St. Louis-based Jeff Zornes likes to think he is a cowboy at heart, but he knows for a fact that he’s a real steak guy. Throughout his lifetime, Jeff has shared steak stories with people from around the country. What Jeff found to hold true was that everyone loves the bone-in ribeye — everyone had a story, an indelible memory about whom they were with and where they were when they first experienced the bone-in, “cowboy” ribeye.
And so, the idea for a new business was born.
After selling commercial real estate for 20 years, and even starting his own real estate syndication business in 1996, Jeff took a chance in the middle of the recession on a completely new business venture, driven by his longtime passion for great food, wine and the people who enjoy it.
To satisfy his insatiable appetite, Jeff created Cowboy Ribeyes in 2009, a not-so-average online steak company that markets the “finest steak in the land,” the decadent, 20 oz. bone-in ribeye that is not available at local butchers or grocers.
Jeff is certainly aware of the online steak competition, which is why he gets his product from acclaimed Kansas-based Creekstone Farms, which has The New York Times raving over the “taste and tenderness” of its beef ). An eco-friendly cowboy at heart, Jeff ensures that all of his packaging is good for the environment. And because he doesn’t mark up the shipping costs, Jeff saves his customers 50 percent on shipping rates.
But what really matters is that Cowboy Ribeyes has been gaining popularity despite its young age. And Jeff, of course, is honored that his ideas have given him bragging rights for some pretty darn good steak.
What are you working on right now?
Growing my business! Tons of stuff, actually. I’ve already thought ahead and have begun to plan for the holiday season. This time last year, I was just starting my business, so I know that these next few months are going to be busy. I also have several new brands I’m working on. I’m creating a less pricey brand of Cowboy Ribeyes called Lazy CR Beef, where I will be selling high-end beef (filets, flat iron, coulotte) at five dollars a steak — half of what the retail cost is — starting with 10 steaks per box.
I also have partnered with a local catering company in St. Louis, Let’s Do Lunch Catering, and I’m in the process of creating an online-based casserole catering company called St. Louis Casserole Club. Keeping with the Cowboy Ribeyes brand of luxury on a budget, the menu will have more decadent choices like mac and cheese with prosciutto.
I guess you could say I’m pretty ambitious, but you have to keep up with what your customers want. Ultimately, I want to develop a community around my brands.
3 Trends that excite you?
This is not necessarily a new trend, but I love the fact that every day, the Internet allows people to be exposed to and to purchase products that they didn’t know about before. The Internet is a community that gives people the ease and comfort to do their research and pick and choose what interests them.
Everything digital media. I love the fact that you can access books, magazines and databases online and can take this information with you (i.e. with the Kindle and the iPad). And, of course, along with digital media comes social media. I guess you could say I’m excited that there is a shift of interest and relevance from traditional media to social and digital media.
The de-centralization of media distribution. Today, anybody can create content and you don’t necessarily need the media outlets to approve of it.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I find that when I create things, it must be the same process of what an artist, writer or musician does. When I have an idea, it starts to resonate. I feel it, think of it and research it. For me, I like to have fun with ideas, but to successfully bring an idea to life, it needs to be buyable from a market standpoint, I’m looking for what niche to fill. To bring an idea to life, you have to think about the financial aspect, the projection, branding, and of course, the creative aspect.
When I was designing the Cowboy Ribeyes logo, I was convinced my original idea was the hottest, coolest logo out there. I went to my creative director and he told me to really think about what my logo conveys in terms of my brand. I thought about it and ultimately, I wanted my brand to reflect a lifestyle. Part of Cowboy Ribeyes’ slogan is “Cowboy Up,” and to me that means you’re rough, rugged, independent and resourceful. I really wanted to convey this idea into my product and make the whole process of visiting my site, buying the beef, cooking it and eating it a great experience. The whole experience of being a cowboy and branding cattle is fascinating to me. Whenever I think about the original cattle brand — Cortes and his brand of three Latin crosses — I get chills. The fact that a part of my branding resonates with the 1400’s is inspirational.
What is one mistake you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
I’ve had several entrepreneurial projects in my past. I’ve built an outdoor advertising company, a pest control company, and I started my own real estate syndication business from scratch. And I have made mistakes with all of them. No matter what venture you start out on, the entire project always costs more and takes longer to execute and see results. You need to prepare yourself: The journey to creating your business will be harder to start than you thought. Ultimately, be more conservative at first and have patience.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?:
I’m a huge fan of David Siteman Garland and his The Rise To The Top (therisetothetop.com) material. I love reading content that incorporates all facets of running a successful business — the interviews with experts, the articles and discussions and new and emerging social media trends. And that’s the great thing about the Internet, there is no limit to how much you can read and no limit to how much knowledge you can gain.
As for software/tools, I’m obsessed with everything Google. I also love Prezi, an online application that lets you create presentations, because it really lets me experiment with my thoughts and ideas.
What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Effective inbound marketing will, more often than not, result in more effective outbound marketing and sales. Before you can be successful at outbound marketing, and ultimately be successful at whatever you do, you need to be a thought leader around your product and services. You need to educate the space around your brand. As much as you want to scream about how great your product is on Twitter, blogs, newsletters and Facebook, you really need to take the time to understand your industry. I find that people will like and enjoy your business and products much better.
Has it been challenging growing an online-based business?
Yes, of course. Any new business venture is challenging, but I feel like I have an advantage operating my business online. I think the fact that the basis of my business is a website leverages my credibility. One aspect of growing your business is through social media initiatives — pushing your brand through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., and trying to get media coverage. It can all be very frustrating, but you need to be patient. I’m confident in my product so I know, with time, more people will catch on. Another aspect of growing your business is through word-of-mouth. I’ve gotten the majority of my customers by telling them about my product, my brand and the experience of creating my business. If people truly like what you have to offer, they will pass it on.
What drives you?
If I have an idea, I’m free to execute it. Right now in my life, I feel blessed to have the resources to make my ideas a reality.
I also live by inspirational books and quotes. I read a lot of Earl Nightingale. I’m a huge fan of Zig Ziglar’s “Rise to the Top.” Winston Churchill is another inspirational person: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” And another favorite from Napoleon Hill: “Think and grow rich.”
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.