Beating Back the Recession: Food for Thought (Part Two)

Get in tune with customers to come out ahead.
Latest posts by Rich Sloan (see all)

 I recently shared the success of House of Jerky, a business wholesaler and online retailer that’s succeeding in this tough economy. I ran across another foodie entrepreneur, Paige Ohliger, in St. Louis, Missouri recently who is also making a go of the environment.

Ohliger is one of four founders and an active manager of Time for Dinner , launched in 2004. Her niche is the meal assembly business – those stores you stop by to arrange ingredients for premade dinners for the month ahead. As she shared her experiences with me, I was impressed by how well she’s doing in the face of the doom and gloom realities, even in spite of the fact that nationally franchised competitors are closing up shop all around her.

Ohliger and her partners are able to maintain revenue just shy of $1 million and run a profitable business. But that revenue didn’t just come pouring in. Ohliger’s success with Time for Dinner, she says, resulted from deliberate priorities and efforts that helped the business rise above the national brands like Meal Makers, Let’s Dish, Super Suppers and Dream Dinners, each of which have either closed locations—or folded completely—in the St. Louis market.

Like her competitors, people come in and assemble a combination of 14 different meals on the menu and take them home. Everything’s in raw form and the customer walks out with all the ingredients necessary to cook the meal according to Time for Dinner recipes. Ohliger says, “customers save time they’d otherwise spend shopping, chopping and mopping.”

So what’s her secret recipe to maintain revenue these days when the others aren’t? Getting in tune with customers.

Get in tune with the community.

For example, she encourages people to hold parties at her store with a do-gooder angle.  Ohliger encourages groups of neighbors to get together at her store and select their meals. If they’re 10 people the 11th meal is offered for free, earmarked for a friend who’s having a baby or might be sick.

Show customers you care.

When you walk into Time for Dinner, you’re blown away by how clean it is. Customers rave about the cleanliness, quality of ingredients, and customer service that comes from Ohliger’s deliberately high ratio of staff to customers.

Use customer feedback to gain new customers.

Ohliger gets in sync with customers by being sensitive to the tough economy. Everyone wants their dollar to go farther, and she’s not shy about broadcasting that people who use her service can save money. Feedback from current customers suggests they’re saving $100-$150 monthly by using the service.

At Time for Dinner, they’ve learned that,“if it’s good for the customer, it’s good for maintaining and growing the business,” according to Ohliger, and by really getting to know their customers, they have an edge in their business.

(This article is provided courtesy of

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