A Production Specialist’s story: Mild gal in a spicy world

By Olivia St. Denis

Originally Published on 04/25/2018 at Karmasauce.com

Did you know that spicy food lovers are wired similarly to those who enjoy roller coasters, skydiving, and other exciting endorphin-releasing activities?

That’s right, Chile Heads are their own sect of adrenaline junky.

One half of the two-person Karma Sauce Production Team is firmly in this camp. Hint: it’s Gene.

The other half, moi, is the diametric opposite. I would argue that these propensities for or against capsaicin can also predict other personality traits and characteristics.

Gene loves spicy food and comfortably lives in what I would classify as chaos (which I still can’t understand because he’s an engineer by trade and aren’t they supposed to be good at linear thinking and processes?!). He has no problem ‘just doing it’ -- whatever ‘it’ may be -- usually without any form of what I would call “a plan.” He’s what you might call someone who lives in ‘the now,’ but ‘the now’ is a dizzying rush of things to do and places to be and fires to put out and kids to pick up and dogs to locate and sauce to make. He’s a fearless conceptualizer with a heart of gold and a mouth of steel.

I consider myself mild by nature: I disavowed roller coasters at the tender age of 10 after being undone by the wooden Jack Rabbit at Sea Breeze Amusement Park. I have bad flying anxiety. I don’t even like to drive fast. Before working here, my idea of “spicy food” was extra black pepper. Boringly, I also thrive on learning systems/procedures and planning.  

My first six months at Karma Sauce Co. were, among other things, filled with excitement. Summer and fall were all Farm work! Batch production! Learning about peppers! I’m outside all the time! This is awesome!

Then winter came. And with it, the distinct pleasure of selling sauce.

Here’s an actual exchange Gene and I had in January:
Gene: “OK. Time to pound the phones.”
Me: Blank look, expecting more direction and instruction.
Gene: “So, just find some stores that look good and call ‘em up.”
Me: Same look, but with elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
Gene: “Okay. So, I’ll check on you in an hour.”
Me: *Dies*

I am not a ‘just do it’ type of human, nor do I have any woo. How the hell was I supposed to hock sauce without knowing what to say and to whom to say it?

My main source of dread was feeling like I’d come off as stupid on the phone. Plus, I’ve never been in the sales business. I detest the onslaught of advertisements, commercials, and marketing we experience everyday. In fact, I had major existential anguish about entering the world trying to sell people stuff. Worst of all, we didn’t have any system or process written down about how to make sales. It was all a bit paralyzing: without a plan, I felt like I couldn’t make calls. Gene just wanted calls made, plans be damned.

But, perspective is everything. So I decided to re-frame what “sales calls” actually meant, taking cues from my nonprofit work experience. I changed my mindset from “making sales” to “building relationships.” As an efficient nonprofit does when applying for a grant funding opportunity, you need to find good matches -- opportunities which match the mission of your organization and which are mutually beneficial for both parties. This really helped take pressure off the perceived randomness of contacting someone 100 miles away to talk about the awesomeness of our natural sauces and condiments.

Armed with this mindset, it’s much easier to make the initial contacts to like-minded folks who enjoy the same stuff we do: food that ain’t been f****d with. We have the natural food products, and they have the capacity to bring it to the masses. Along the way, the process reveals itself in the follow-up necessary to go from “Initial Contact” to “Sale Completed.”

This learning curve proved that like a good sauce, sometimes you need to temper the bold to bring out the the subtle. But a good sauce is also thought out and tested. Gene and I may have completely opposite ways of doing things, but that’s part of the reason we work well as a team. You know, just living embodiments of yin and yang stuff.