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• New York Times Small Business Summit Center: Entrepreneur Profile - January 2008
by Andrew Benkard, Community Manager, New York Times Small Business Summit Center
[Geetha Jayaraman is sponsoring this week's giveaway, a gift basket of her plaintain chips. Your truly has requested a sample of each flavor for, uh, quality control purposes. I'll let you know how they are. — Andrew]
AB: As your business grows, you probably find yourself spending less time in the kitchen and more with "front-office" tasks. How are you handling the transition?
GJ: I am still very involved in the process of making the chips—partly due to the fact that I am more particular about quality rather than the quantity. I am handling all of the “front-office” tasks as well. Transition was daunting at first, interesting to see the business growing as it is. I think the real satisfaction is knowing that there is only more growth to come.
AB: Running a small business for the first time means lots of new challenges. What part of entrepreneurship have you worked hardest on?
GJ: Let me start by saying working with plantains is no walk in the park. Everything about this business is challenging as I am new to the world of entrepreneurship. The biggest challenge is getting the word out about the business and the product in creative ways without spending a lot of money (which I don’t have anyway).
AB: What would you do if you weren't in business for yourself?
GJ: Before I started the business, I worked as an Accountant / Financial analyst. I would probably still be working doing something similar.
I’ve always had a passion for experimenting and for the culinary world generally, having helped my mom in the kitchen since I was very young. Grab Em Snacks, which I started in 2006, produces Gourmet Plantain chips in a variety of exciting and innovative flavors to suit any palate. Growing up in Malaysia, where plantain chips were the equivalent of American potato chips, I wanted to bring a more tropical and tasty option to the American snack food palate. I think GrabEm Snacks demonstrates exactly the kind of exotic alternative I was looking for. But I was not satisfied with just the plain Sea Salt flavor I had come up with. I wanted to try different flavors, some more traditional and others more exotic. Experimenting resulted in 6 flavors, ranging from mild to extra hot.
• Internet Can Make a Big Impact on Small Business
by Evelyn Lee, 1/28/08 NJBiz.com
Once a cutting-edge option, Web sites have become a staple in the world of small businesses. Some local entrepreneurs say that having an Internet presence allows them to stay competitive, provide information and market their products and services to potential customers far and wide. At the same time, a lack of time, staff and technical skills can make it challenging for many small businesses to run Web sites.
Sixty-five percent of small and medium-sized businesses in the United States had Web sites in 2005, according to Yankee Group, a Boston-based business consulting firm.
“There’s just more and more business being conducted on the Web,” says James Kocsi, director of the New Jersey district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Newark. “This is an area that is growing and will continue to grow.”
The proliferation of small business Web sites has a lot to do with the increasing number of people who are using the Internet in order to find information on businesses, says Scherlyn Garney, president of SMG Designs, a Web-design firm in Hillsborough. Nowadays, people aren’t as generally inclined to use the Yellow Pages, she says. “They just go on the Internet.”
With the use of the Internet so widespread, not having a Web site can be a major handicap for a small business, adds John Sullivan, department chair of computer science at North Branch’s Raritan Valley Community College, which has offered a Web development degree program since 1996. Sullivan notes his department gets calls from roughly 30 local small businesses a year seeking help with their Web sites. “I personally avoid a business if it doesn’t have a Web site. The more information I have about a business, the more comfortable I feel in dealing with them.”
importance of an Internet presence is not lost on many local small
businesses, which see Web sites as a way of keeping up with the
competition. “You must have a Web site nowadays,” asserts Tom
McLoughlin, president of McLoughlin Sports, a professional soccer
school based in Somerville. “Everybody wants information, and if you
don’t have it on the Web site, people will go somewhere else.”
Small-business owners can provide as much, or as little, information as they want on a Web site, says Garney. This can include a description of the business’ products or service, a history of the business, directions, hours, a photo gallery of work, testimonials or information on how to order the products or service. A small-business Web site usually contains about five to 10 pages, although the page count could go higher, depending on the type of products or service being offered, according to Garney. A Web site for a larger company, by contrast, can run between 50 to 100 pages, she says.
A Web site can help to drive up business in a number of ways. For starters, “it increases customer satisfaction,” says Garney. “It has your business’ information all in one location.” Because of this, customers can easily learn about a business and be able to access that information 24 hours a day, she says.
In some cases, the convenience and ease of going on the Internet can raise the likelihood a potential customer will buy a product or service. At McLoughlin Sports, about 30 percent of registrations for classes last spring were done on the school’s Web site, www.soccer-kids.com, notes McLoughlin, 53. “People find it a lot easier to do” than registering in person, he says. “And maybe more people are signing up because of it.”
A small business can also significantly broaden its marketing reach via the Web. Trying to find stores in every corner of the country to carry a product sometimes may not be as feasible as you would like it to be,” says Geetha Jayaraman, owner of Grab Em Snacks, a maker of gourmet plantain chips in Basking Ridge.
With her Web site, www.grabem
snacks.com, however, the 45-year-old former financial analyst has had stores from around the country approach her about stocking the chips, which she makes herself in a 300-square-foot rented space in Bridgewater. Jayaraman, who started Grab Em Snacks four years ago, credits this success largely to a feature known as search engine optimization (SEO), which increases the likelihood a Web site will pop up in search results based on the keywords typed in. She says most of her customers, which include both individuals and stores, have found her through these keyword searches.
Jayaraman’s Web site has made the plantain chips a much easier sell. “I find that if stores reach out to you, they’re more open to carrying your product,” she says. “It’s not as easy if you were to call them.” Grab Em Snack’s revenues have quadrupled since June, with sales expected to reach $30,000 in 2008, says Jayaraman. She is planning to relocate to a 2,500-square-foot space in Somerville soon and hire two or three employees to help her produce the chips.
The exposure a small business can gain through a Web site is relatively inexpensive. A custom-designed five-page site can cost around $1,500 and a 15-page site about $3,900, Garney says. That compares to the $5,000 to $10,000 some magazines charge for advertising, she says.
Maintaining a Web site, however, can often require more time than a small business can spare. Although Jayaraman pays Garney to update her Web site on a monthly basis, she still wishes she could do more with the site, such as adding more recipes and starting a blog. But “all that takes more time, and I just don’t have the time to do that at this point,” she says.
A small business also can be hampered by a lack of technical skills. McLoughlin says if his site has a problem, he and his staff must wait for a consultant to resolve the issue. “Relying on outside people to sort out your problems is not easy because they don’t quite understand the business all the time,” he says. McLoughlin says the school, which has four full time and 10 part-time employees, isn’t large enough to justify hiring an IT person.
Garney acknowledges a Web site isn’t always foremost on the mind of a small-business owner. But any business can benefit from having a Web site, even if it only has one page. “You can grow it over time,” she says.
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