But her name and branding were even better.
The first thing that caught my eye was the illustration on her label: a stylish young woman in a little black dress and a wide-brimmed hat set against four green squares of various hues. And then there was the product name: Little Black Dressing Co. And the tagline: DRESS UP YOUR SALAD.
Zing! She nailed three of the most daunting tasks in marketing right out of the door: a compelling brand name, a powerful tagline and great design.
“I’m a little black dress girl,” she told me after I asked about how she came up with her brand name. “It works for everything, for all occasions. And Little Black Dressing Co. offers “a dressing for every occasion,” including four tempting flavors (the one I took home was "Honey, It’s Dijon Dill").
The creation of Little Black Dressing Co. seems right out of Small Business 101: a family steeped in “homemade everything,” a big organic garden, Nana Kate’s wonderful salad dressing, friends and neighbors willing to pitch in and help mix, bottle and label freshly prepared product around the kitchen table and church group members who advised Kissie either to stop making the stuff or start selling it. “Kissie”, by the way, comes from “Christy”, which is “cute when you’re two but can be a problem when you’re forty-something and some secretary shouts to her boss that ‘Kissie’s on the phone!’”
Kissie and her husband successfully raised four children before she ventured off into businessland. And before that she earned a fine arts degree in graphic design and worked in a restaurant, a combination that clearly prepared her for Little Black Dressing Co. What she wasn’t quite so prepared for, however, was satisfying FDA and NCDA (North Carolina Department of Agriculture) nutritional requirements, HAACP food safety requirements and selling her product to grocery stores, which had set margin expectations and (at least at this stage of the game) direct delivery requirements. And, of course, in-store sampling.
“Personal introduction is important,” Kissie says. “People want to know where their food comes from – and thank goodness supermarkets now are tuned into local products. It’s all part of giving consumers a positive experience.”
“I got an email one day from a catering firm that wanted me to provide my dressing to the U.S. Open tournaments (men’s and women’s) at Pinehurst. I thought my family was cranking me, especially since my husband and brother-in-law are such avid golfers – both sides of my family are, in fact, even my grandmother. So I put off answering the email for a while, and when I did finally contact them, I hadn’t really decided if my family was still messing with me.”
They weren’t. Little Black Dress Co. ended up providing 88 bottles each of three flavors to the Open – all mixed and bottled by Kissie and her team. The product proved so popular that the caterer ordered 768 more of each, which proved quite the task for the entrepreneur and her crew, who “knocked out the order in seven days” while keeping up with other demand.
Momentary success like that, not to mention Little Black Dressing Co. having been named a finalist (among 5,000 entries) in this year’s Martha Stewart’s American Made competition, has helped get the attention of grocery store prospects, including Lowes Foods, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market stores in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
Which makes one wonder whether Kissie and company may be approaching a tipping point.
“Little Black Dressing is selling so well in some stores that I’m in shock,” the proprietor says of her most recent sales gains. “We were ‘produce winner of the day’ in one Fresh Market. “So, “between making the product, bottling, paperwork and sampling, I’m a busy girl – with eight stores running hard, which we’re making proud. After all,” she says, “I work for them!”
The next hurdle is familiar to any entrepreneur who wants to move out of the family home, go into full-bore production and hire people to help make growth happen.
“I don’t want the business to consume me,” Kissie says, “although I’ve tripled sales in the past four months. That means I’m about 2/3 of the way to taking on a packer. Meanwhile, I just keep right on doin’ what I’m doin’.”
Whichever direction the business may take her – to stay small or gradually step-up demand and the capacity to meet that demand, you can be sure of one thing: Kissie Stroup and her Little Black Dressing Co. will succeed.
How can they possibly go wrong with a name like that?
Not to mention flavors like Dreamy, Creamy Vinaigrette, Far East Flair and It Takes Three to Tango (a combination of ranch, 1000 Island and blue cheese crumbles). And each and every one “hand crafted with pride and love.”
TakeAway: A great brand name and powerful tagline will go a long way toward dressing your product for success.
Content © Brian E. Faulkner