GRIFFITH | William Mulligan decision to take his parents’ meat distribution business in a new direction has been its path to continued success.
Applewood Farms, now a wholesale supplier of hams and turkeys for corporate and business gifts, opened in 1947 supplying meat and poultry to local markets. But by 1995, when Mulligan took over the business, the ongoing consolidation of the supermarket industry made it harder for a local distributor to stay afloat.
“It was really getting tough to make any money,” Mulligan said. “It was no fun anymore and I wanted to perpetuate the business so I changed the entire direction to gifts and took it this way. It was absolutely the right thing to do. We’re very successful.”
Early this year, he moved Applewood Farms from its former Dyer location to a 15,000-square-foot space in the former Bakker Produce’s complex in Griffith.
“It was an opportunity to upgrade the facilities” Mulligan said. “There’s more room, more modern facilities, more office space and loading docks. When the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to do it.”
The improved and enlarged warehouse, dry cooler and freezer space gives Mulligan the room needed to package and ship the hickory-smoked hams and the gourmet-fed, Minnesota-raised turkeys he buys from specialty producers and ships throughout the country.
In May, he also bought two of Bakker’s former businesses: selling California wine grapes and making and selling fruit gift baskets. In both cases, Mulligan bought customer and vendor lists, inventory, materials, equipment and machinery.
He plans to follow Bakker’s model, importing 250,000 pounds of grapes in 11 varieties from California beginning in September to sell to local residents who make their own wine.
“The grape wine business is seasonal just before turkeys,” Mulligan said. “Fruit gift baskets are seasonal and Applewood’s (turkey and ham) products are seasonal so the others fit right into our business model.”
Mulligan declined to reveal the amount of his investment in the two new businesses, but says he should recuperate the money in two years. The businesses also means he will hire more workers.
“We’ll hire more than a dozen seasonally,” he said. “We will be using regulars and adding former Bakker fruit basket people in November and December.”
When Mulligan began selling his products as corporate gifts, he sold his wares through catalogs and, direct and phone solicitation. In 1998, Applewood Farms began advertising and selling on the Internet.
“It had been real old-style,” Mulligan said. “The web has helped tremendously.”
The recession of 2009 brought about another change. Gone are the large orders from the large national corporate giants, he said.
“There’s been a tough few years with the recession,” Mulligan said. “Not only cuts in quantity, but reductions in the size of gifts. Now our best customers are the small- to medium size family-owned corporations, who run tight ships and can’t do enough for their employees.”
Although the business is primarily wholesale, Mulligan said walk-ins are welcome.
“It’s not a retail store, but we allow people to come in and buy turkeys and hams,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of stock in the off-season. We specialize in getting turkeys and hams all over the country.”
Turkeys are frozen and packaged in “space bags” in a process Mulligan helped to invent and one that allows the items to be delivered by FedEx as far away as California within three days.
“Ninety-five percent of our business today is repeat business,” Mulligan said. “We love our customers and we know how to treat customers. … We have a beautiful brand that’s no longer sold in stores. It cost a bit more money and people happy to pay.”