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October 23, 2012
WINIPEG, MB, Oct. 23,2012/ Troy Media/ – When Mclean Meats moved out of its North Vancouver office in 2010, the nitrate-free deli meat company made a bold move. Instead of relocating from one office building to another, the company traded walls and desktop computers for laptops, iPhones and a dedicated remote server. The company says this business model is one that, with vision and commitment, can be replicated in numerous industries across Canada.
Today, president Garth Mclean, vice-president/COO Michelle Nielson, general manager/VP sales Mark Mclean, national sales operation manager Justin Mclean and Maritimes sales rep Wally Mclean all work in different cities, from their homes – or wherever they happen to be (Neilson has even worked while sailing), staying connected through laptops and smartphones.
Without a central office, the company has regular meetings weekly via Skype, a popular video conferencing tool.
Nielson says the benefits to this system are numerous. With no central office, no one has to spend time and money commuting every day, giving staff a happier work/life balance. The company also saves on rent and administration costs. Also, 80 per cent of vendor bills are now paperless, a benefit not only to the company, but also the environment.
The move was an innovative decision for the company, as its resources in the early years were limited.
‘The banks were conservative with their lending and we had to be very creative, so we closed down the office and started working from Garth’s home in West Vancouver,’ Neilson notes. ‘When technology caught up to what we wanted to do, we were able to put our whole company on the Cloud.’
‘The Cloud’ that Neilson refers to allows users to save data and software on an online server. For the first few months under its virtual business model, Mclean Meats operated on a shared server, which led to some ‘short-term glitches,’ but just over a year ago the company moved onto its own dedicated server.
Other than those early glitches, Nielson says the greatest challenge with going virtual has been psychological.
‘There are a lot of trust issues,’ she adds. ‘You have to establish systems in place for clear communication, boundaries, reporting, and some basic tools for web-based team collaboration. But once you map out that foundation and everyone is actually working, that is no longer a barrier.’
Al Abronzino, of Swedesboro, New Jersey-based Wellshire Farms, has been supplying all-natural meat products to Mclean Meats since the traditional bricks-and-mortar days.
‘Mclean Meats has significantly increased our sales in Canada. We have not been disappointed with our joint venture and fully support our relationship with them,’ he says, adding there is a noticeable difference since the early days of their partnership, when Mclean had a head office. ‘It has opened my eyes and I am watching their progress with this model because of the sales results.’
Wellshire Farms represents another successful aspect of Mclean Meats’ business. Mclean Meats has no farms or packaging or processing plants. It uses label designers in California and Ottawa, a distributor in Manitoba and Alberta, sales reps in the Maritimes and Vancouver, a web designer in Texas, and beef, pork and poultry producers in Quebec, Ontario and parts of the U.S.
The company only sources meat from animals that are raised humanely and naturally. To meet its standards, no animal can be raised in gestation crates or pens and must be free to roam; animals must have access to fresh air and sunlight, and cannot be raised on concrete floors; animals cannot travel more than three hours to slaughter, and cannot receive growth hormones, Palean or Ractopamine.
Nielson says finding suppliers to meet its criteria was ‘extremely tough.’
‘None of the big manufacturing plants in Canada wanted to talk to us,’ she says. ‘We knocked on doors, but we were too small and too high maintenance. The second barrier we had was finding the raw materials, the farms. At the time, eight years ago, people were looking at us like we were crazy hippies.’
Almost all of the company’s pork products come from Les Biande du Breton, an organic and natural meat company from Quebec that Neilson describes as ‘pioneering.’ She says 50 per cent of Mclean’s turkey comes from Canada as well, but the bulk of its chicken and beef come from the U.S.
Mclean Meats’ roots go back more than 25 years. Garth Mclean moved from Miramichi, N.B. to Vancouver in 1980s, where he got a job as a delivery driver in the meat industry. Over the years he worked his way into sales, eventually joining Alberta based poultry giant Lilydale. In the 1990s he developed a line of nitrate-free deli meats under the name Natural Farms for organic food retailer Capers Community Markets in Vancouver (now called Whole Foods Markets).
The company was officially launched as Mclean Meats in 2003, when Mclean teamed up with Nielson – which might seem like an odd pairing, considering she was a one-time vegetarian.
‘I didn’t know the difference between a salami and a wiener at the time,’ Nielson says, noting her diet was based on animal-welfare issues, something that helped form the company’s all-natural philosophy. ‘Now I love meat. I’m a total Alberta beef girl.’
Today the company offers more than 35 products in over 600 stores across Canada. Earlier this year a deal with Loblaw nearly doubled its revenues, and an expansion into the U.S. market is planned for about two years down the road.
‘We’ve been growing exponentially every year,’ she says. ‘We did $250,000 in our first year in 2003. Now here we are, in our eighth year and we’re a multi-million dollar company. Our goal is to be $20 million by 2014.’
Alan MacKenzie is a reporter for Troy Media and Canadian Meat Business.
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