Ask CEO Rocco Loosbrock how Bacon Freak got started, and he's got a jokey answer, one he's probably used a hundred times before:
"One too many glasses of wine."
In this case, though, it's no joke. Prior to starting Bacon Freak—a light-hearted site that sells all things bacon—Loosbrock had been making a living selling wine by hosting wine dinners, wine parties, and wine events. He'd set up a fancy dinner at a wine bar or restaurant, and afterward (hopefully) people would buy cases of wine.
It was fun, but Loosbrock had a problem. "I got kinda agitated with some of the chefs," he explains. "They'd tell me that the wine needed to be a 1962 Haut Brion or something very expensive to pair with their dish, but 90 percent of the room was just into having casual social fun with a nice Syrah or a Zin or something. Then one day I was eating some pepper bacon, and the previous day I'd tasted a Syrah that was extremely peppery, and I thought, 'Hey, I could pair the wine with, oh, some pepper bacon bruschetta… 'And people got it right away. In fact, people started saying, 'Hey, where can I get the bacon?'
"The next time I walked into a wine dinner, someone said, 'Hey, the bacon freak is here!' And it clicked for me instantly. I went home and bought the domain name that night. Then I started selling bacon."
Loosbrock started Bacon Freak in 2007, and he's never looked back. It took a couple of months for the first order to arrive. Then another order. And suddenly orders were pouring in. "Before I knew it the bacon business started taking over the wine business," he says. "Our first product was the Bacon of the Month Club: two different packages of bacon delivered to your door every month. That got us through the first couple of years. and we just kept adding more bacon stuff. Today we have over 1000 bacon products on our site. Crossing the million dollar sales threshold in 2010, was a big deal. Most small businesses do between $250,000 and half a million dollars in total sales. So that was a big deal for me."
Loosbrock's sense of humor (and love of bacon) gives his site a special personality that you can almost taste. From the opening headline ("We know why you're here. You love bacon.") to the interior copy ("All of our bacon bundles-of-joy will make you 'squeal' with delight. Yeah, we went there. Pig puns are our specialty, just like bacon is. Mmm, bacon. How can you not enjoy that succulent, sizzling pork treat? It's not just delicious, it's downright sexy.") Bacon Freak celebrates the fun of eating bacon. It's a classic example of the old advertising adage about selling the sizzle not the steak—only here it's pork, not beef.
Shot Full of Bullet Holes
Ask Loosbrock how he survived the lean start-up days and you'll hear about money, but you'll also hear about time.
"Many people think its just money," he explains,"and that's why they fail. You need money, but it's really money followed by time and knowledge. Too many people jump into a new business as soon as they think they have enough money. I can assure you, most of them haven't counted the total costs. If you think you have, show me or any other professional your business plan, and you'll get back a pail of water shot full of bullet holes. Align yourself with mentors who can beat you up. You don't need your ego stroked; you need to have your missteps pointed out and course corrections handed to you. There are a lot of free resources to help business get started. I started with Score."
Bacon Freak started out in Loosbrock's garage in Moorpark, California, about halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. His wife helped out, and it was three years before he had to hire anyone else. Today the business employs a full-time staff of 12, with another dozen temps coming in to help with order flow for the holidays.
Fry It Naked
Bacon Freak is definitely a one-stop destination for bacon products. Loosbrock sells 30 different flavors of bacon, along with a full range of novelty products like t-shirts that say "Bacon is Meat Candy." To this day the site sells thousands of t-shirts, and Loosbrock pays several staffers whose only job is making the shirts.
Oddly enough, the biggest-selling item isn't Cajun bacon, chipotle bacon, honey barbeque bacon—or t-shirts. It's plain old hickory-smoked bacon: Boss Hog Dry Cured Hickory Smoked Bacon. Dry Cured means the water is extracted,and Loosbrock claims when you fry a pound of this bacon you pretty much end up with a pound of fried bacon on your plate.
"It's a method that was in use long before refrigeration came into the picture," he explains. "People are used to the splatter of traditional bacon, which isn't because of the fat, that's a myth. It's because they inject it with water to increase the weight. The big guys will tell you, 'Oh, we add water to inject the flavors.' Bacon Freak doesn't have to add smoke oil; we smoke the bacon in smokers, the same way you would if you were making your own bacon at home. And since we don't add water, our bacon doesn't splatter when you fry it. In fact, we tell people they can fry our bacon naked."
Shipping the Pig
Is sending bacon through the mail tricky? Ask the Bacon Freak!
"We ship everything refrigerated," Loosbrock explains,"so we have to use expensive shipping containers with foil liners. The bacon goes in the box along with a pre-measured amount of refrigerant—four pounds, eight pounds, big chunks. That means we need a lot of walk-in freezer space 'cause we have to be able to freeze the refrigerant. And of course that means we're paying a higher cost per month on our lease, plus a big electric bill, not to mention the cost of the refrigerants, and the maintenance on the freezers to keep them running 24 hours a day. All those things need to be factored into the shipping cost. We pay for a faster shipping method too; on average it takes only two days for our packages to arrive. Many people have said our shipping charges are high, but we do offer free shipping on orders over $75."
Employees Who Act Like Owners
Hard as the shipping part is, it's not the hardest hard. According to Loosbrock, the biggest challenge Bacon Freak faces day-to-day is creating an environment that attracts and retains exceptional employees. "I don't settle for regular employees," he says. "I want the very best! To get the best you have to offer more and do more for each employee. On top of typical employee benefits we offer trips to the day spa, lunch and dinner parties, things that make our employees want to be there! If you hire right and treat your employees right, you get employees who act more like owners: They want to succeed as much as you do!"
Product Details Are Where You Make Your Money
When Bacon Freak started it only sold one product, the Bacon of the Month Club. But Loosbrock called his customers to find out what else they wanted to buy in the bacon department, and pretty soon it had grown from eight web pages to a thousand. Managing the mob of products on the site became a major issue.
"As you add new categories," says Loosbrock, "you need to keep your site from getting unwieldy and hard to use. Several years ago we actually had 40 or 50 categories on the left side of our home page; it was totally out of control. Now we have our top six categories on the home page, and 80 percent of our revenue comes from there."
He's Still BubbaThe Bacon Freak site has so much personality it's tempting to think that Loosbrock writes all the high-energy, bacon-loving copy himself—but he doesn't. "I used to do it all," he admits, "but now I have a creative writing team. The voice is still mine. We try to let people know, 'Hey, relax,it's bacon.' Selling wine is all about sophistication, even a little snobbery. But when I started pairing wine and bacon, a little bit of Bubba came out in everybody. I don't care if it's the CEO of a big company; he's still Bubba."