I never actually meant for Adoboloco to be a business.
We started out selling our hot sauce to the public at the local Maui Swap Meet and Farmers Market every Saturday morning. Slowly, we worked our way into wholesaling to local stores like Mana Produce, Kihei Caffe, Tutu’s Pantry and then to larger grocery stores like our local Whole Foods Market.
One of our biggest opportunities came a little over a year ago when we made it into Costco Maui with our Pineapple Habanero hot sauce. We were thrilled for the chance to get our sauce to a larger audience of people who love it as much as we do. To those without the knowledge of what we’ve gone through behind the scenes, it might look like it’s been easy.
But it didn’t happen by accident. This is our story.
One day while picking up supplies at Costco, I got to talking with one of the managers. I asked her who was in charge of the buying decisions for Hawaii and got the buyer’s contact information. The next day I called and asked what it took to get our product into Costco.
First, we needed to send in samples of the product for approval and the packaging had to be redesigned to meet Costco’s specific requirements. At the same time I was working full time at my other business, so the work for Costco all had to be done in my spare time. A few weeks later, the extra work paid off when we were told a purchase order would be issued within the week — basically as good as cash as long as you deliver.
But this is where the scary part starts.
When the purchase order came in a few hours later, it was twice the size that we had anticipated. You might think “Awesome!” and it was, except that you don’t actually get paid from a purchase order until 30 days after you deliver the product.
In the meantime, we needed to purchase all the ingredients, boxes and display trays and to have them shipped to Maui. Not to mention making and bottling a huge quantity of sauce. It would come as a big investment for our tiny family business and we simply didn’t have the $15,000 we needed up front. We didn’t want to rock the boat, so we didn’t say anything to the buyer.
In order to make it happen, we tried various options. I learned that there are companies that will buy your purchase order for a percentage. Their application process is so complicated that it felt like buying a home, yet we went through the process of getting it all completed.
A week later, it fell through.
Next, an investor from the Bay area contacted us and expressed interest in investing in Adoboloco. We had worked with them in the past so we thought this would be a great option. We talked and came to an agreement on the percentage and the investment amount.
Then the attorneys got involved.
They went back and forth endlessly with revisions to the contract. We could never come to an agreement and it was becoming very time consuming. Worse, I was starting to lose focus on making the sauce and realized it wasn’t going to work with the investor, so it was time to pull the plug on the negotiations.
As the time to scheduled delivery drew ever closer, I really felt like we were beginning to run out of options. At this point, we had family that offered to loan us money to make it happen but we didn’t want that hanging over our heads in case things didn’t work out. Sadly, we declined their loan.
With four weeks left to go, I had to decide within a day or two if we were going to contact the Costco buyer and let them know we wouldn’t be able to deliver the order. It would be such a shame to let the opportunity go, but we just had no way of making it happen. I had a big decision to make.
One of my favorite times of the day is just before the sun goes down, when our farm is basked in an evening glow. Around this time, you’ll often find me working in the chili pepper beds, enjoying the earthy smell from the soil or the sweet, almost floral fragrance of fresh picked Hawaiian Chili Peppers. It’s quiet, except for the sound of the tools hitting the dirt. It’s a good time for reflection, and it made me realize that even if the Costco deal fell through, our business would continue to grow at a steady pace if we kept our focus on our product and our customers.
The next day, we got the call that would change everything.
A few weeks prior, we had put up our 2000 Toyota Land Cruiser for sale. We’d purchased it used and it had been very useful to our family. But as we got deeper into the sauce business it was becoming less conducive for transporting our supplies and equipment. It had gone weeks without selling, but this buyer offered us cash and we accepted the offer, even though it was a bit shy of what we were asking. It was now or never.
I quickly got on the phone and ordered all of our boxes, trays, bottles, labels and ingredients. Pulling the whole order together was a huge process for the entire family. Once we finally made the huge batch of sauce, we bottled it, labeled it and sealed up every box individually. We put it on a pallet and delivered.
The day we dropped it off was such a huge relief.
For the next five months we didn’t have a car or truck. We borrowed my father in-laws truck and bummed rides from family. We had to wait until we got paid from Costco to even start looking for a replacement. Eventually we would find a truck for sale that could handle the loads we needed to carry and a used family car from Oahu that we shipped over to Maui.
In all, it took an entire year from the time that I first inquired about the process of getting into Costco until the time that the first bottles made it to the shelves. We didn’t give up and it wasn’t easy but we feel it was well worth it. The family worked hard to make it happen and we’re stronger for it.