Seann Robinson, from Lufkin, Texas, describes himself as a late-start duck hunter of sorts. Deer hunting is the big thing in east Texas pineywoods, but he eventually found himself gravitating towards waterfowl. He hunts them primarily on public lands. He and his wife, Ira, enjoy the whole hunting camp aura. And led to them recently dipping into the American Dream with Ira’s Salsa. How’d Seann get started hunting and what’s the hunting like in eastern Texas? What are his and Ramsey’s thoughts on late-start duck hunters? How did Ira come up with her salsa recipe and how did it evolve into a business? What were some of the major challenges, and what kind of learning curve was involved? We duck hunters are eternal optimists. We go hunting regardless of what the weatherman says. We place our decoys, execute a good game plan, learn from past mistakes, give it our very best shot. That’s duck hunting. Chasing the American Dream as entrepreneurs is similar. This episode proves it. Enjoy.
Bitten by the Hunting Bug
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Thank you all for joining us. Today, I am Ramsey Russell, your host RR. And today I have got a buddy of mine, Seann Robinson. Seann Robinson from east Texas, from Lufkin Texas. How are you, Seann?
Seann Robinson: Not too bad, Ramsey. How are you doing today?
Ramsey Russell: If I’m doing any better I’d be waist deep in a duck hole, I can tell you. It’s getting close, I’m ready to go duck hunting. It’s just getting real close.
Seann Robinson: Oh yeah, my blood’s boiling. I’m ready.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Hey tell me this, introduce yourself to everybody. Who are you? Where are you from? Your duck hunting experience and everything else?
Seann Robinson: Well my name is Seann Robinson, I’m from Lufkin Texas. I’ve only been duck hunting about a decade believe it or not. And I kind of travel all over the place or wherever I can get my waders in the water. We I’ve been up to Oklahoma, been around east Texas, hunted on Sam Rayburn, mud holes, ditches, whatever I can find. Bug bit me and it bit me good.
Ramsey Russell: What is the duck hunting like in east Texas?
Seann Robinson: It really depends. The weather is the biggest factor. There’s not a ton of places to begin with, without traveling. I’ve got a buddy and I’ve never heard truer words but you got to drive at least an hour if you’re going to get anything good. There’s some WMAS that are going towards Arkansas that are pretty good. And if you go to the coast and you went down and shot teal this September, I mean the coast is pretty jam up when the weather’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Well, everywhere is good when the when the weather’s right. Everywhere is better when the weather’s right. That’s a fact. When you hunt over there in east Texas like what would be a typical hunting situation and expected species and things like that around Lufkin or where you’re hunting?
Wood Ducks & Other Waterfowl In East Texas
Seann Robinson: The most of the places that I get the opportunities to hunt in, we shoot a lot of gadwalls, we’ll get into some green wings on occasion, we’ll get a mallard, that’s real rare.
Ramsey Russell: No wood ducks?
Seann Robinson: But you’ll come across some others, you may get some blue bills, you may get some canvasbacks. It just depends on where they are on the water and what the water looks like.
Ramsey Russell: But no wood ducks?
Seann Robinson: Say that again?
Ramsey Russell: No wood ducks?
Seann Robinson: Wood ducks are pretty standard, I didn’t even think about it. I mean you can hunt a lot of river bottom and shoot wood ducks, it just depends. Every day is a crapshoot, you can go out and shoot wood ducks all day. I honestly, I think you should be able to shoot more than three of them. But maybe that’s just me.
Ramsey Russell: I think they have a hard time counting them and we had a biologist on here not too long ago, Houston Havens talking about wood ducks, they do a lot of banding and I always thought of leg bands as being how to track where the birds are going, where they’ve been, from point A to point B kind of figuring out that stuff. But it’s really they’re using it more as an estimated population and an estimate of harvest. Because you think about where wood ducks will be up in the button willows and thick timber and stuff like that, you can’t see them from a plane. You can’t survey them, you can’t get a count.
Seann Robinson: Yeah, they don’t group together like other species of ducks do.
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s just their habitat. Don’t let them be counted as easily. And there are times in the Mississippi duck season, I think that the limit ought to be 15 on so many from around.
Seann Robinson: Yeah, I feel like that sometimes too. And especially during the teal season.
Ramsey Russell: What was so interesting, and why I asked about wood ducks in east Texas, is I asked him how far a lot of our Mississippi birds disperse, especially the young males and of course a lot of birds from up north and other places come into Mississippi for winter habitat, it’s a big shuffle and he said a lot of our birds go to east Texas based on band recovery. So keep your eyes peeled Seann, you might kill a Mississippi band over there.
Seann Robinson: Hey, I’ll take it.
We Need More Hunters
And I think we as hunters should, embrace and encourage those people to come into hunting late or otherwise, just because we need the numbers, safety in numbers type deal.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. How old are you? You’ve been duck hunting for 10 years. How old are you?
Seann Robinson: I’m 35. I had a buddy – the biggest thing that you ever hear people preach about conservation and how to keep hunting going is to take somebody. Well I had a buddy that I pounded the mess out of trying to get him to take me, and he finally did, and we went out, and shot a strap full the first time I’d ever been out breaking ice and whatnot. And from there it was like, let’s go every day, can we go in the middle of the year, can we go whenever. My wife is tired of it – it’s all I talk about.
Ramsey Russell: She’ll get over. They all do. You bring up a good point because all it seems like the children of hunters are introduced to hunting whether they want to or not. I mean, that’s almost a foregone conclusion that anybody listening has children, they’re going to introduce their children to duck hunting, or some form of hunting, because they themselves are hunters. And most of us that came into it as children were introduced to hunting through a family mentor. A father, or grandfather, and uncle, somebody like that. But I think you bring up a really good point that I’m going to take a sidebar here to say it. I think you bring up a really good point. It is a day and time, I believe we need more hunters, not fewer. Maybe not, more hunters at pick a spot WMA or public land, but I think that hunting overall needs more participants. We need to ensure financial relevance, political relevance. I call it one of the same thing and we need to recruit more people in here. There’s already a lot of state DNR’s that are suffering from a loss of hunting derived or hunting related revenues that run state management. And I had this thought, I had this conversation, has thought after a conversation. Somebody brought up a good point, you think of an 8 to 10 year old little boy that hunts with his daddy and he’s going to be hunter the rest of his life, let’s assume. But he’s going to be 20 years, 15-20 years before he can has a job, has a home, is married, a stable, has built a form of income to buy licenses and equipment and decoys, and can travel and do things, to contribute meaningfully to hunting. And whereas when you recruit or bring a buddy that’s 25 or 30 years old into the mix, he’s probably got a little income. He can go buy a shotgun and go by shotgun shells. He can generate those Pittman Robertson excise taxes that pay for conservation. He can buy hunting licenses. I think we really should maybe look at people our ages that are interested in duck hunting. I grew up never really understanding the guy that was 45 or 50 years old that had never hunted, duck hunted, let’s say or hunted at all. And then at age 40 or 50 decided I want to go try hunting. I never really understood that, that’s kind of foreign concept to me, but I embrace it. And I met with meat eater and some of these other folks before and kind of a general description of an adult onset hunter that is not hunting for a passion or an obsession or to fill a heavy striper. Now see, it’s maybe a little different, maybe if somebody wants to go out and hunt just to get some organic meat, or go out and offset the grocery bill to go out because they like the flavor of wild duck or venison or something. And I think we as hunters should, embrace and encourage those people to come into hunting late or otherwise, just because we need the numbers, safety in numbers type deal. So you run off in that sermon. But like yourself, a lot of people are surprised to know. I really, I hunted with my grandfather a little bit, he got out of duck hunting because of health before I came along. And my grandfather wasn’t like a lot of his granddad’s today or daddy to take children to the blind babies to the blind. No, his generation or him, felt like you needed to be 15, 16 years old, able to carry your own weight, swing a shotgun and act responsibly at a duck camp. And so I never really got to go with him. I was in high school, had graduated high school when I stumbled into duck hunting. And I was probably about the age you described, not far from it, and I was later on up in college when I went duck hunting for real, on Arkansas public land with a fraternity brother, and the rest is history. Two mallard limit at the time. Two mallard limit during the day when I went. And that was it man. It punched me between the eyes and 26 years later, my wife probably still sick of hearing me talk about it.
Seann Robinson: I definitely, that’s definitely what happened to me. It was, we went from 0 to 60 like it was nothing and duck hunting has been, it saved me from having some bad things happen in my life. It helped me reevaluate things and it gave me a better attitude and a more generous attitude towards conservation because you see these things and you say well this is something that I’m going to use, I want to make it better versus well that ain’t something I got to worry about. And a lot of people don’t see that and I think the more that you’re out there, the more that you do it, you say well maybe you put a little more money towards this maybe that’ll help. My dad wasn’t a hunter, my dad could care less. He likes to shoot and that’s what he does. When my parents got divorced and that’s a long story but a buddy’s dad is the first one that took me deer hunting, I was probably 14. I didn’t know a lick about deer hunting. I didn’t know lick about, I mean I didn’t do anything. So it was kind of a, it’s been a slow process for me, but once I started duck hunting it’s been 0 to 100 the whole time. I mean, we went to Oklahoma, we’ve gone, I got all these plans, trips planned and things doing. I’ve met so many good people in including you, I mean, you 4-5 years ago, I didn’t even know who you were, and now I’m sitting here talking to you. So it’s a good sport and it gets a lot of bad wrap, people really should take the time to introduce people that don’t know, just even for a perspective standpoint.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I agree. There’s a program, I think Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl have a program that is going into universities and introducing people in the wildlife major to duck hunting. Because a lot of the kids, when I was back in college, everybody of forest and wildlife was what I called hooking the bullet oriented. We’ve grown up hunting fishing and wanted a career in wildlife management, and a lot of kids today – the program is much bigger than it was back then. And the program today is predominantly people that did not hunt and fish. And in talking to some of the folks, I hope to have one of them on here soon and talking to them about why they go into the schools and do this. They’re like, well number 1. These are our future policymakers. These are the people, they’re going to make policy later in their career. And a lot of them come out there and duck hunt, and they don’t want to be duck hunters, but they get it when the first time they see those ducks bank to the call, and the human interaction, and it starts coming in, and the dog goes and get some and does stuff, and then we make a millet. All of sudden the light bulb goes off and they understand that relationship and the importance of hunters. And so maybe as they get older instead of having left leanings because they don’t understand hunting at all, they will be more likely to include hunters into management decisions. And that I think that’s a very, very important relationship to have.
Seann Robinson: Oh yeah, for sure. It lets them see the other side of the coin. And being somebody from the outside, you don’t understand that until you’ve experienced it. My wife, she’s not a hunter at all. I managed to get her to go to the coast with us two years ago, she won’t ever go hunting again. She’s not a fan of the sport, but she understands why I love it so much and she enjoys going and watching which is pretty cool. And you’re going to have those people but at least they have the appreciation to say, well this is pretty awesome, even though it’s not the bag for me.
Ramsey Russell: My wife, not a hunter per say, but you reminded me taking your wife hunting, she enjoyed it had been back. I just remind me of a story I got to tell you all about. My boys were, I’m going to say 8, 9, 10 years old Forrest and Duncan and I was hunting in Arkansas and I’d like to stay up there over Thanksgiving. So there for several years she would bring the children up and one day in October she said I want to go duck hunting, I go get the heck out of here. I mean we’ve been married forever, got kids and all of a sudden you want to go duck hunting. I just, I said why? She goes, well, it’s such a big part of your life and it’s all you do and it’s what you and the boys do and I just want to go see what it’s about. So we go out there the first day to a rice field, we can walk down the levee, it’s easy to get to, we step off into the pit blind, and me and a boy shot limits, and the entire morning my wife smiled. Her smile’s outside, her face smiling. And she says I had no idea, the ducks came in so close. I said, well what do you think they did? She goes well when you see them on TV, it’s just little dots falling. But that we have the flocks of green wings come in the pocket and then hit the apron of the blind, straight up and it started falling all around us and she was just, it was a spectacle for we’ll break next day kind of changed out. We go out the way the weather’s changed. The only way to get to this pit blind, it was a great pit blind, I couldn’t believe the head guy in charge let us go to it. With just a wife and me and my kids and wife, I couldn’t believe it. I think one of the members went with us and we you had to walk, you can walk down and levee a while. But then you had to walk about 150 to 200 yards across what had been a bean field, a disked up bean field. Water about knee deep. And so I held the collar of both my sons right and left hand, and we trudged out there, and I got him into blind, the wind is just howling. I’m getting them in the blind. Don’t open your guns. Stay right here, don’t yell, do not get into the water. Long story, another story. Do not get in the water, right here. She goes, mom was yelling and I’m listening, I came here and I said what is she saying? He goes, you said we can’t say those words. And so I go trudging back out in the black dark and find her and she doesn’t matter and a hornet, her waiters are too big, they’re coming off with every step of the foot. She’s trying to hold the baby girl, so I have to hold my arm around her and hold the baby girl, and trudge out to the blind, and finally we get into the blind and they had a good time. It was a wonderful hunt but never leave your wife in a oversized waders in the middle of a disked up bean field in knee deep water with a baby. She was mad, boy, she mad. And but anyway, I think she’s been back a few times and she loved to come to camp and just fall in with us and stuff like that.
Seann Robinson: See that’s pretty cool. We don’t have the camp environment per say where we hunt. A lot of it, you’re in the hole hunting until about 9:00 and then you’re out, I mean you get one maybe two good flights of ducks and that’s it. And then the rest of the day, that whole kind of attitude changes. A lot of people deer hunt in the evenings, you don’t see a whole bunch of jumping back and forth. But we’re not an agricultural center. I mean our main agricultural crop is pine trees. So you’re not going to see a ton of duck moving all the time. Usually were the, we call it the I20 fly by. They hit I20 they fly south usually there at the coast within the day. So you get what you get. But it’s still something magical to watch, watch them bank in on a call or coming over the trees or cup wings up, feet down. I mean something special about it. I mean, and only God could make it that way because I don’t know how we would do it without that kind of stuff.
Pre-Social Media: Duck Hunting Chat Rooms
Now that chat rooms went the way of the dinosaur and haven’t been around for many, many years, still the friendships and the camaraderie persist.
Ramsey Russell: All right, I’m going to change the subject on you and we’re talking about the people in the social structure and everything else to fund dynamics of duck hunting, the duck camp environment and many, many years ago, decades ago, before social media there were chat rooms. And there was a particular chat room in the state of Mississippi called MS Ducks, written by a friend of mine while he was a in a college fraternity house. And for a duck hunting chat room back in the day, it was, it took a life of its own. It’s like we didn’t just get on, we all had handles back then and we got on, we talked duck hunting, we talked stuff besides duck hunting and people from all over the Deep South came in and waited in and but real friendships were formed and because there were, we go out, somebody said let’s go eat pizza and a lot of us should go eat pizza or go, we have a crawfish. We had crawfish boils for years and 17 years ago we started what we call the teal hunt. And it ain’t about going out and shooting teal although we might go and rally up a hunt, it’s about getting together and cooking and socializing and drinking and I had missed a few years, the past few years, but this year with the 17th annual MS Duck teal hunt. And there were people this year from three or four states that have been friends and associates for 20 years. Now that chat rooms went the way of the dinosaur and havn’t been around for many, many years, still the friendships and the camaraderie persist. And last year, Forrest went, Forrest has been going for 10 years of that, I’m going to say. And because he would come over for his birthday and teal hunt right around the time, this thing always was. So I’d bring him over. He’s known a lot of these men over half his life, and he would come over, and we would hunt and last year he come back and said, have you tried that salsa? I go, like, what salsa? Hey man, at salsa or something else. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oh man, that guy come over here from Texas, had that salsa. And I said, well, did he give you? And he said, yeah, but I ate it all and I didn’t get to taste it. But I got to meet you this year. You came to the 17th annual, you and your wife were passing through and I’m going to tell you, I get a lot of phone calls or just ideas, people talking and people carrying on, inboxing, whatnot. A lot of people want to know how do I get into your business? How do I get into the outdoor industry? How did I do something? And I’m not saying, everybody’s miserable, but I was reminded in a Joe Rogan podcast yesterday. He quoted an old Thoreau quote that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” that many people are in a job or in a situation that they don’t love, that they’re not happy with. It doesn’t give their life purpose. And I can describe my past is saying I got a degree in wildlife, I practice forestry and wildlife with the federal government, but it didn’t give my life purpose, and Getducks.com gave my life purpose. So I left the federal government career midway to retirement and threw myself into it and did it. And the American dream is not about the top of the mountain, it’s about the climb, at least my perception is. I love the climb, I love working and I love building and I don’t work for anybody like I work for myself. And I’m leaving this up to you and throwing this in your ball, because you and your wife have recently very recently come out with a salsa, Ira’s salsa and when you all came through, the Willow Break hunt, you all weren’t there long, you all were heading north Mississippi to go stock a store shelf. Then you had to go somewhere else and do something else, and I keep up, we’ve been friends on Facebook while and I know man this thing is growing pretty big. So I want to talk about your American dream man, your salsa business.
Living the American Dream, One Jar of Salsa at a Time
It’s life, it’s not a job, it’s what you do.
Seann Robinson: Well it’s definitely a dream. It’s got its highs and its lows and it’s got –
Ramsey Russell: Welcome to self-employment.
Seann Robinson: You look at it and you say well okay, I would love to do that, but how am I going to pay for that? When you’re work for somebody, what I need a ream of copy paper, I just run down to the store room and get one. When you’re working for yourself and you need copy papers, there ain’t no running down to the store room, you got to figure out how you’re going to pay for it. No, the salsa has been pretty cool. It started out as a thing that was just for us and we got to, I wasn’t making it, I don’t know, 16, 17 years, something like that. And we had it at some parties and stuff and some friends of ours, Emma was playing on a softball team that was going to the Jennie Finch World Series. We ended up getting asked to make some and we did, never thought about selling it, and she finally caved and made some. We put it up there and I think she bought enough stuff to make like 30 jars or something, and like the first two months we sold like 4500 or 4600 jars of salsa.
Ramsey Russell: How many?
Seann Robinson: Like 4500 or 4600 jars of salsa in two months.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a bunch of chips getting dip.
Seann Robinson: Man. I’m telling you, you hit the nail on the head, you work harder for yourself than you ever work for somebody else. We would stay up all night making salsa to 3, 4 in the morning, turn around, get up, and I worked for a hospital, so I’m a telephone guy. So my day starts about 6:00, so we get up at 6:00 and start the day and roll on, and we did that for a couple of months. It started to get attraction with the MS Duck group and Duck South, I’ve made some friends and I just grin and giggle. I’m going to ship some out to some people were not close friends. Let’s see what they think because you’re close friends always say, hey, it’s good, we like it, we love it, whatever. So I said, we’ll send some to people I don’t really know and they just happen to be people in the duck hunting world because that just happened to be the thing that I was into. So I sent some to, I sent some to Spencer Helford, Ryan Bassam, my friend of yours and just kind of all over the place, Josh Webb and Patrick Graver, and them, and I said, hey just try to tell me what you think. Is it good? And these people are spread out all over the country and all of a sudden I’m getting people calling me saying, yeah it’s pretty damn good. We like it. Let’s do something with it, you’re going to do something with it. So it’s like well we’ll see. Well, Ira, and I started going through all the paperwork and I carried it to duck camp for a little bit and through happenstance it’s turned into a business.
Ramsey Russell: Hang on a second, I hate to interrupt this. But I want to go back. You said Ira had been making it for 16 or 17 years. I mean, now was this something a family member thought or it was something she learned to make in high school or but it’s something she learned to make it home? Or friend thought her?
Seann Robinson: No, actually we got tired of going to the grocery store and buying paste and she wanted something that was, hey don’t get me wrong store bought salsa is store bought salsa. I’m in the salsa market. So now I can I can say that it is what it is. But we wanted something that had a little more flavor and you get salsa this either all tomato, no heat or all heat and no flavor and we wanted something that you got a little bit of both. So she came up, she found a recipe online. It was a generic salsa recipe and she started playing with it.
Ramsey Russell: Started with generic to started to making her salsa.
Seann Robinson: And she found this food processor that her mom had that was probably, I don’t know 10-15 years old at that point. And she started playing with it and she made something and we tried it and we loved it and it was just a table thing for us. She made it like, people make jelly. She’d make some, put it up and we’d eat it, throughout the year or whatever. People would ask us to make it for a party. She would do it, no big deal and not ask us, ask her, let me get that right, and she would make it. And for years, I mean, she even gave the recipe out at one point to some people. Now granted the recipes is a little different now than it was then. So she would tell people what to buy, they’d make it. She’d make it for them whatever. And it was just our thing, it was just our salsa and it’s always been called Ira’s salsa because that was how people referred to it. Well, when this whole thing really started to take off, it was naturally Ira’s salsa, that was what everybody called it. So that was kind of how it got started. And she wants to change the name now, don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t want Ira’s Salsa to be famous or anything, but it’s been something that’s just kind of grown over time to what it is now, and now it’s a product on a grocery store shelf. I never thought that we would say that, and trust me, when we started this endeavor, it was never with that goal in mind. Our goal was about raising money for kids so they could go play softball, and it just kind of mutated into this company.
Ramsey Russell: You were saying world, I mean baseball World Series and all that stuff, and just kind of started off as a tailgate food that got out of hand.
Seann Robinson: Pretty much. And starting a business is a chore. And I’m not, I don’t want anybody to take that lightly because it is, but it is some of the most rewarding things you will ever do in your adult life minus raising children and find a guy.
Ramsey Russell: You were talking about walking down the copy room, get a ream of paper when you work for somebody, a lot of times you can leave at 5 o’clock and everything you’re working on can wait till tomorrow at 8 o’clock, and the 40 hour work week. I hear people talk about a 40 hour work week and I’m like, yeah, I can remember working for the federal government part time for 40 hours, and when you work for yourself, you never leave the office. It may be an 80 hour week, maybe 100 hours a week, but it doesn’t matter. It’s life, it’s not a job, it’s what you do.
Seann Robinson: Oh yeah. I mean it’s you’re looking at it every day. I mean right now I’m sitting at my, I’m working from home right now with my job and I’m looking at invoices for a grocery store and I’m looking at product that needs to be wrapped to be mailed. It doesn’t leave you when it’s your business, it’s always there and that’s a blessing and a curse at the same time, because you can never step away from it. It’s your work goes home with you all the time.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. And there’s always something to do if you’re looking around and there’s nothing to do as a business owner, you’re doing something wrong. There’s always something to do.
Seann Robinson: Yeah, that is 100%.
Ramsey Russell: Always something to do. The list just keeps getting longer and longer. There’s no catching up, you’re always behind, but that’s if you’re doing what you love, you love what you do and it’s not work, it’s just something fun to do. Something to pour your life into, something to give your life purpose. What were some of the obstacles? I mean, okay, so you go from tailgate condiment and you get this idea, you sell 4600 jars. Okay, we were going to do something this might have some potential. How do you go from home business and an idea and something like that to where you’re driving, 2 or 3 states over and stocking a shelf. How does that even happen?
Seann Robinson: Well, when we first started making salsa, we were making fresh salsa and that’s what we always, that’s what I bring to parties now. But working with fresh salsa, it’s an acidified food. So it has to meet all of these qualifications to be considered safe by the state. Well, I’m providing context because what happens when we get back from the softball tournament that we worked really hard to raise money for, and everything else, is we got a call from the state, the Health Department. We’re being shut down. We can no longer make salsa. We were reported 21 times. So now, not to say anything about any kind of agencies, but the people were super nice. They helped guide us through a lot of things because I’m a telephone engineer by career choice, and my wife works for a child advocacy group. We’re not business majors, we don’t, this is all flying by the seat of our pants. We got some input and they helped us, they helped us meet certain guidelines so we could go back to selling salsa. And we started selling at the farmers market here in Angelina County. And once people found out we were selling salsa again, things kicked back up after a couple of weeks, and that lasted until September, about the time that I was going to Willow Break year before last. Well, the first time I got invited and we got shut down again I think the week that I left to go to Willow Break and it was just me that time. So we had already decided at that point that we were going to try to legitimize Ira’s Salsa because it became apparent that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. People were still going to ask for it, we were still going to be making it. So at least let’s try and get it to where we meet all the qualifications. So then we started down the road of, do we build a kitchen? Do we find a co-packer? And these are all things that you don’t know about when you’re doing this to begin with. Well, you get in and you start looking at the kitchen aspect and you got to have fire suppression systems, and you got to have this kind of sink and this and that. And the list adds up really quick. And before you look at it, you’re $50,000-$60,000 in the whole building a kitchen. And you have not made not one bit of product yet, that’s just to start making product.
Almost Ira’s Salsa: Riding the Learning Curve
So don’t ever – my advice is – it may look bad now, but don’t continue to look at it as bad because it could be good.
Ramsey Russell: It was a learning curve.
Seann Robinson: The learning curve is very, very steep. So we decided to take the co-packer out. It means that you go and you start looking for somebody that makes product and usually what they do is they make products for various people and it could be anything from pickles and seasonings to jellies to – make sure if you ever do this, and this is to people that are listening, if you ever try to do this, make sure you find the right co packer because there’s different kinds of co packers for different kinds of products. One may make barbecue sauce but they may not make salsa, they may make seasoned dry seasonings but they may not make dips or salad dressings or any of that stuff. That being said, we went in and that was really funny because the guy said when we were going in for an R&D session, he said, everybody comes in, and their uncle says, hey their stuff is really good. They come in, and they make one batch and they leave, and we said, well we kind of gave him the rundown on what had happened, and brought him some to try because we wanted to get the recipe right, and he said, well that’s better than average, and that was the only nice thing he said the whole time. We’re really good friends now but you don’t realize there’s a lot of people that try to start in that business and they don’t get anywhere. But anyway, we went in, and got our batch right and made it, and we had all kinds of grief getting the recipe right with their processes and different products than what we use to make fresh. It took us until January. So we’ve been at this since May essentially. So in January of 2020, we got our first batch in and it was wrong. Something happened in the cooking process. We had 200 cases of nothing, 1700 and some odd jars of salsa that wasn’t right. So you got to deal with that in all of this, and we managed to work out a deal where we could get credit on some of it and sell it. They figured out it wasn’t right either. It’s a challenge but it’s a good challenge. It’s a rewarding challenge.
Ramsey Russell: Seann, did you and Ira become discouraged during the whole process? Did you had to patch things with each other up?
Seann Robinson: Oh yeah. I mean you’re talking about something like, when we made that batch of salsa, we cut a cheque out of our pockets that we took from our – I took it from out of my retirement. I took I wrote a $6,000 check for a batch of salsa that was wrong and I got 200 cases of salsa sitting on a trailer going, what are we going to do? I’m on the line for this. We get with the packer and to the packers credit, they were very compassionate. They worked with us. We’re like, look, I don’t want to go anywhere else, I don’t want to do this, I already have all this money invested, what can we do to resolve this moving forward? And during all of this we’re trying to launch a brand. We’ve got our own logo, we’ve got business paperwork complete. We’ve got a website up, we’re about to start shipping product. I’ve got promises to people and the product is not right, I can’t sell this to them it doesn’t meet our standards. If I wouldn’t eat it, I wouldn’t sell it to anybody. So we sat down and we called some friends over. We always have tasting parties when a product comes out or when we’re working on something. Hey, come over, try it. We want opinions. So we got this stuff and we got at home and they had put too much citric acid in it, so it had a lime taste to it. Now, citric acid is used in the acidifying process to keep a product below a certain acid point, it’s a preservative. So we sit down and somebody, we were sitting there talking and somebody said, well it almost tastes like Ira’s salsa. So we all started giggling and laughing. Well that product became known as “Almost Ira’s Salsa.” So we took a negative and turned it into a positive. We dropped the cost of what we were selling it for and we started selling cases just whole cases, $25, it’s not right but we don’t have anything to do with it. Basically just to make our money back so that we can move forward, make our money back and move forward. Now you’re talking about the math. If you do the math $25 at 200 for $6000 isn’t right. Well, they cut us a deal and we kind of split the cost to, the guy was super helpful and he’s like, well what do we want to make this right? So they did what any local business person would do, they came out and they said, hey, we’ll take some of it if you take some of it, and that’s what we did. And it really saved us because when we went back to making salsa, we had that money that we had taken and were able to use it at least some of it to move forward. So don’t ever – my advice is – it may look bad now, but don’t continue to look at it as bad because it could be good.
Ramsey Russell: Make lemons out of lemonade.
Seann Robinson: That’s right. So we got, we went back to the drawing board, we re-R&D the product. We sat back down and we really went through it and we looked at all the processes of how this product got made. And we came back and we said, okay, let’s cook 60 gallons, 60 gallons is a little over a quarter of what we did the first time, and we went down, and we looked at the process, and we got it down, and the flavor was perfect . We’re like, okay, we’ve got it. Well, then we got the new product, we got it out, we put it online and we got a call from a feed store in Joaquin in Texas. They said, hey, we’d love to sell your salsa, can you bring us some? I said, sure.
Ramsey Russell: How did it feel when that first order came in?
Seann Robinson: The first order was pretty amazing because you’re like, I don’t think anybody’s going to pay, so we had two things happen at one time: our website went live and we were shipping product from our home. And then we got our first store. Now, the first order when the website went live, within 10 minutes of the website going online and us posted it on Facebook, we had 10 orders. And that like blows your mind cause you’re like, how is anybody going to pay $9 to ship a $5 jar salsa. Boy, was I wrong! People will pay if they really want it.
Ramsey Russell: People pay for what they want.
Seann Robinson: Yeah. So we got into it and the next day, which was a Saturday we drove out to Joaquin which is about 70 miles from where I live. So it’s not anywhere close, it’s nothing and we got to the place, and it happened to be a friend of my wife’s that works at the church, and it’s her dad’s store. You know it’s not what you know, it’s who you know kind of thing. And this guy was willing to take a chance on us. So we got there and you know we’re ecstatic, I had to learn how to create an invoice and how to work this accounting stuff, and get our bills right so that we can make sure that everything lines up, stuff you wouldn’t necessarily do. We got there, and we took pictures, and I’m not going to lie, I was prouder than piss. I ain’t never been that happy about anything, and we walk in the store, and the guy’s like, well it’s so good to meet you, all that stuff. Here’s what I want to do. And I think he bought two cases of salsa that day. So we get, he paid us in cash, and we gave him his little invoice and said, here you go, thank you. We get back in the truck and we drive home. Well we posted on Facebook, just like we do with all of our vendors, you know, hey, we’re here. We filled up, they got salsa, go by and grab it. Well, he called us about two days later and he said, hey, I’m out of salsa. What in the world you’re out, how does that even happen? So we ended up – and he’s been one of our strongest supporters since we got into the legit market. I mean every other week we’re taking salsa to Joaquin, which if you’ve ever been through, Joaquin Texas, it’s very small. It’s very nice town. It’s what you see when you see small town America, it’s awesome. So people were driving 30 and 40 miles to buy salsa from this guy. I mean he even had people driving from Louisiana, which Louisiana from Joaquin isn’t very far. So our business started to grow, and I’m at a loss, I got people calling, they want to do here, and they want to do here. And the next thing, we’re in 12 stores, little Mom and Pops. Before I was a business owner, Mom and Pops may not have necessarily been the first stop if it was more convenient for me to stop at say Walmart or whatever. And now that’s all I would rather do. 90% of my business comes from hometown businesses or people from our hometown.
Ramsey Russell: I’m a Mom and Pop guy for the record. I’m a Mom and Pop store, Mom and Pop hardware store, Mom and Pop restaurant, Mom and Pop business. I’m a Mom and Pop guy. Because they tend to get customer service and I just like dealing with them. That’s just, I’m just Mom and Pop man.
Seann Robinson: Well, the older I get, the more, and running a business, the more that I focused on that because I know where those dollars go. I see kids going to dance class or playing softball or doing, or you see the trophies in the little plaques and stuff. And so we’ve always been about that. We’ve always tried to be about that since we started this journey because if it wasn’t for local people, we wouldn’t be doing anything. But we got a big break in June, there’s a grocery store chain called Brookshire Brothers that’s based out of Lufkin, and there are 120 some odd stores. Just happenstance, not what you know, it’s who you know, kind of thing. We got a pilot store at in Lufkin and it’s their biggest store in Lufkin as far as I know. Well we went in and the guy calls me, he says, hey, I need you guys to build a display. Okay, that’s great. I don’t know anything about wood work and I don’t know how to build a display. I can put some stuff together, but I don’t know how it’s going to work. So I called my buddies again that have bailed me out a ton of times, the one that took me duck hunting, and he helped me build a display or well he built the display for me the first time, and we got the sign engraved, and got it out there, and we put I think seven cases to begin with, and then the next day I was back filling that dude up. They had sold seven cases in less than 10 hours. And maybe we’re onto something. So we went back and then two days later they were out again. And we’ve slowly been, it’s now October, we’re over 100 cases at that one store since 1st of June, and it’s just expanded. So now we’re in three Brookshire Brothers. We’re working on a few things, when we were at Willow Break this past September, we went for my birthday, teal season opens on my birthday every year, so that’s kind of my thing. And now that I’m coming to Mississippi for Willow Break, we happen to have an opportunity to get a store in Corinth, Mississippi through a mutual friend of ours. We brought salsa to you guys and then turn around and we made an excursion across the state of Mississippi. And we’ve got a store in Corinth now and we got a store with I don’t know if you know who Old Bart is, but Old Bart Southern Eats, and Greenbrier, Arkansas is carrying our salsa too. And we’re working on a few things Bart carried salsa down for us for the guys that kind of lifetime. This past teal opener for Texas, we’ve got a few other things in line. I’m hoping that we’ll have some more stores brought online by the first of the year. And then I’m hoping that we expand two Brookshire brothers full store layout. I’m hoping sometime next year.
Ramsey Russell: Listening to tell you, it makes me think about Shark Tank.
Seann Robinson: That’s a funny one. We had a ton of people ask us, why haven’t you guys done Shark Tank? Well, when you really look at what you have to do to get on Shark Tank, working a full time job and that the salsa business just being a startup, and just being a side thing, there’s no way. You have to clear your schedule out for three months at a time and fly to LA on your own dime and do all this other stuff. And it’s like, as much as I would love for Mark Cuban to say, here’s a $100,000, do what you do. It doesn’t make sense in a normal person’s work day to try and make all that happen.
Ramsey Russell: Mark, if you’re listening this, man, right here in your home state, give him a shout, you’ll get something going, go ahead.
Seann Robinson: But Shark Tank is funny people, a ton of people have asked us about Shark Tank and it’s, I would love to do it, but it’s to support my family and keep doing what we’re doing. There’s just no way.
Ramsey Russell: And do you really need to? I mean, there’s a lot to be said for slow organic growth, sustainable, you know what I’m saying? It’s a lot to be said for that.
Seann Robinson: Well, I mean, honestly, if you’d have told me last year that I’d be talking to you on this podcast about salsa and doing what we’ve been doing it, we’re in three states, I would told you were crazy. There’s no way in the world.
Ramsey Russell: Last time you would’ve told me I’d be doing a podcast about salsa, I thought you were crazy. But it’s funny how things work out, we don’t know what’s ahead. Seann, I’m really glad that you and Ira have found, what seems to be your calling. It always that’s why I wanted to have you on here. It because it just my wife and I, when we decided to do our business full time, we didn’t know what the future was going to hold. This was 2010. The world was in financial turmoil because of some mortgage crisis, something or another. And thinking back all those years, it was like holding hands and jumping off a cliff into the black. I was just hoping there was water deep enough to survive. But we just held hands and jumped off together and threw ourselves into it blindly and madly and fought and clawed and worked and worked and worked and loved every freaking dying bit of it.
Seann Robinson: There’s something special about it. I I00% agree on that. Working side by side with her on this has been for if anything, it’s made our marriage better and anybody out there says otherwise is baloney.
Always Worth the Risk
Yes, you’re going to fall. Yes, you’re going to hurt. Yes, you’re going to bleed. But do it, because if you don’t, you’re going to regret it the rest of your life.
Ramsey Russell: I was just fixing to say when we were discussing my leaving federal government to do this, our biggest concern, what it was is that it would have been too much of each other across the desk. And it turned out that that wasn’t the case at all. It turned out that it made our marriage better and stronger working together on this than the other way around. And that to me is what the American dream is. There’s no certainty, there’s no guarantees. It’s not driving around in a big limousine, living in a mansion and living like a rock star, that’s not the American dream. The American dream is the opportunity to chase your dreams, to chase it. That is what to me the American dream truly represents and why it was important to me to have you on here. But I know there’s a lot of guys listening, a lot of guys and gals listening that have got an idea, they’ve got an idea for a service or for a skill that they have or for a recipe or something. They’ve got an idea, and it’s very hard to go from where you’re sitting right now to execute a plan and becoming successful, and it’s stressful with that learning curve, and with wrong orders, and wrong things, and surprises. I mean, it’s very daunting and it’s very overwhelming. But we can do it.
Seann Robinson: Okay. I’ll be honest, I’m going to tell you what. This is how I look at it and all of you guys that are listening guys gals whoever you never know: if you don’t try, you don’t take a minute and don’t try it, you’ll never know what’s going to happen. You’re always going to be saying what if? Yes, you’re going to fall. Yes, you’re going to hurt. Yes, you’re going to bleed. But do it, because if you don’t, you’re going to regret it the rest of your life.
Ramsey Russell: You hardly learned to ride a bicycle without falling off and scraping you knee, that’s what Band-Aids are for.
Seann Robinson: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Get back on and learn to ride. Anyway, man, I really appreciate your taking the time to come on here. I know that you all are very busy. I know you all are also raising a young family, but tell everybody Seann and I keep wanting to call you out, I know that your wife, but –
Seann Robinson: Everybody does its okay.
Ramsey Russell: I know, I probably ought to be talking to her anyway, she’s the namesake of the salsa. But seriously, tell everybody how they can, how they can get in touch with you, how they can find your salsa and how they can follow you along you all’s quest for the American dream.
Seann Robinson: For sure. You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Ira’s Salsa, IRASSALSA. You can follow us on our website at Irassalsa.com you can contact me directly if you’ve got questions or you’re trying to find out Seann@Irassalsa.com. You can even text me or give me a call me on my cell if you need to (936) 674-9244. I had people helped me along the way. So if I can help somebody I sure, well, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much for that offer that I feel the same way. I had a, I’m where I’m at because I had a lot of people give up their time and talent to coach and help me along. And I’m forever imbedded and thankful.
Seann Robinson: 100%. I had so many people that took late night phone calls from somebody acting a fool that didn’t know what they were saying, or what they were doing, and they took the time to say, look, this is what you can do. So don’t ever be scared to reach out to people.
Ramsey Russell: Just do it. Hey, thank you very much. Folks, Thank you all for listening. Get in touch and dip a chip in some Ira’s Salsa. Give him a follow on social media, check them out. Thank you all for listening to Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.