Before launching Joy’s Gourmet, John Najjar worked as a mechanical engineer at locations such as the Kennedy Space Center, Honeywell, and the Boeing Company. In 2003, not long after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, John saw an opportunity through impending layoffs. “I started thinking about my future and my family, and I knew I had to do something.” Through a combination of passion, determination, and his ability to develop out-of-the-box solutions to obstacles faced by many small business owners, John has become a successful entrepreneur with the all-natural versatility and unique flavor of Joy's Gourmet products, which has created a loyal following all across the Southeast.
He took action and, in April 2004, he launched a company around a family recipe that was adored by friends and, of course, family. "We named the company after our daughter Joy," he said. "Our first product was Garlic Joy Original. Actually, before it was even a product, it was just a dish that we brought to parties. People loved it. They called it 'Lebanese Caviar'." John is of Lebanese decent. "Rather than operate out of our home kitchen, we went directly into manufacturing, bottling and labeling our own product in a dedicated facility," John said. "This was not going to be a hobby and we wanted to meet all the industrial standards and requirements to operate at the highest level." They also needed a dedicated space as they continued to add different sauces, spreads and dressings.
John's initial strategy to get his products into the hands of consumers was through partnerships with large supermarkets. He explained that it was "relatively" easy to get his products on store shelves. The hard part was getting his products off the shelves and into the hands of the end consumer. Even though his signature product, Garlic Joy Original, and many others had quite the fan base from Vegans to Oprah and everyone else that enjoyed the light flavorful spreads and sauces, it wasn't enough.
"It was 2010, the economy hadn't fully recovered and our customer reach wasn't where it needed to be," John explained. "We made the decision to retreat from the big stores and resorted to guerilla marketing to reach our customers. We went to farmers markets and kept increasing our product offerings based on feedback. We also started recruiting people in their 40s and 50s that were laid off in 2008 and 2009 and didn't have many employment options. These folks, who were often customers, became our independent "dealers" and began working at farmers markets and selling our products throughout Florida and eventually into North and South Carolina. This allowed for easier access to our customers and the ability to educate them on our products." John maintains brand consistency and quality by ensuring that all of their kiosks look the same, that all partners go through an 8 hour training class to learn about the products and that all partners have adequate capital to fund their operations.
Another strategic move, that John credits to his engineering background and his ability to come up with creative solutions, was the decision in 2010 to outsource manufacturing. John explained, "In order to cut our overhead and save money, we outsourced manufacturing to a company in Ocala. We also went from a 4,000 sq ft facility to an 800 sq ft facility." This move certainly accomplished John's objective to reduce overhead, but quality started to suffer. As a result, they brought the manufacturing back to Melbourne and began adding square footage.
Today, Joy's Gourmet operates out of a 2,400 sq ft facility. They have five direct employees along with dozens of partners in several states. Their products are available at their physical store, 27 different farmers markets, 45 gourmet stores from Florida to California and through their online store at www.joyofgarlic.com. "Our three year vision is to be very well known throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic," John said. "We're also in the process of starting distribution in Chicago through small independent distributors."
Most successful entrepreneurial journeys are full of hurdles and John's was no different. "In the early stages we survived a very active hurricane season," he said. "After one of the storms, all of the products in our walk-in cooler went bad. We were also in need of additional capital at one point which required me to cash out an IRA. An obstacle I still face today is my lack of knowledge in marketing consumer products. I thought I was a good marketer, but that was only in the aerospace industry. I'm more knowledgeable now, but at first I was oblivious with what to do."
John offers some great insight for aspiring entrepreneurs. "At times it felt like you'd get one leg up and then the other one would get stuck," he said. "Don't ever give up. Believe in what you're doing. Find solutions to get to your goals." John's decision to revamp his distribution channels, increase brand awareness and sales through "franchise" like partnerships and his ability to outsource manufacturing and then bring it back in house are all evidence of his ability to find creative solutions and to take action.