The Story of Mike Rahel and White Wolf Spice Co.
The Story of Mike Rahel and White Wolf Spice Co.
Built with Shopify
White Wolf Spice Company
We sell BBQ Rubs and Gourmet Sea Salts Online
🇺🇸 Based in Cleveland, Ohio, USA
📅 Founded May 2019
🏆 1 Founder
💵 Monthly Revenue = > $500
Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Mike Rahel and I’m from Cleveland, OH. White Wolf Spice Co. was actually not the first company I founded, it was my second. The first company I founded is called Refined Element and its what you’d consider my “day job”. It is a web development / consulting company that focuses on a particular software called Kentico CMS. It was founded in April 2017 and it was my first passion.
White Wolf Spice Co. was born out of one part necessity, and two parts hobby. After working as a full-time consultant for a few years, I started to realize that I was quite dependent on the success of the software company that I develop (Kentico CMS) for my livelihood, and that could lead to a scary situation should anything bad happen.
Since both of my companies consist of just me (besides a little help from my wife!) a typical weekday consists mainly of working on Refined Element tasks — handling client meetings, replying to emails, and Kentico development work. Mixed into that, I might check up on White Wolf Spice Co. to see if things are running smoothly or if any orders have come through, but generally, I reserve large undertakings for White Wolf Spice Co. for evenings and weekends. On the weekends, if the weather is cooperating, I enjoy going outside and grilling something. This is my time to experiment with different BBQ techniques, rubs/salts, and cuts of meat. It’s also a chance for me to get some social media content flowing for the White Wolf Spice Co.’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
At the moment, White Wolf Spice Co. only resells third-party BBQ rubs and sea salts, but we’re hoping to enter the game soon with our own line of rubs. We are currently in the process of perfecting the flavor of some rubs and also of researching the manufacturing process so we can make that happen ASAP. Originally I saw value in just having a store that sold third-party rubs, but upon starting the business I quickly realized all the benefits of having my own products, wholly created by me.
What was the process of launching your business like?
White Wolf Spice Co. launched in July 2019. I had hoped to have everything ready to go by the July 4th holiday, but unfortunately, there were still a few pieces to the puzzle not figured out yet so we officially launched on July 8, 2019. To be completely honest, I think I decided a BBQ rub store was what I wanted to launch near the middle of May 2019, so it was all a quick succession of things and not a whole lot of downtime in between.
In that short time between May and the beginning of July, I had identified our branding (logo, color scheme, company name, etc.) and had purchased the domain as well as identified that we would be using Shopify as the platform. I had a friend who already had a Shopify store, so I was able to get a lot of insight from him. He also let me use one of his development stores so I didn’t need to pay for Shopify in order to build my store (thanks, Roy from dochotties.com).
My first order of business was to set up a launch page that captured email addresses and promised early bird access and a pre-launch discount code. This was only about a month before launch though, so I believe we got around 60 people’s contact info pre-launch. I hustled to find out what theme I was going to use and purchase it, and start building out the store. Being a web developer already, building the store was just a matter of learning Liquid, Shopify’s proprietary language used to design the templates and create the functionality. On top of that, we started some ad campaigns on both Facebook and Instagram to promote White Wolf Spice Co. and get our name out there.
We obviously needed products to sell in our store though, so we quickly identified all the big players in the industry and reached out to find out if they would sell their products wholesale. That is when I learned just how hard it might be to get this store off the ground. A lot of companies didn’t even respond. Some responded but brushed us off “until the store launched” or gave an excuse about only selling to brick-and-mortar stores. And yet, I persevered.
The store launched with 36 different products, but about half of those were 1oz. sample-sized SaltWorks brand “pinch pouches”. Sea salt, though widely known, is not something most barbecuers put much thought into when mastering their craft. I’d go as far as to say for most people in general, table salt, kosher salt, or maybe Pink Himalayan Sea Salt is about as far as they’ll reach on the spectrum of available variations of salt.
White Wolf Spice Co.’s first official sale was three days after launch and was, not surprisingly, made by my biggest supporter besides my wife – my mother. That was a mere six hours before our unofficial “first sale from a total stranger” in the amount of $34.77. We were in business.
What are some of the most effective ways that you acquire and engage your customers?
Due to the visual nature of being in the food industry, we gravitated toward Instagram as our platform of choice for social media. Well before launching this business, I had already started following a lot of BBQ/smoker/foodie related accounts because I had a budding interest in it. Post-launch, we’ve realized the value in Google Ads, Facebook/Instagram Ads, and also have a social media presence on YouTube (though we haven’t made any videos…yet!), Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit.
We’re also attempting to become more consistent with both blog posts and email campaigns but have only posted/sent a few of those so far. It’s on the to-do list.
Which Shopify Apps are most important to your business?
The top 3 Shopify apps we use are:
Omnisend, which is email marketing and automation, $15/month
Kit, more marketing automation disguised as a personal assistant, FREE
Judge.me, rating and reviews of products, FREE but considering the $15/month paid plan because it’s so worth it!
Generally, I tend to stay away from Shopify apps but sometimes they’re necessary. Honestly, I’m a bit amazed that some of the functionality isn’t included in Shopify out-of-box and that it requires third-party apps.
Walk us through your Instagram marketing.
What are you doing on Reddit?
What are your Shopify marketing plans for 2020?
What have been your greatest sources of inspiration?
Pre-launch, I used to love watching All Things BBQ and Guga Foods channels on YouTube. They were probably my biggest inspirations for getting into BBQ in general. After launching, I’ve found so many amazing people and resources out there. A recent personal favorite of mine is The Smokesheet, which is a national monthly BBQ newsletter talking about everything BBQ related. It’s amazing.
The name of my company, White Wolf Spice Co., is inspired by real-life events that involve my dad and our time in Boy Scouts of America together. More on that some other time though.
What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve overcome?
Right now I’m still struggling with how to get the company out there and get people familiar with it more. I can spend tons and tons of money on ads, but I feel like making real connections with actual people who are interested in my products is a better way. Also, I’ve been both underwhelmed and overwhelmed in certain instances with the [lack of] interest and excitement by some of my friends and family. The whole thing is one big learning process for me though and so I’m pushing through and trying new things and taking advice from anywhere I can get it and I’m determined to figure out the formula for success.
Based on your success, do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
I think the best advice I can give anyone is: “Just go and do it”. Quit thinking about it, considering how it will or won’t work, or any of that. Until you go out and try, you won’t know what is going to happen. It takes confidence to be able to do it, but it also builds confidence even if you fail. I know it sounds easier said than done, but what do you really have to lose?
How are things today and what are your plans for the future?
White Wolf Spice Co. is new to the market and I knew it would take some time to build trust and make it a familiar brand. I didn’t expect to be profitable in the first year as I knew on top of all the initial startup costs, including the cost of the product and the marketing, we would probably spend a lot more than we would hope to make. As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in the midst of figuring out the process of manufacturing my own line of BBQ rubs and maybe even some sea salt varieties (after all, I think selling sea salts too is a bit of a differentiator for White Wolf Spice Co.). From there, I hope to start making video content (YouTube) among other things and turn White Wolf Spice Co. from a simple retail company into an empire.