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Key Idea: Look Before You Leap

Since Paul was fired from Oscar Meyer, he was forced to make changes in his life. He liked living in Madison and decided to become a small business owner by purchasing an existing business. 

Key Question:


Do your homework and be prepared to pay for some expert advice.

Q:  What were the advantages of Paul buying a business rather than starting something from scratch?

A: His career counseling showed that he was doing what he should be doing (sales and marketing in the food industry). Since he found a business that was weak in those areas, it made sense for him to use all of his energy doing what he does best rather than starting something that would require him to learn all the manufacturing processes or hire people who had that experience.

The assets of every company are hard and soft, tangible and intangible. Paul wanted to build a business, and the old Heim Cheese Co. had some quality people and equipment.

Q:  How much money did Paul and Vicki spend before they even bought the factory and why?

A: They spent $100,000. The factory had been going down hill for years. Unless they could determine if there was a product they could make that would increase the business, they would not buy the cheese factory.

Click on the questions for more answers.

Think about it

What kind of information do you need to make your next big move?  Are there experts you can hire to help you?   What steps can you take to reduce your risk? 

Clip from: Specialty Cheese

Lowell, Wisconsin:  Visit the oldest continuously-running cheese factory in Wisconsin.  In this episode of the show we meet Vicki & Paul Scharfman of Specialty Cheese. This story is about marketing. It may look like magic, it's not.  It is all about testing, trial and error, and focus groups.

Prepped with their Harvard MBAs and seasoned with big business experience, these two bought a marginal business and turned it around.  They learned how to put diversity into the land of cheddar and attracted a whole new customer base.  This is America!

Go to all the key ideas and video of this episode...
Go tot he hompeage for this episode of the show...

Specialty Cheese, Inc.

Paul Scharfman, Owner

430 North Main Street
Reeseville, WI 53579

Visit our web site:

Toll Free: 800.367.1711

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1839

Look Before You Leap

PAUL: I was the sales and marketing manager for a subsidiary of Oscar Mayer, Louis Kampf Seafood. Before that I'd been the marketing manager for the Oscar Mayer company. And the first week in 1991, the Oscar Mayer company said to me, `You're a great guy, and we don't need you anymore. So have a great life.' They gave me a nice severance package and "pfft."

Preparing to make the decision to buy a business:

"We went to what was called an outplacement counselor, and he gave me a battery of tests... they're a tool. I took a bunch of different tests. None of them were terribly useful, but in total they helped me to identify something that I could really believe in. Here are the set of skills that I have and the motivations.

I didn't have to like what I learned, but there it is. I learned that what I like to do is to start things, to initiate, to innovate, to get going.

Now it wasn't that hard to go the next step and ask, `What am I good at?' ...there's the skills and you can go and you can pretty analytically say, `You're good at marketing, and in particular you're good at food marketing.'

Buying the business from the Fred Heim family.

"I'd come out of a dozen years at Kraft, General Foods. `...particularly, you're good at marketing refrigerated foods.' Before I signed over the money to Fred Heim,  we had spent close to $100,000 of our own money in market research --  the biggest lesson that I had in this whole acquisition process was learning what I didn't know, OK? It was relatively easy through this outplacement service to learn what I did know, OK? But what I didn't know is a humbling experience. There's a lot you don't know. But once you fess up, then you can go learn it.

I went out and got an enormous amount of debt, put up my home and everything I own; and by November of 1991, we had bought the assets of what was then the Heim Cheese Company.

HATTIE: The headquarters for what they now call the Specialty Cheese Company is in Lowell, about an hour's drive from Madison.

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