My Library and Courses
Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Let Customers Tell You What to Make

Smart business owners listen to customers and take action on what they say.

Key Question:


Gary started his business by giving a sample of his Marion Berry Syrup to Mr. Elmer, the owner of a Elmer's Pancake House. When Mr. Elmer liked the syrup and said he wanted to serve it on pancakes in all his restaurants, Gary's business was born.
How did Gary get his sample in the hands of a powerful person?

Gary attended coaches' meetings at Mr. Elmer's and then worked for him part time supervising cleaning crews at night. When Gary noticed that Mr. Elmer was serving syrups made in other states, Gary cooked up a sample of the Oregon-grown Marion Berry syrup.

To get yourself in the right place at the right time, get a job in a place where you can learn something about the business which seems attractive to you. Even if you have to work for nothing, what you can learn is invaluable and can lead to the right introductions.

Selling a new product is hard; so, if you can make friends with potential buyers even before you have the product, you're many steps ahead of the competition.

Q: What was Gary's competition thinking when they lost the syrup business to Gary?

A: Where did he come from? We've never heard of Trailblazer Foods. What is a Marion Berry? The competition was beaten by an end run! And, the product Gary developed has offered Mr. Elmer a unique selling proposition. His restaurant now can offer something no one else has.

Q: Does Gary make products to please himself or to please his customers?

A: Gary pleases his customer first and himself second. Today he makes over 140 products and all are based upon research he does inside his customers' operations. He goes to their restaurants to study the menu and to taste what they are serving. Based on what he experiences, he recommends new products for them to purchase from Trailblazer Foods.

Gary does not wait for someone to ask him to make something for them. He is playing offense because as a coach he knows the only way you score is to have the ball.

Think about it

How did you develop your first product or service?  How do you come up with new products and services?

Clip from: Trailblazer Foods

Portland, Oregon: Employing over 60 people, in this episode we take you from the source -- beautiful berry fields throughout Oregon -- to the finished product. For his success in building a business and for championing the export of Oregon's wonderful fruit, The Small Business Administration named Gary Small Business Person of the Year for Oregon.

Sometimes our show becomes a tribute to a life well lived. When we taped this show, Gary had physical limitations. He paced himself. But in August 2001, Gary died and left this wonderful legacy to his immediate family, his family of employees, his family of customers and suppliers, and his largest family, the world. Surely you will see why by tasting value, you also have an after-taste that profits many. For Gary Walls, it is a taste that is tangibly intangible. It may first be in the taste of the berry; it is also in a taste for life's greatest blessings.

Trailblazer Foods

Gary Walls, Founder

17900 NE San Rafael
Portland, OR 97230
503 666 5800

Visit our web site:

Office: 503 666 5800

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1985

Let Customers Tell You What to Make

HATTIE: Some small-business owners make something they personally love and then go sell it. What you're saying is you look at the restaurant, you looked at Mr. Elmer and said, `He's using syrup from another state. He needs Oregon berry--he needs Marionberry syrup.' So you started thinking that way from the beginning.

GARY: I did. There are some things that I like personally that I make for myself and my wife makes. I don't think that generally the public may or may not like that. I think you have to find things that the public wants, things that they would buy, that bring them back. For me to manufacture 5,000 cases of rice pudding without any customer base--it would be a crazy thing to do. So I've tried to avoid doing those kinds of things. I've really stayed, I think, pretty focused on what customers want, what their needs are. And many times at food shows we'll put out something new, see what the attitude is about that particular product and put it in gift packs for Christmas, come up with different ideas, see what people's ideas are on that.

HATTIE: But you test on a small scale.

GARY: Test it on a small scale, get ideas.

HATTIE: Or your other idea is you find something that restaurants may like, you create it for them and if they like it, then you'll go make it for them.

GARY: Absolutely.

HATTIE: OK, so you pre-sell it.

GARY: And I love to go do research. I mean, you have to taste everything!

Not a member yet? Learn!  Be empowered! Join us!