Name: Kirk Wells
Business: Whiskey Oak Seasonings
After a 20-plus year career in tech, Kirk Wells was ready to go out on his own. He began tinkering around in his San Jose, CA garage, figuring out how to build a custom-smoker so he could make his own smoked seasonings. After a year of trial and error, Kirk started sharing his tasty blends with friends and family – who all clamored for more of his sensational spices. Today, Kirk works full-time as founder and chef at Whiskey Oak Seasonings cooking up small batches of smoky salts, sugars, steak seasonings and dry rubs, which he sells at farmers markets all over Northern California.
Kirk will be selling his tasty smoked seasonings at the Bazaar at this year's SOLD OUT QB Connect 2017 in San Jose.
Kirk, tell us the story behind your business.
I had the crazy idea of building a custom smoker to smoke my own seasonings. After a year of working evenings and weekends, I figured it out. My friends and family loved the seasonings and encouraged me to start a business. I got all the different licenses and permits I needed to create a company, and by January 2015, I was ready to launch. I started out with an Etsy store and a Facebook page. Three months later, I’d built the second version of my smoker. The increased capacity allowed me to sell at farmers markets in the area.
Since then, business has grown by leaps and bounds. I sell my products in retail stores and on my website. Now I have a third smoker that can handle 100 pounds of seasonings and will allow me to expand into the wholesale market.
I left tech at the end of 2015 to grow this business, and I haven’t looked back. I absolutely love what I do!
Your business is growing and growing. What’s your secret?
I’m always figuring out my next move so I can get more product out to consumers. I know it’s on me to educate consumers about the value of my seasonings and what they can do. At the market, I have photos and explanations of how to use my seasonings. I also made step-by-step recipe cards which I give to every single customer. I post recipes on my website, too.
Once people try my seasonings, they’re hooked! They bring their friends and family to the markets, buy my seasonings as holiday gifts and keep coming back for more. I try to give my customers every excuse to use and share the seasonings so they come back again and again.
As Whiskey Oak Seasonings grows, I'm very conscious of keeping the quality of the product as good as the day I started. Making small batches of seasonings allows me to do that. I’m also recognizing it’s time for me to invest in my business so I can scale up. It might be the time to get a small business loan and focus on increasing output and making more connections.
What does a typical day look like for you?
On most days, I get up early, head to my commercial kitchen and package product. Then, it’s off to the farmers markets, which are five days per week. That’s a big commitment right there. After the market, I’ll come home to do paperwork and prepare website orders. Every week, I spend one day packaging the product and another running my smoker to create the seasonings.
What do you hope to gain from attending QuickBooks Connect?
I found out about QB Connect through a friend, and I’m so excited about it. I think the event will help me understand what resources and tools are available, especially when it comes to helping me find more time in my day. I hope to meet and work with other entrepreneurs to make more connections.
Joining the QB Community connects you to others who, just like you and Kirk, dare to work for themselves. (Find the Sign Up link to the upper right!)
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Oh my goodness....I think I just found my Christmas gifts for everyone this year! I cannot wait to try these and cook up some delicious holiday meals with it.
Kirk, I'd love to know what the scariest part of leaving your tech job to start your own business was, and how you overcame those fears.
Amazing product and incredible artisan! So grateful to work with people like this!
I love how Kirk is meeting his customers right there in the marketplace. Such a great way to build brand awareness and get product feedback in real time!
I really love the way you packaged your salts and seasonings in the jars. It really makes them stand out as a unique product. Great job!
Hey @JohnSadler - welcome to QB Community!
I love the packaging, too. The jars are simple and and homey but the label reads classy and upscale. Do you have any experience in package design or do you just have a good eye for what stands out on the shelf?
Hey, thanks for filling out your profile page. I'm totally intrigued by your sports-and-recreation niche in the insurance business! I'll think about you the next time I take my kids to the trampoline park How'd you get into that area of specialization?