The plight of the American farmer is well documented.Family farms have been steadily disappearing from the American landscape over the past half-century. They have been replaced by large, corporate entities with little ties to local communities.
It was within that reality that Karl Nelson, a native of rural, agricultural Wisconsin, decided to do his best to help the American dairy farmer while at the same time starting his own retail cheese business. "If you can see what I've seen over the years - the disappearance of the family farm and the disappearance of way of life - it'd bring a tear to your eye as well. I've seen dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers - neighbors of mine - give up on centuries of family farming simply because the cost of doing business was so high. I vowed that if I was ever able to start my own business, I'd dedicate it to those farmers." And so he did.
Nelson opened Wisconsin Cheese, a retail cheese store on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota in December 2006. It features a full line of Wisconsin cheese products, all shipped from Wisconsin dairy farms. "I figured there were enough European and South American cheese stores here in the Sarasota area, and that there'd be room for a 'Made in America' business. And there was," said Nelson. "I had control of most of my start-up issues but I really needed help with marketing. That's when I found out about the free business counseling offered by the Small Business Development Center. I went to one of the business start-up seminars and the guy teaching it - Art Mahoney - turned out to be an experienced marketing guy. Imagine that! Just what I needed."
Nelson and Mahoney met a number of times to map out a marketing strategy for Wisconsin Cheese. It included interior merchandising concepts for the store, interior and exterior signage and a selection of community networking ideas to attract attention. One of the best ideas involved Nelson introducing himself to the Wisconsin Club of Sarasota. "Wisconsin people love each other and, of course, they all love cheese. So my store became the unofficial clubhouse for the organization. It was great business for me, and great referral business as well. Art helped me develop a lot of these ideas. As far as I'm concerned, he's my marketing mentor."
The results have been very encouraging for Nelson's Wisconsin Cheese store. From zero at the start, the business now grosses over $12,000 a month. More encouraging according to Nelson, he was able to maintain good volumes through the typically slower summer months. And he expects volumes to steadily increase with the beginning of football season. And what does Nelson have to say as Fall football approaches? "Go Badgers!"