When Oilerie USA owner Curt Campbell appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” it might’ve seemed a little bit like he became fish food.
No, they didn’t give him the $500,000 funding he sought to help expand his franchise business. But he did receive an amount of exposure equal to what some experts say was $4 million to $5 million in advertising.
After October’s eight-minute segment, Campbell saw a boost in online sales traffic of about 600 orders. And to date, Campbell has received inquiries from 350 franchise prospects. The company, which saw sales of $3.1 million in 2013, currently has seven franchise stores under the umbrella of Oilerie USA in addition to its two home stores in Fish Creek and Green Bay, which are under the name Curt’s Spice Co. and Oilerie LLC. The new Green Bay location opened in September and already had more than $100,000 in sales. The company continues to grow at a rate of about 8 to 9 percent, Campbell says.
Customers visiting Oilerie USA will find stainless steel containers of different flavors of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which they can sample before taking home in special bottles.
Campbell and his wife Amy Jo got the idea for Oilerie USA after visiting a store in Europe that sold olive oil in a similar way. Campbell opened the first olive oil store in the U.S. in 2004. Now there are 400 to 500 similar stores around the nation.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Campbell says. “Every store that’s dedicated to selling olive oil in America — that’s all an offshoot of our store in Fish Creek. So we’re very proud of that. It’s proof that Americans are ready for this concept, and it brought a lot of attention to the Oilerie system.”
Campbell, a longtime foodie who once sold specialty spice blends out of his car to family restaurants around Wisconsin, is passionate about the benefits and culinary joys of cooking with olive oil. Campbell’s extra virgin olive oil is supplied by a producer in a small Italian village south of Rome (the name of which he keeps bottled up).
Extra virgin olive oil is made by crushing the olives and extracting the oil, without chemical processing or refining. Campbell’s olive oil is not certified organic, but it’s about as close as you can get, he says.
“(The producers) are harvesting olives from trees that are 500 years old, and they would rather cut off their right arm than do anything to that tree that the last seven or eight generations didn’t do,” Campbell says.
Peter Sloma, owner of The Peninsula Bookman, which occupies the same building as Campbell’s business, says a sure sign of Oilerie USA’s success is that there are so many imitators. The company’s innovative approach, including the novelty of trying a product before purchasing it, lent to its success, Sloma says.
“(Campbell) turned his idea into a huge business because he’s an incredibly gifted marketer,” Sloma says. “He knows how to reach his customers and stand out in the marketplace. The guy works hard and is really diligent and hands-on with his business. But he’s really, really skilled as a marketer — at least, that’s what impresses me about him.”
Being on “Shark Tank” was part of that marketing savvy. Campbell was at a trade show in San Francisco handing out brochures for his Portland-based graphic artist. He saw two young people wearing registration badges displaying “Shark Tank” walking past his booth, disappearing into the crowd.
He threw the brochures down and ran down the aisle, pushing people out of the way to get to the “Shark Tank” employees, one of whom happened to be the casting manager.
The “Shark Tank” crew spent a day with Curt and Amy Jo at their home in Egg Harbor in addition to Campbell’s pitch to the sharks in L.A., and the show aired Oct. 24.
Campbell said the most important aspect of appearing on the national program was that he had the chance to showcase his wife, Amy Jo, who Campbell says doesn’t get enough credit for her role in making the company a success.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to just bask in that glow that I got to tell everyone that I love this woman and what she means to me,” Campbell says.
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