City: Nashville, Tennessee
Entrepreneurs: Sam Davidson and Rob Williams, Batch
With “local” on the lips of branding consultants from Boston to Berkeley, and companies as large as McDonald’s labeling their products “artisanal,” how does a company whose strength comes from curating the best a specific area has to offer communicate its value? If a company’s strategic asset is derived from its founders’ intimate knowledge of a city and relationships with the city’s small vendors, what happens when that company tries to expand into new, unknown territory?
Our team faced questions like these in Nashville as we worked with Batch, whose slogan is “be local.” Batch is a rapidly evolving subscription and gifting company that prides itself on curating the finest-quality items created by local craftsmen and artisans. Beginning with a focus on Nashville, Sam Davidson, Rob Williams and Stephen Moseley came together in 2013 with the mission to showcase the finest that their city has to offer, and now they’ve arrived at a logical point to step back and evaluate what is and isn’t working for their business. They recently expanded their reach to four other cities in the American South—Atlanta, Austin, Charleston, and Memphis—and opened a retail location in Nashville in November 2014.
More and more, we want to know which farm our food came from, which chemicals were used to grow or raise it, and how long it took to get to us. Many of Batch’s products are food items from local specialty vendors, and nowhere is our obsession with natural ingredients and authenticity clearer than with what we eat. To satisfy this need, Batch allows its customers to gain insight into the stories behind the products it sells, via its packaging and website. Batch provides a vehicle for small business to reach markets they might never before have thought achievable.
Batch’s Nashville expansion, as well as its four new city rollouts, has achieved varying degrees of success. While Batch has found a lucrative opportunity in corporate gifting, the margins on its subscriptions are dangerously thin. The company is facing the problem of how to maintain the brand’s hard-earned relevance, while still allowing customization within its new markets.
To support Batch, our team focused on defining the company’s brand strategy and also collaborated to create a playbook with primers on entrepreneurial finance, forecasting, operations, and organizational structure. Our collective hope is that by creating a consistent brand message, as well as understanding what metrics are best to track, monitor and improve performance, Batch will be ready for its current expansion, with a possible acquisition in the future.
In addition to seeing the impact of local food on Batch’s shelves, we explored the landscape of the American farming industry by visiting Sugar Camp Farm for our inspiration day. Sugar Camp Farm showed us the growing importance and need for small farmers in supporting local agriculture like natural produce, vegetables, and pastured meats.
In between smelling fresh herbs, participating in tagging adorable 5 day-old animals, and enjoying a remarkable meal made with farm-fresh ingredients, we learned about issues that, while not on the tips of all American tongues, nevertheless carry substantial ramifications for our nation. We learned about the aging of the American farmer, many of whom are struggling to entice the next generation into the family business. This poses a massive long-term risk to the viability of smaller, fresher, and healthier farming practices, and is spurring a mini renaissance of inspirational young farmers like Jesse and Lizzie from Sugar Camp.
These and other issues, particularly surrounding sustainable farming practices and local food sourcing, became a necessary lens to our work with Batch as a business at the crossroads of farmers, vendors and consumers. While many of the questions we answered were of a classic, business school variety, the broader movement Batch’s brand taps into the issues that are urgently important for those who care about the food they eat, and the farmers and vendors who get it to our tables.