For Chuck Shive, coming to Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co. was an opportunity to get into a different industry and utilize his background to make a difference. He entered Mikesell’s as the executive vice president of marketing, looking to upgrade a more than 100-year-old potato chip brand.
Not long after Shive started, the company’s CEO, David Ray, retired and Shive made the leap to president and CEO in May 2012, becoming only the fourth CEO in history of the company, a 180-employee organization with annual revenues of more than $40 million.
Once he was in the top spot, he turned his attention to building on the company’s strengths while also taking the opportunity to rebrand outdated packaging and also introduced new flavors of chips.
“It was an opportunity to take the equities that the brand has and build on those,” Shive says. “We didn’t want to touch the quality of the product, because in 100 years we’ve learned how to make it pretty well over here, but we wanted to take a look at the packaging and differentiate it and emphasize our premium product.”
While Shive and his team at Mikesell’s believe they have the best chip in the marketplace, the branding and packaging didn’t reflect that. Shive set out to make some overdue changes and upgrades.
“The keys were building on the strengths that we do have, but also looking at the challenges and opportunities going forward and being willing to address those rather quickly so we could establish our new strategic direction going forward and get that in front of our employees and in front of our partners and make sure it was a dynamic transition as it was happening,” Shive says.
Here is how Shive combined company strengths with new ideas to improve a more than 100-year-old brand.
Find your direction
Undertaking a challenge such as rebranding a company, not to mention one with a rich history, is a daunting task. Shive had to make sure he did his due diligence before moving forward with ideas.
“You have to ask a lot of questions,” Shive says. “Ask a lot of questions with your team, with your employees and with your suppliers. How do they view the company? How do they see the strengths and weaknesses of the company? What are the opportunities going forward? What are the great ideas?”
Mikesell’s received a lot of ideas from its employees over the past year and especially since Shive has been in charge. The company executes on the ideas that make sense and will move the business forward.
“There’s a lot of good institutional knowledge among partners and employees that all you have to do is ask and they’re willing to share that information and ideas,” he says.
Sitting in the CEO chair, Shive had his own ideas about where he wanted to lead the company.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there and some are opportunities that make sense for you and some don’t,” he says. “You’re going to understand that as you move forward and move through the planning process and strategy development process and then the execution around that strategy.”
While Shive had his own ideas about direction, that doesn’t mean he ignored others’ input in the decision process.
“It is a balance,” he says. “You strategically have an idea of where you want to go and through asking a lot of good questions and getting a lot of good feedback and working with your executive team and others, you refine that strategy based on what is realistic to expect and execute going forward.
“At the same time if you believe in your strategy, your team and employees, and the company understands what that strategy is and you’ve communicated it well enough, then it becomes time to implement it and execute it.”
Define your brand
To execute on the direction Shive wanted to take the company moving forward, he sat down and discussed how they wanted the new branding to look and what the challenges and opportunities would be.
“We basically took an overall review of our branding as a company, our branding on our packaging and what the strong points were that we wanted to keep and what we thought we could do better with going forward,” Shive says. “Some of the key equities of the brand and packaging that we have is, No. 1, our name.
“Mikesells is an iconic brand for this region, so we didn’t want to touch that to any degree, but we wanted to refresh the small town feel that we have.”
Mikesell’s old packaging as well as some of its competitor’s old packaging was what Shive calls “old foil cartoon-looking packaging.” Mikesell’s made subtle switches such as moving from a foil bag to a matte-finish bag, which gave the product a much more premium look and feel in the marketplace.
The company also cleaned up some of its messaging that has appeared on the packaging since 1910. The slogan changed from, ‘They are delicious’ to ‘Creating delicious since 1910.’
“We went through that process and some consumer testing and reviewing with the steps along the way to make sure we were making the right moves and that consumers were delighted by the new packaging we were coming out with,” he says. “Then it just became the process of implementing that with our packaging partners to bring the new branding to life on the new bags.”
The company also took the opportunity to find what differentiates Mikesell’s from its competitors in the snack food arena.
“It’s not our packaging, it’s our product, but with our old packaging you really didn’t get a look and feel of what our product was,” Shive says. “You didn’t see the actual appetite appeal that our product has, so we wanted to emphasize that on the new packaging moving forward.”
Mikesell’s strength was its product and the rebranding of its packaging helped to emphasize how good the product really was.
“A lot of people may look at a brand change as an opportunity to correct weaknesses, but for us we look at it as an opportunity to build on the strengths that we have,” he says. “That’s a more proactive than reactive approach to take to it.”
Building on those strengths allowed Shive and Mikesell’s to develop a newer brand that will help push the company forward for many years.
“It’s about getting to an area that you’re really comfortable with that you’ve kept the soul of the brand and enhanced it to where it meets what you’re looking for going forward,” he says. “It’s not a quick fix. Our point of rebranding and upgrading our packaging was not so we could do it every couple of years.”
Add new products
Once the new branding had been put in place, Shive kept busy last summer by also adding new products to the company’s line of potato chips. Mikesell’s introduced a sweet chili and sour cream flavor and a Tuscan spice flavor.
“We wanted to put flavors in there that matched consumer wants and desires,” Shive says. “These are the first new flavors we’ve added in more than five years. We’re constantly reviewing what our offerings are and whether we see any need for new products out there.”
Mikesell’s is always consulting its employees, consumer feedback and its partners to help drive new product decisions.
“We get to try new flavors constantly,” he says. “We take them through a process where we rank them versus existing flavors or rank them on the taste qualities and expectations of a particular flavor going forward.
“If we have a particular item out there where it doesn’t seem like we made the right decision for what the consumer was looking for, then we’ll look at moving that out and replacing it with a new flavor or new offering.”
One of the reasons Mikesell’s released these two new flavors was because it had been a while since the company had new offerings out in the market.
“By the nature of the business, consumers are looking for new, different flavors and we’re making a conscious effort to be a little more responsive to that,” Shive says.
Releasing new products that make an immediate impact is a game of hit or miss.
“You want to do all of your due diligence and define what that product is going to be based on robust consumer and market research,” he says. “Then you have to follow through with it and be prepared to support it when you bring it out.
“A lot of people want every single item or product that they introduce to be a home run and that’s just not going to happen. You have to go in knowing that and expecting that. You take the learning’s from that, and you apply them to the next one.”
How to reach: Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co., (937) 228-9400 or www.mike-sells.com
Gather input for any new direction of your business.
Build on strengths, don’t correct weaknesses.
Do consumer and market research surrounding new product releases.
The Shive File
President and CEO
Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co.
Born: Vicksburg, Miss.
Education: Graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a B.S. in business administration
Sports: He was a pitcher at Southern Miss from 1987-89. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and spent one year in their minor league system. “All I ever wanted to do was be a professional baseball player, and I got to do it for a little bit.”
What was your very first job, and what did you learn from that experience?
One of my first jobs was working in a production plant on a production line grabbing containers of pesticides and sticking them into boxes for eight hours a day. What I learned was in that line, nobody is independent from anybody else. In what is considered a basic menial job, you’re still dependent on the guy to your right and the guy to your left to make sure that the line ran correctly.
From the earliest job that you could have, even to the role I’m in now, you’re still reliant on interactions with other people.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
None of us is smarter than all of us collectively. The collective wisdom of a group outshines any individual wisdom.
What is your favorite Mikesell’s product?
It’s tough to pick among them, but I’m a big fan of the new sweet chili and sour cream chips. A close second would be our bold Bahama barbecue kettle chips. I like spice and flavor.
What are you most excited for about the future of the company?
Where we are today there’s still so many growth opportunities out there that we haven’t tapped and putting our strategy in motion to go out and attack those growth opportunities is what gets me going every day.