Chris Bowler is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Creminelli Fine Meats, a company that manufactures, markets and distributes artisan Italian meat products to gourmet shops, high end supermarkets and fine dining restaurants nationwide. Although born and raised in Maryland, Chris had strong ties to Utah (his parents are from here), so after he finished his BA in economics at Stanford University, he came to Utah to start a tech company. Soon afterwards he was working for the state’s International Division getting ready for the 2002 Winter Olympics. This led to a job as a member of the US Olympic committee, which relocated him to Turino, Italy, helping the Olympic committee there develop the facilities and manage the logistics to successfully pull off the 2006 Olympic Games taking place there. Having lived in Southern Italy in 1994-1996 as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Chris was fluent in Italian and enjoyed being in Italy as a business man. There he met Cristiano Creminelli, a successful meat artisan looking to expand his business. Cristiano and Chris teamed up with Jared Lynch in 2007 to start Creminelli Fine Meats in the US.
When it comes to success as an entrepreneur, it’s not enough to have a good idea or even passion about that good idea–you’ve got to see and seize an opportunity for your business to fill a need. At the time Creminelli Fine Meats was founded, the US had seen a great deal of popularity in artisan cheeses, olives and chocolates, but there was a lack of fine artisan meats with which to pair them. Chris and his partners saw a significant opportunity and seized it, thus beginning a successful business. “We wanted to make great tasting products,” Bowler says, “To share a food experience that was unique, would expand people’s horizons, and would change their opinions about food, especially about cured meats. Our approach is to do everything with an eye towards helping people feel good about what they are eating.”
Seizing opportunities is also how Creminelli grew to start selling their products outside Utah. While their first few years saw them concentrating on sales in Utah, first through Caputo’s market and then to other restaurants and shops throughout the state, seizing an opportunity to exhibit at a fancy foods show in San Diego introduced them to hundreds of great new customers–and landed them their first contract outside of the state.
Dig In and Do the Work
To get a new business off the ground, “you need to be a jack of all trades,” says Chris. His advice in the beginning is to “be willing to do any part of the work. Dig in and solve the problems.” And if there are things you don’t do well, bring the right people in to get the job done the right way, whether it be a consultant, vendor or employee.
Chris also notes that hard work is what leads to those that key moments for your business to grow. “Don’t believe that there are any free passes,” he says. “It’s a rare occasion that you knock on one door that solves all your problems. It all comes through working and building and toiling.” Working hard is one of the most important keys to building a successful business.
Remember the Money Is In the Mission
Another aspect of Creminilli’s success has been crafting their business around their mission. Having a strong mission helps you make focused and strategic decisions for your business, rather than making opportunistic ones that may make money in the short term but don’t add to its long-term growth.
“We’re here because of the mission, not the money,” Chris says. “The money makes the mission possible. We never let go of that value to make more money.”
One aspect of Creminilli’s mission has been to create a great organization that provides a good standard of living for the people involved. “I reject the notion that to be a successful company means to be overbearing and aggressive,” Chris says. “Aggressiveness in pursuing business does not have to turn into aggressiveness in personal relationships. I think people should feel uplifted when they come to work. It should be a place where people feel like they can succeed, that they are a part of something important. And that doesn’t have to be at odds with driving a great business and driving growth in your business.”
Plan for Growth
In the beginning, it can be so time-consuming starting your business that you can only hope for growth rather than plan for it. But Chris has found smart planning for gradual growth is integral to business success.
“Stair step your progress for incremental growth rather than jumping into something you may not be ready for,” Chris advises. Whether it’s with your investors, vendors or with your leases, negotiate so you’re gradually growing. In three years, Creminelli moved its operations twice, each time into bigger facilities. If they had locked themselves into long leases, that would have been difficult to do. Plan for and negotiate terms that allow for increase in six months, a year, two years… whatever you find to be most realistic.