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Working For Your Own Family's 95-Year-Old Business Can Get Pretty Intense


todd simon omaha steaksIt's rare for any company to survive for a century. Entire industries have come and gone in that timeframe, and yet, one steak company has not only kept itself afloat, but it has managed to keep the business in the family.

Omaha Steaks was founded in 1917 by J.J. Simon and his son B.A. By the 1940s, the brand had made its way across the country. Once a simple butcher shop, the company now sells its steaks over many channels — mail, retail stores, telemarketing, web and B2B — and rakes in more than $450 million in revenue each year.

Todd Simon was the second member of the family's fifth generation to join the business. He's a senior vice president at Omaha Steaks, and is in charge of all consumer sales and marketing for the brand, including its entire multi-channel marketing approach.

Working for your family's 95-year-old business

It wasn't always guaranteed that Simon would join his kin in the family steak business. He went to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business after high school, and it was a gratifying experience for him. He was never sure that he was going to be part of the business, but he ended up falling right into it.

"At the time, I wasn't really sure what to do," says Simon. "I found myself graduating from college. I had not prepared a resume, I hadn't applied to any jobs and hadn't applied to grad school. So, my Dad gave me a choice, and I went with it."

It turns out that the family business was not only the logical place to go, but a good fit for Simon. It was important that before he entered, the family was clear about the role he would play in the business. Simon was put in charge of what he did best — sales and marketing.

"You're an owner in training," explains Simon. "This is how owners act. They work harder and work longer than somebody from the outside. You always have to set the very best example."

There are more than a dozen non-family executives at the company now, so there's a healthy mix of internal and external sources of decision-making. In the end, the family has the final say, but it's still not always easy. They have to argue amongst themselves to answer the hardest questions.

"The board is still family. We'll close the doors in a room sometimes and yell at each other about something," says Simon. "We're not a big family. There are only four of us involved in the business today. If we had 67 first cousins all fighting over where they were getting their allowance this month, we may have a problem."

Controlling the experience

Omaha Steaks has always keep tight control over its operations. It's one of the most important facets of its business, says Simon. By keeping things in-house, at least at every point that touches the customer, the brand can deliver the best experience possible. The responsibility lies on Omaha Steaks — no one else.

"We own the customer experience from start to finish," says Simon. "Manufacturing, packaging, shipping, call center, customer service, IT development, website — it's all in-house."

Another big differentiator Omaha Steaks has is the number of channels that it uses make to contact with the consumer. It has 80 retail stores to go along with its hefty online and mail order operations.

"We try to circle the whole 360 degrees of the marketing of food," says Simon. "We do have competitors, but we think we're about 20 times larger than our closest competitor."

Staying relevant

Things have changed a lot in the food business over the past 80 years, but Omaha Steaks has done well at keeping up with innovation.

For instance, packaging has been key. After all, the vacuum-sealed packets are what makes Omaha Steaks' mail order business possible.

"We want to make sure that they're 100% air-tight so they last as long as possible," says Simon. "The current innovation is around the pre-cooked and value-added products. Things that are ready to eat. Things that you can just thaw out and eat."

Omaha Steaks has research and development teams in-house, and the company's executive chef works with the production department on new things. It also relies on some key suppliers.

On the marketing front, Omaha Steaks is working on expanding its marketing reach through Facebook, mobile and more. With all digital on the rise, it's working hard to keep up and move forward.

NOW SEE: Meet S. Truett Cathy, The 91-Year-Old Billionaire Behind Chick-fil-A >

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