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PASSION DEFINED: THE YamChops STORY…FROM A MARKETING PERSPECTIVE

Updated: Jan 19

Written during the Pandemic describing pre-Pandemic times.

Bits and pieces of the YamChops story can be found in the hundreds of media features and interviews that we achieved when we launched North America’s first plant-based butcher shop in 2014.


And in our cookbook, From the Kitchens of YamChops (available on Amazon y’all).


And, from our appearance on Dragons’ Den (or from the kick butt viewing party that we held for 350 guests at The Revue Cinema the night we aired!).


And, from the tens of thousands of YamChops fans that we had the privilege of meeting (and feeding).


But, (yea, there’s a but) nobody has told the YamChops story from a marketing perspective.


Until now.


Buckle up friends, here we go.


In our life before YamChops we ran a marketing and advertising agency for some 27 years. One of our core principles was that – ‘in order to be successful, we had to have our projects (and therefore our clients) stand out’.


We needed to take a giant step as far away from our client’s competition as our clients would allow us to step. Thankfully, over our agency years we had a number of clients that were willing to take that step with us and “risk” standing out.


Like…


A corporate hotel needing to fill rooms during March Break (a time when business bookings typically dropped off by more than 50%). How about promoting March Break without advertising and creating a 300+% y-over-y increase! Hint: it involved reptiles, scuba diving, cookies and Alice the Camel.


Or…


A chicken & ribs franchise organization needing a booth designed for a Franchise Show? How about a “Wing” Museum complete with a security guard, glass display cases cordoned off by red velvet ropes and a commemorative museum program containing a full description of each of our displays starting with our feature display – Wing Tut. And, of course, our franchise pitch.


Or…


A downtown hotel wanting to promote their pet friendliness. How about hosting the Furst Ever Pet & People 3-Day Weekend featuring a gala dinner, a pet & people fashion show MC’d by Jeanne Beker (and her dog Beau), a pet focused trade show, an afternoon runway show for fashion design students…and, of course, pets of all shapes and sizes.


Now back to the YamChops story. (By the way, unless this story becomes ridiculously long, I’ll expand on the above snippets at the end…or in a future post.)


So…what was it that we did to achieve international notoriety for YamChops, seemingly overnight?


How was it that we celebrated our 9 Month Anniversary with an invitation from CBC to appear on Dragons’ Den?


What happened to cause McMillan to reach out to us and ask us to write a cookbook?


How did a single, 1,500 square foot retail location achieve over 200 online, in print and on-air media features including The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, The Toronto Star, Zagat Reviews, CBC radio & tv, Breakfast TV, CityLine, Toronto Life, The Globe & Mail, and many, many more…in one year?


And, how was it that a 4 minute video featuring the two of us was trending (seriously, it was trending) and achieved almost 1,000,000 views?


Listen up, this is the important part…


In a single phrase – we built marketing IN from DAY ONE. Marketing had a place at the boardroom table (which, in reality, was our kitchen table) from the moment the idea of a plant-based butcher shop was conceived.


Our thought process WAS NOT: “now that we have this idea – how are we going to spread the word?”.


Our thought process WAS: “how can we turn every step of this process into a marketing opportunity to help spread the word?”.


And, when we say “every step of this process” we mean EVERY step of this process…from the name to the logo line to the social voice to the service practices to the product sub-branding…


In the case of YamChops we used the “build marketing IN from DAY ONE” Principle for a whole new company (dare we say category?) – but the Principle can, and should, be applied to every business practice – from new products to new promotions to new service offerings. In fact, it’d probably do you well to have marketing attend every important meeting, whether it’s a marketing focused meeting or not.


Whoa, I can hear you thinking, “why would I have marketing at the table when, for example, we’re discussing the COGS of our signature sandwich?”.


Here’s why.


We were invited to a client meeting to discuss ways to increase traffic on the chain’s slowest day (Monday) during the chain’s slowest months (Jan – Mar).


But, by being present at the full meeting, and hearing the COGS discussion we ideated a promotion offering the chain’s signature sandwich at just above its $2.45 cost. You could buy the chain’s signature sandwich for only $2.99 (regularly $6.49), only on Mondays and only during January, February and March.


Individual locations were seeing Monday sales increase by over 500% - the highest being a whopping 1,400%. More importantly, locations across the board were setting sales AND profit records the likes of which they have never seen before.


As one franchisee put it – “there’s a lot of gravy in selling fries and gravy!”.


(Once again, space permitting, I’ll expand on this story at the end or in a future post.)


Now, where were we?


Principle #1 – Build Marketing IN From DAY ONE.


Before I go off on another tangent, let’s get right to Principle #2.


Principle #2 – Establish A Vision of Greatness.


We learned this principle from an amazing organization in Ann Arbor called Zingerman’s.


Establish a VoG for your project / department / company, and, once you have that Vision intact…have it become the finish line toward which all of your marketing energies are directed.


As a somewhat simplistic measure, every major marketing and communications decision you make should satisfy the question: “is this going to help move us closer to our vision of the future?”


That is our destination.


Now, you may be asking, what happens if I don’t have a vision?


Well, what if I asked you to prepare for a long trip but wouldn’t tell you where we were going? It’d be pretty tough to get ready, wouldn’t it? Car or train? Plane or ship? Dollars or Yen? Open-toe or closed?


Without a clear picture of where you’re headed, about the only chance you have to be successful in reaching your destination is…chance. It’s true it’s possible that all things would work out well without a clear sense of where you’re headed. But, other than that chance that all things will be right, you’re most often at the mercy of forces beyond your control.


Not a really great feeling!


For us, there are three major characteristics to an effective Vision of Greatness. 1) It should be inspiring. 2) It should be strategically sound. 3) It should be something of a stretch. It’s got to push you to the edge. Our measure: if there’s no chance of falling short, we’re not stretching enough! (Truth is, our real measure is: if we pee a little when we talk about it…it’s good to go!)


Don’t settle for mediocrity…it certainly isn’t very inspiring.


Start here:


Ask yourself: “When you’re really successful in your efforts at a particular point in the future, what will it look like?”


Then, ask yourself:


• What will make us unique in the marketplace?

• What will our customer’s experience be like?

• What’s it like to be our staff member?

• How do we want our customers to view us?

• How do we want our industry to view us?

• How do we want the communities that we communicate with to view us?

• What will we be selling?

• Who will be selling it?

• To whom will we be selling it?

• How much of it will we be selling? (After all, there’s a big difference in the type of

marketing you will do if you envision sales of $300,000, $3,000,000 or $30,000,000).

• How will we know that we’re on course?

• How will we know when we’ve arrived?

• And so on…


Oh – and make sure you demand complete answers from yourself!


Principle #3 – There’s Nothing Wrong With A Weeny Bit Of Built-in Controversy.


Three words: YamChops – Plant-Based Butcher.


(Or maybe that’s four words. Does a hyphenated word count as one or two words?)


Yup, we received hate mail. Hate mail from fervent carnivores claiming we had no right to use the word “butcher”. And hate mail from angry vegans expressing their upset over the use of a word that is associated with the dismemberment of animals.


But with the greatest percentage of people (including vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, and meat eaters), we achieved our mission of getting them to ask themselves the age-old question “what the heck is a plant-based butcher anyway?”.


After all, YamChops provided all of the cuts often associated with a visit to a traditional butcher shop…Chick*n Schnitzel; Szechuan Be*f; No-Crab Crab Cakes; Beet Burgers; Carrot Lox…with the only difference being that all of YamChops cuts were plant-based. So, in reality we were exactly what we stated we were – a Plant-Based Butcher shop.


A wee bit of controlled controversy can be a good thing. After all, anytime consumers spend longer than 1.1 seconds thinking about your brand it’s a very good thing. Oh, and bonus, the media loves themselves some controversy too!


Principle #3 came to life recently with a local farm we’re working with when we launched their sweet corn as a frozen product. Now, this corn is truly amazing. It’s plump and juicy, almost buttery, and, most of all, it tastes like corn! It is, without question the star of local sweet corn.


Now we certainly could have created packaging featuring the farm’s logo and Sweet Corn in big and bold lettering.


Or, we could call it like it is and launch the sku as CornStar.


Which one would stop you in the frozen vegetable aisle? Hint: we’re already on our 4th reprint of "# CORNSTAR" t-shirts!


Principle #4 – Steer Clear of Doing The Same Old.


This guy Albert Einstein* was pretty smart when he proclaimed that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”


*The origin as to the author of these words of wisdom has been questioned over the years. We believe Big Al Einstein quoted them. But…for the sake of this story, let’s not focus on the author, let’s focus on the words.


Fact is, doing the same old achieves the same old – typically in diminishing returns.


Why are you participating in that trade show? If the answer is “because all of my competition is there”…then it may be time to rethink the trade show.


Or, why are you doing that online promotion? If the answer is “because everyone is doing online promotions”…then it may be time to rethink the promotion.


As we so eloquently stated earlier – “in order to be successful, you have to have your projects stand out”. So yes, you may have to participate in that trade show – but how can you make it a stop them in their tracks booth? Or you may want to do an online coop promotion – but how can you make it impossible for your followers not to enter?


As best-selling author Seth Godin said, “You’re either a Purple Cow…or you’re not. You’re either remarkable…or invisible. Make your choice.”


Darn near everything we did at YamChops was an exercise in how we could step away from the same old and create remarkable experiences for our guests – and for each other.


Principle #5 – Influence Those Who Influence.


This common-sense Principle is most often under-utilized. Our first YamChops “event” was held less than a week after we opened our doors. We sent out invitations to some 50 media writers, bloggers, and influencers for a private event at YamChops. We toured them, fed them, chatted with them, and provided them with story content and photos to use should they decide to tell their followers about us, and then we sent them home with a gift bag of YamChops Own products.


Ultimately, more than 60 people showed up and we received over 45 feature stories. The proverbial ball had started rolling.


Those that weren’t able to attend our media event were sent lunch the next day along with the aforementioned story content and photos.


But wait, there’s more…


Over the weeks that followed we identified like-minded groups and associations with large followings and we randomly sent them lunch deliveries or samples of new products. Deliveries that were often rewarded with a social post or an interview.


We couldn’t begin to count the number of people that were exposed to the YamChops message through the influence of those who influence. If I had to guess it would be close to 1.275 gazillion.


Principle #6 – X By X.


Identify your project / your intention and attach a specific date to it. For example, “We’re going to increase revenues by $500,000.00 by June 1.” Or, “We’re going to achieve 25 media features by September 1.” Or, “We’re going to release 2 new retail products by December 31.”


These statements are all much more powerful than “We’re going to focus on increasing sales”, or “We’re going to try and get some media coverage”, or “We’re looking to release some new products soon.”


Oh, and by the way, the more public you make your X By X declaration, the better.


Then – you get on the playing field and you play full out.


BTW – If you can’t hold yourself accountable to play full out in your quest to produce X By X, then it might be time to get yourself an accountability coach.


Oh, and, in playing full out it doesn’t matter if you “pass” or “fail” in achieving your project.


As long as your efforts match the boldness of your project, let me repeat that, as long as your efforts match the boldness of your project we can assure you that the results will be far greater than the “some day” strategy that most individuals and organizations utilize.


Case in point from back in our agency days: we wanted to position our agency for sale but our booked revenues fell about $2,000,000.00 short of the sweet spot for agency purchase or acquisition.


What to do? What to do?


We declared a Bold Project on May 1st stating that “we will increase our booked revenues by $2,000,000.00, by September 15th”.


Cries of protest filled the room.


“We’ve never handled a $2,000,000 account.”


“Seriously? In 4-1/2 months!”


“I can’t imagine there will be a ton of agency reviews happening over the summer.”


“Who did we even have to “be” to win a $2,000,000 account?”


To cut a long story short, we landed a $1,700,000 account on September 10.


Yea, we know, we failed to achieve our target of a $2,000,000 account by September 15 – but we didn’t complain too much about what we did achieve!



SO…THERE YOU HAVE IT…


The Six Principles that drove the marketing vision of YamChops.


Principle #1 – Build Marketing IN From DAY ONE.


Principle #2 – Establish A Vision of Greatness.


Principle #3 – There’s Nothing Wrong With A Weeny Bit Of Built-in Controversy.


Principle #4 – Steer Clear of Doing The Same Old.


Principle #5 – Influence Those Who Influence.


Principle #6 – X By X.


Now, of course, you can file these with all of the other marketing and business stories you’ve gathered over the years…or, you can give 1 or 2 or 6 of these Principles a try.


Keep in mind that the above 6 are not an action plan meant to be followed in numerical order. More so, they are a mix of who you have to be and what you have to do to act on your own Vision of Greatness – whether it be for your company, your project, or yourself.


Needless to say, if you need (or want) any clarification on any of these Principles, or if we can help in any way, just shoot us an email.




Footnote: we sold YamChops in 2018, four years after we opened it and one year short of our own VoG exit strategy target of 5 years. Since that time YamChops has been acquired by a powerhouse plant-focused company called Plant & Co. It is a joy to watch YamChops continue to thrive.



Michael Abramson michael@SixCob.com



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Check it out! Toni on stage at FuckUp Nights Toronto recounting the YamChops story! Watch it here

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