Mike Hernandez: The Economy Here Is Strong and There’s Great Brand Recognition Behind Texas Bbq Products Like Ours

Mike Hernandez of Casa M Spice Co®.

Tell us about yourself?

Devoted Husband — Serial Entrepreneur — PhD Chemical Physicist — Skydiving Instructor — Master Parachute Rigger — Scuba Instructor (NAUI 58429L) — Photographer — Amateur Celebrity Chef — BBQ Guru — Chile Fiend — Nice (Enough) Guy — Lollygagger Extraordinaire

What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you? 

Successful entrepreneurs should always expect the unexpected. They should learn to listen carefully to their customers, focus on their market niche first prior to expanding or changing tactics, and yet remain agile and alert to necessary changes as the business grows.

Several startups later (and all different), the formula is the same regardless of the industry.

If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Temper your expectations that all industries are as responsive as each other. This one is definitely less nimble, much slower, and much less responsive.

Coming out of information security consulting, responses to calls and emails were always timely and expected.

That’s not the case in this industry. It moves at glacial pace compared to the others I’ve been in and is most definitely the most frustrating so far.

A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?

Previous businesses I’ve started were definitely hard to balance work and personal life.

This one is joint with my husband and the two of us are quite good at balancing both work and personal and the whole team has the mantra “Work Hard/Play Hard” so we always cook together (work and personal), we hang out after hours (be that at pro sports games, at the office playing pool, or enjoying watching games together in the pool at Casa M), and we always look toward ways to make the work/life balance easier for everyone on the team.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

The company came about as a result of many, many years of entertaining at the house and having guests corner Manny as they were leaving asking him “What did Mike use on this dish?…

Will he give me the recipe?” and in the end Manny got tired of selling dime bags of Chain Reaction® out of the kitchen and said “you should just design a label, put it in a shaker, and make it legit!” So we did.

When I graduated from high school my advisors thought I was nuts because I told them I knew I either wanted to go to Tulane and blow stuff up with a laser or to the CIA and become a chef.

Back then, there wasn’t a clear correlation between the two. Now, post modernist movement, it’s clear that it’s always been either Chemistry in a Lab or Chemistry in the Kitchen® for a long time for me and they were one and the same. Chain Reaction® is our flagship product and our Season-All.

Quite literally good on everything.

What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?

When we got into the business we noticed there were two types of blended spices on the market.

Ones that had ZERO branding character and ones that were “ridiculously” animated or inappropriately named for branding.

We wanted to create a premium product that delivered big, bold, flavor-forward taste, but without it being a shaker of cheap salt.

It’s harder than it looks, but with the right branding and cute names like Good Shepherd® for lamb, Hooked® for fish, Jerked Chain for Jamaica jerk, and Pecking Order® for poultry, we feel like we have hit the right mix of premium branding and cute/clever names combined with the most important thing to us, bold taste in a low-sodium platform.

How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?

Wow! Horribly hard. This industry is very hard. Very saturated. No communication. No help. No outreach. No communication. It’s a tough industry for sure. Toughest I’ve been in.

It’s been 4 years now and we’re just now getting the attention and distribution we anticipated within the first 12 months. SO, it’s not at all the case you have the perfect product, with perfect branding, and great visibility online in this instance.

We’ve had to fight tooth and nail for every placement and every re-order. Our attention to 100% customer service I think sets us apart on that front too. That’s been a focus for us since day 1.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?

Distribution is very challenging. Margins as the manufacturer are extremely low and being in an industry where you’re squeezed both at the distribution level for 35+% and at the retail level for up to 65% margins, there’s not much left over at the end of the day.

It’s a HUGE VOLUME industry for sure. We’re just now getting to the point where we’re able to see big multi-pallet orders go out, which is a great thing!

What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in Texas over other states in the US?

The economy here is strong and there’s great brand recognition behind Texas BBQ products like ours. We have found that MANY markets like Texas products and particularly the GO TEXAN® brand recognition from TDA.

Are there any disadvantages of operating our business in Texas?

Texas Franchise Tax? ;^)

Texas has a pretty diverse population. How have you found the quickly changing demographics have impacted your business? Have you got new opportunities? Managed to expand your business into new areas?

Yes, hugely. With the partnership with FC Dallas that fell into our laps for the most part (Thank YOU Dan Hunt and the whole FC Dallas organization for selecting us as one of the first Homegrown Partners in 2021) we got exposure to a huge new demographic that has really embraced us and with HEB just now partnering with FC Dallas too and opening in the DFW metro area, we’re very excited about that partnership growing and continuing to expand those new demographics.

We’ve also been very successful in getting into hardware stores, which is a new demographic for us as well.

Philosophically Atwoods Home and Ranch stores are 100% aligned with our Brand Manifesto and they were very quick to gravitate to the personal relationships that Manny and I forge with our partners!

It is often reported that, in Texas, politics and business are intertwined. Have you noticed this? Has it impacted your business?

Not at all. We stay away from politics entirely. Our philosophy on that is the same as for movie stars and recording artists.

Your purpose is to entertain not talk politics. Stay in your lane. I shouldn’t need to know anything about the politics of an actor or singer or brand.

People come to us to make their food taste better not get political leanings or advice.

I do feel that the conservative portions of Texas are much more pro-business than the liberal portions, but I think that’s true everywhere not just Texas.

With rising prices across Texas (and the US as a whole) have you been impacted? Do you have a plan for dealing with inflation going forward?

Yes, our co-packer has passed on supply-chain related increases in price to us many times over the last 4 years. We have maintained our prices to our partners until 01-Sep-22 when we pushed out our first price increase since we launched. It was only 15% bump at MSRP.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years with your business?

Global domination of course! We are excited that even without international distribution through wholesale marketplaces like Faire, we’ve successfully placed and moved product in 5 international destinations (non-North America even).

We’re working diligently on getting ubiquitous distribution here in the US, but Australia is a HUGE expansion market and they BBQ everything. Same for Africa and South America.

And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?

Manny and I love to engage with our customers and are always happy to hear from them. [email protected] is always open and the chats on the website (bottom right corner) come to the whole team, but there’s a better than average chance you’ll talk directly to either me or Manny.

Please tag us on Facebook/IG, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, etc. We’re always @casamspice. Our Link Tree is Yell if you need anything else from us.

Happy to share food porn or other lifestyle images as needed.

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