his business, its growth and to share his experience with preserving a brand.
Stan started his business in1981—launching Deli Provision as the first independent distributor in Atlanta for Boar’s Head Provisions, a fourth generation family-owned business founded in New York City in 1905. Stan credits his success over the last 29 year by aligning with Boar’s Head’s creed: Sell only superior quality delicatessen products—no compromise.
The ability to expand without jeopardizing the values that are at the heart of a family business is tricky terrain. Stan credited Boar’s Head with maintaining its original stance—that the independent distributors are customers. Customers get treated differently than channels of distribution, a huge distinction to Stan’s mind. He also pointed out that, in making your company valuable for any future sale, “profit follows. It does not lead. Success follows. It does not lead. There are no tricks, no magic formulas. A business becomes more valuable as you do the same thing for the last customer as you did for the first customer. Which is also more difficult.”
Stan shared a great story that really brought home the fact that Boar’s Head was committed to maintaining the values of the founder. Since the beginning, when all delivery trucks were based in New York, Boar’s Head has insisted on gold-leaf lettering on delivery trucks—even after they expanded nationally with their independent distributor network. The process could only be done in New York City and required Stan to ship his trucks to NYC and arrange for delivery back to Atlanta. An expensive and time consuming process.
During a visit to Atlanta by Bob Martin, CEO and the grandson of the Boar’s Head founder, Stan complained to him about how crazy, expensive and inefficient it was to go to all that trouble for the delivery trucks—“…surely we could get some decals that would be almost as good.” Mr. Martin paused a second and then replied, “When you let me make roast beef that’s almost as good, then I’ll let you paint trucks that are almost as good.” Stan said (with a laugh and, I swear, you can see him shaking his head even on the radio), “That brought the conversation to a screeching halt.”
Philanthropy is another passion of Stan’s family. After losing their son to a brain tumor in 2001, the Epperson family has poured their energy and money into funding various groups who are searching for a cure. “We don’t want another family to have to go through this,” he said. They also set up The Epperson Family Foundation as a multi-generational tool to help in this area. Stan was clear about philanthropy—in the beginning of a business, your focus needs to be on making that business a success. But once you’ve crossed a subtle line, then he firmly believes that you need to give back to your community.
He admitted that setting up a foundation was a bit daunting, but “we got professionals to help us.” In his own words, he avoided the problem that afflicts so many entrepreneurs—the “I can do anything” syndrome. Instead, he turned to a team of trusted advisors, including his CPA, lawyer and financial planners, to develop a coordinated approach.
By the way, for all you entrepreneurs out there who are just beginning to get your business off the ground—take heart. 29 years ago when he first started, Stan literally lived in the back room of his warehouse while his family stayed in New York. For shower facilities, he used the 24-hours gym down the street. But piece by piece, account by account, day by day, he built his company. As of this May, he is selling the last piece of his business—the 16th! His next venture? “I’m becoming very good at being a goof-off.” (A statement that is only partially true since he plans to channel his considerable energy into the family foundation.)
You can download our podcast and get the entire discussion with Stan. His blend of humor, candor and humility will inspire you. While he is clear that doing the simple things, like sticking to the core values of your family and business, is hard, he is equally clear that they are worth it.
Stan Epperson, Deli Provision Co. Inc., 6925 Discovery Blvd. Mableton, GA Telephone 770-948-9494