OUTdrive episode 45: Blending New Tech with Rural American Integrity, with Steven Burger

OUTdrive Episode 45 with Steven Burger

In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff Callis visits with Steven Burger, president and the third-generation owner to operate Burgers’ Smokehouse. Steven’s family laid a strong foundation and he continues to build upon it while remaining true to the company’s history and values.

Burgers’ Smokehouse success is powered by generations of good old-fashioned hard work and the company continues to expand through technology and acquisitions while remaining true to its family values. Offering a wide range of country meats, cheeses and desserts, Burgers’ has experienced significant growth and is positioned for continued success.

Keep reading to learn more as Cliff and Steven discuss how Burgers’ has blended new technology with rural American integrity, the evolution of the mail-order business and integrating direct mail with digital marketing. They also dive into what it’s like to grow a family business, the opportunities in rural America and the importance of evolving over the years.

Adopting Innovative Technologies for Business Growth

Burgers’ Smokehouse goes back to 1927 when Steven’s grandfather began curing country hams with his mother’s proven recipe from Germany. The business grew steadily over the years and their ham house was built in the 1950s, setting the tone for future growth and success. Over the years, the company continued to expand and implement new technologies. Steven’s father played an integral role in the company’s innovation, adopting technology early to achieve sustainable business growth.

“My dad was a big believer in adopting technology as it became available to us and affordable to us,” says Steven. “He added conveyor systems and inventory control and today we have water knives that are used to trim portions for the food service business and automated slicing equipment. One of the most significant things that we’ve recently added is high-pressure processing. It’s a machine used to help us with food safety. Some of the most highly-technical equipment in the world, you can find right here in Central Missouri.”

Steven’s dad’s belief in early technology adoption was a key component of the business’s growth, and innovation continues to be a priority for Burgers’ today. The company continues to adapt to changes in technology and customer behavior to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of its customers.

The Evolution of the Mail-Order Business

Like many companies, Burgers’ is challenged with adapting to evolving customer preferences and changing strategies to meet their needs. An important part of this is recognizing things that are working and continuing to invest and develop processes and systems to make them better, such as the mail-order business model.

The first Burgers’ Smokehouse catalog was produced in the 1960s and was a focal point for the holiday season, with little attention given to it after the season. As time went on, Burgers’ recognized the untapped potential for catalog sales year-round and began producing catalogs twelve months out of the year. However, the growth didn’t occur overnight.

“It lumbered along slowly from the 60s to the mid-80s,” says Steven. “And then in the mid-80s, we brought a consultant in to help us grow the business and add systems, procedures, processes and marketing that really let us scale that business up dramatically.”

Today, catalogs and the mail-order business remain an important aspect of marketing and sales efforts at Burgers’. However, the business has evolved and changed over the years and now direct mail, the company’s website and digital marketing all work together to drive sales and growth.
“The website and all the digital marketing that goes along with that has certainly been significant in recent years, but the use of the catalog and the website aren’t mutually exclusive. They really work well hand in hand.”

As technology advances, some may think traditional media is no longer necessary. However, as Steven points out, it is a strong part of an effective integrated marketing program and continues to drive strong results for companies today.

Integrating Direct Mail with Digital Technology

For Burgers’, direct mail and digital technology work in conjunction to stimulate interest and motivate people to purchase, whether that be in stores, online, by mail or by telephone. Recognizing the unique appeal of catalogs, Cliff adds to Steven’s example of the catalog and digital technology working hand in hand.

“So the consumer is getting the catalogs throughout the year and they’re looking through them,” says Cliff. “They might see something immediately and jump on the website and go buy it. It might get passed along. It might sit around the house until it’s picked back up on a holiday and then they jump back on the website. So the programs are really working in tandem to stimulate interest and motivate people to go to the website and buy.”

Knowing that younger audiences are more apt to engage with companies through digital efforts, Steven recognizes the importance of reaching customers in many ways. In addition to the catalog, Steven expands on the specific tactics they use and the importance of them.

“You’re looking at multiple touchpoints. So if a customer gets a catalog, and then jumps on the website, they may look around a little bit, and then we hit them with a banner ad the next day,” says Steven. “You’re just continually wanting to get in front of your customers and be there when the buying decision occurs.”

Understanding where their audience is and how to effectively reach them with multiple touchpoints enables Burgers’ to better engage and retain customers.

Growing a Family Business

Delivering the highest quality country meats possible for friends and family is what Steven’s grandfather set out to achieve in 1927, and the vision is still alive today. Growing a family business in rural America presents unique challenges, but as technology changes, there are more opportunities.

“I think technology is transferable, and you can apply that almost anywhere,” says Steven. “I think rural broadband has brought about opportunities and as COVID accelerated work from home opportunities and remote work, folks can work from anywhere. And I think all of those things bode well for smaller communities to really continue to be robust.” Broadband is becoming more available and remote work opportunities have increased, enabling many individuals to enjoy the rural way of life and build successful careers at the same time.

“We have five family members out of the fourth generation that have come back into the company,” says Steven. “Today, we require that our family members, after their education, work elsewhere for a period of time. Some have gone on to build successful careers for five or 10 years before being interested in coming back and others a little sooner. But so far, we’ve been able to plug the family members who have had interest into the company.”

Burgers’ recognizes the needs of their customers and always adapts to best meet their needs, and the same goes for their business. Blending family members’ passions with business needs, the team is able to fill positions when the time and team member are ready.

“That will continue to be an opportunity and a challenge for us as we have members of the family interested and coming back. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a spot right that minute,” says Steven. “So we do have to try to find those win-wins where the interest and the skills of our family kind of match with the skills needed by the company. And I’m sure we’ll continue to be able to do that, and do so successfully.”

Burgers’ Smokehouse is truly a family business, but many families besides the Burgers have and continue to play a vital role in the success of the company. Steven shares a small portion of the significant history of Burgers’ Smokehouse, including family and community involvement.

“Some of our folks are multi-generational. Their parents and grandparents worked here in previous generations, and were critical to early success,” says Steven. “Families have continued to make their living here at the smokehouse. That’s really something special about building a business in a smaller community, you get that multi-generational involvement of not only the family but also the entire community.”

Building a family business that can withstand the test of time is no easy feat, but the investment of families and communities in rural America is a major contributor to success. Burgers’ Smokehouse will continue to succeed through hard work, innovation and integrating new technologies with rural American integrity.

Gain more insight from Cliff and Steven in this episode of OUTdrive.

Visit www.smokehouse.com to learn more about the Burgers’ Smokehouse story and order some of their fine country meats!