Ranch Wives Take Their Product Direct To Consumers
There’s nothing quite as powerful as a personal story that connects people together. Finding common ground or a shared passion can make friends out of strangers. And never before have the opportunities been so great to connect and build relationships than in 2019 where users are having conversations all day every day on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
Ranchers JaTanna Williams and Natalie Kovarik understand the power of social media and are leveraging these platforms to sell their beef direct to consumers. Two years ago, the pair launched, Ranch Wives Beef Company, LLC, and since then, they’ve been marketing their beef to devoted customers across the country, who not only love their product but love the women behind the company, too.
“In today’s society, the disconnect between the rancher/farmer and the consumer is greater than ever,” said Kovarik. “Knowing this, we recognized that in order to sell our product online to people who weren’t familiar with us, we would have to bridge this gap and really create a connection with our customer. We believe social media is the perfect tool to do just that.”
With an active Instagram following that boasts nearly 10,000 fans, the pair uses their social media account — ranchwivesbeefco — to show off their retail product, talk about how its raised, who they are and what they do on their respective ranches to get the beef from pasture to plate.
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“Another reason we chose to use social media as our main form of advertising is that it’s free,” added Williams. “In the past, companies big and small have had to set aside a good portion of their hard-earned dollars for marketing. Social media has not only almost eliminated this cost but also put the power of advertising literally in the palm of your hands.”
The visionaries behind Ranch Wives Beef Company have their followers falling in love with their story, which subsequently leads to loyal customers.
JaTanna lives in Three Forks, Mont., where her family runs Williams Angus, located along the Jefferson River in the Rocky Mountains. The Williams family has been in southwest Montana since 1864, but the current ranch was homesteaded in 1985. It is run by three generations of cattlemen — Tyler (JaTanna’s husband), Dana (Tyler’s dad) and Gordon (Tyler’s grandpa). Tyler is the sixth generation on the ranch, and together, Tyler and JaTanna are raising the seventh generation — their children are Stella (age four), Hudson (age two) and Casen (age nine months).
Meanwhile, Natalie and her husband, Luke Kovarik, own and operate Kovarik Cattle Company, a cow-calf operation located near Ord, Neb. Their ranch borders the Nebraska Sandhills and overlooks the North Loup River. Having both grown up in ranching families, the cattle industry is a shared passion for the pair. Together, they have two sons, Tad (age 13) and Jaks (age 1). In addition to running the commercial cattle operation and selling beef direct to consumers, Kovarik Cattle Company now also markets registered Angus bulls to area cattlemen.
So how did the pair come together when they live in two separate states? A lifelong friendship led to this business venture, they say.
“We have known each other since we were young girls,” said Kovarik. “We grew up in the same small town, so from about the ripe age of seven, we developed a very tight bond — a relationship more like sisters than friends. We attended every level of our education together, starting with kindergarten and continuing on with our doctorates of pharmacology.”
Williams added, “Upon graduation, we went different directions and weaved our way through life apart for a few years. Eventually, we ended up back together working as pharmacists in a small clinic setting. When Natalie relocated to Nebraska, we found ourselves separated once again, but nothing a phone call couldn’t fix. Through nightly catch-up sessions, we found that we were both looking to add something to our current operations. We wanted something that would not only allow us to spend more quality time with our husbands and growing kids, but also maybe bring a little added value to our ranches, as well. What we came up with was Ranch Wives Beef Co — a family business that centers around providing our home-grown beef to families everywhere. And we haven’t looked back a day since!”
Browsing through the Ranch Wives Beef Co. Instagram page is truly an invitation into their collective lives. Watch baby Jaks play in the garden at Natalie’s house. See JaTanna hauling her three kids in the side-by-side as they check cattle in the pasture. View stunning images of the old rustic barn, a sizzling cut of beef on the grill, a group of calm cattle or a snazzy new hat perfect for a working cowgirl.
Viewers are not only invited to purchase beef through the company’s website, http://www.ranchwivesbeefco.com, but they also learn about the day-to-day happenings on family ranches.
Despite the buzz surrounding the duo’s business and social media presence, the road to success hasn’t always been easy for the entrepreneurial ranch wives.
“Starting to sell direct to consumer in small cuts is no easy task,” said Williams. “It took us months of research and trial and error to figure out the logistics for shipping our quality beef direct to the consumers’ doorstep. The first step is checking what licensure your state requires. Both our prospective states (Nebraska and Montana) have licensing in place that allows one to store frozen meat on your ranches in state inspected freezers and thus dispense directly from your operations.
“Additionally, to sell to customers across the nation, across state lines, you must also find a USDA-certified packing facility,” said Kovarik. “As any rural rancher knows, this may be a bit of a drive. Lucky for us, we aren’t too far from our chosen facilities. After the legalities were completed, we spent our time researching different packaging options and companies to order our boxes and liners from, which again was no easy task. From day one, our husbands have supported our business venture but always said that all they wanted to do was feed and care for the cattle, nothing else. If we had known all the other work that went into direct to consumer selling, I think we would have asked for their jobs within the company instead of ours!”
At a time where input costs are high and commodity prices are low, producers are hungry to find ways to make their operations survive and thrive with the ebbs and flows of the agricultural cycle. In this way, the Ranch Wives Beef Co. can earn a premium for their product, but doing so comes with a steep learning curve. The pair offers some advice for others considering this avenue.
“Direct to consumer sales is not for everyone,” said Williams. “Serving local community members is where you could drive the greatest profit, as shipping is quite the input itself. If you have the means to feed out some of your cattle it could be a great option, but because the work isn’t small, we only encourage this route for those who also have the passion for retail. If that’s you — we recommend making sure you tell your story as a rancher and beef producer. Consumers want a product they can know and trust. Unbeknownst to them, the beef industry is built by their local rancher, but for them to buy directly off the ranch, gives them a sense of reassurance they do not get from the grocery store shelves.”
With two years of business under their belts, Kovarik explains that success or failure has been largely determined by the school of hard knocks.
“There is no guide, no one service manual that will teach you all the ins and outs of a self-run business, especially shipping beef,” she said. “We have learned so much of the logistics simply from experience. Luckily, we’re both problem solvers and slightly stubborn, so we don’t give up easily. From a business standpoint, we would recommend learning from free tools readily available such as podcasts. There are so many ones out there that cover topics such as building a business model or implementing social media strategies. Many communities also have free small business counseling, which we would absolutely recommend anyone attend if they can.”
The duo say their passion is providing quality, family-raised beef to consumers from a direct and trusted source. They are currently focusing on filling the need for beef to customers in their own communities, as well as expanding and collaborating with local businesses and restaurant owners.
Pharmacists, moms, entrepreneurs, ranch wives — without a doubt, Williams and Kovarik wear many hats each day — and they make it look easy, too! However, even as they find their niche on social media selling their beef to customers who are falling in love with their stories, they are also keenly aware of current industry trends, where young people are leaving the ranch in pursuit of better job opportunities in urban areas.
“We want to encourage young farmers and ranchers to stick with it,” said Kovarik. “The ranch is where it is at today because your parents or grandparents didn’t fold when the going got tough. And today, we have such advantages with modern technology and the ability to market our products and ourselves.”
“It’s also extremely important that we use our voices to advocate for ourselves and the beef industry as a whole,” said Williams. “We must dictate the narrative because if we continue to allow others to tell our story, the future of agriculture is at stake. We have such a positive outlook on the future of ranching and the cattle industry. It is continuing to be more sustainable each year, and the future is bright! Stay the course, be true to your brand and family legacy, keep up the hard work and remember you are appreciated — by us, by your friends and family, and by the nation you feed.”
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