Home » All Start Local Episodes » Harnessing Tech to Grow a Business with Joy Beam and Gareth Yoder
Harnessing Tech to Grow a Business with Joy Beam and Gareth Yoder

Podcast published: October 9, 2020

Chester County boasts an amazingly diverse economy with strong, vibrant businesses ranging from pharma and medical technology to manufacturing, and from world class professional services to farming. We sat down with Joy Beam and Gareth Yoder of Cedar Meadow Meats to hear how they are harnessing technology to pivot their beef farm to a COVID-19 economy.



How did you start your business?

  • Joy’s grandfather started the farm back in the 1950s with beef and pork.
  • The backstory to Cedar Meadow Meats is interesting: Gareth and Joy had an idea to predict the health of cattle based on real time sensor information which would collect data to be fed into an algorithm.
  • They strapped a smartphone around the neck of one of the steers to track movements – and discovered that the concept was worthy of further exploration.
  • So, Joy and Gareth created a business plan and worked with Penn State Berks to pursue the idea.
  • They secured grant funding to conduct a client discovery study.
  • As they explored the product idea, their research revealed that that the hardware development would be costly and time consuming.
  • At an industry conference in February 2019, they had two realizations:
    • There were already well-funded companies and organizations pursuing the smart data product idea for managing the health of a herd.
    • Consumers were increasingly eager to know the provenance of their food: farm-to-table is a growing industry.
  • Those two understandings encouraged Joy and Gareth to pivot their business model.
  • Gareth built a website around that concept in late February/early March.

How did you pivot to a direct-to-consumer sales of beef?

  • The company booked slots with local butchers to prepare a number of steers for Spring 2020.
  • The challenge of wholesale beef sales is that it’s an all-or-nothing business: it’s not possible to butch 1/2 a steer. So, Joy and Gareth had to figure out how to sell the entire animal or risk losing money.
  • They started marketing on Facebook with a video about the new product.
  • Sales started locally with friends and family; after the sale of its first steer, COVID-19 hit.
  • Joy placed a big sign out front of the farm with “Beef” in big letters and the business phone number. That drew interest to the site.
  • Local word of mouth. Sold first quarter to family friend. Selling rest of it was harder.
  • Joy created a sign that said, “BEEF” + phone number that did a world of difference. People called and then went to website

How did you manage running the business as you got started?

  • Between the video on Facebook and the sign on the farm property, word of mouth referrals began to build interest in the direct-to-consumer steers.
  • When potential customers called the business phone, Joy and Gareth used a Google Sheet (spreadsheet) to capture data like the customer’s name, phone number, and where that customer was in the buying decision process.
  • Joy and Gareth use Google Docs and text messaging with each other to run the business.
  • Financial details are recorded in a shared Google Sheet.

How are you handling payments for your products?

  • Currently, Cedar Meadow Meats avoids credit card payments to avoid service fees.
  • Cedar Meadow Meats accepts Venmo (personal), PayPal (linked up with business email), check, or cash.

What are your plans for further growth?

  • Gareth and Joy will spend the winter months planning for the future – an e-commerce site might be on the horizon.
  • They will survey existing customers during the off-selling season to better understand their customers needs and wishes.
  • The current setup of the business is very informal, but as the idea proves successful, Joy and Gareth plan to iterate on their approach.
  • For the meat industry, summer is a busy period.
  • They hope to use Christmas as a marketing strategy – filling a loved one’s freezer with locally grown beef is a wonderful gift idea.
  • One misconception for consumers: US is known for premium beef on the world market; however the best meat products are sold overseas. At our grocery stores, we get a stepped down quality beef, so buying directly from farmers is a great way to get the best meat.
  • Customers can choose their own cutting instructions for how the beef is to be butchered.

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to another episode of Start Local, a podcast focused on helping small businesses in Chester County and the greater Philly area as we navigate through this Covid-19 economy. My name’s Joe Casabona, and I am here with my fellow co-hosts, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you? 

Liam Dempsey: Joe, I’m trying to sound very enthusiastic ’cause I was listening to the episode that we launched today and you were super enthusiastic, and I was kind of deadpan. So, I’m trying to be super enthusiastic. I’m really excited to be here today. 

Joe Casabona: Well, I am happy too. I have never questioned your enthusiasm, Liam.  I am just a loud New York, Italian.

Liam Dempsey: Thank you sir. 

Joe Casabona: Awesome. And before we bring in our guests, who I’m very excited to talk about today, I wanna tell you about the Start Local Monthly Newsletter. If you go to [startlocal.co/news], you can sign up for our very free, very monthly newsletter where you’ll get takeaways from every episode, tips and tricks for navigating through the Covid-19 economy. And you will get some news around the county and around Pennsylvania in general. So sign up. It’s totally FREE.  That’s again over at [startlocal.ceo/news]. 

And with that, I want to bring in our guests, they are Gareth Yoder and Joy Beam, the CEO and Production Manager, respectively of Cedar Meadow Meats. How are you both doing today? 

Gareth Yoder: Doing well, Joe. How about yourself?

Joe Casabona: I am doing fantastic. Thank you for asking. And Joy, how are you? 

Joy Beam: I’m doing great. And yeah. We appreciate you guys having us on today. Good pleasure. 

Joe Casabona: Our, the pleasure is all ours ’cause let me tell you, I am not good at anything that doesn’t involve a computer. So I’m always excited to talk to people who like work in the real world. So with that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, what exactly Cedar Meadow Meats is. 

Joy Beam: Sure. So I’ll start off. So my name of course is Joy Beam, and I’ve grown up on my family’s farm. I currently work off the farm on a day job, but then raise cattle on the side. It’s my side hobby. I also call it my walking bank account. So it’s been a lot of fun and been learning a lot. And I’d say my passion is cattle and providing wholesome quality product for the market and consumer. 

Joe Casabona: Fantastic. And Gareth? 

Gareth Yoder: Yeah. So I work in the tech industry. I work for a financial company as a technical lead, and when I’m not in front of the computer, I enjoy being outside and getting exercise and enjoying the nice days.

Joe Casabona: Nice. Very nice. And so Joy, this is your family’s farm. And is this the kind of main business? I was reading on your about page that it’s been in your family since the fifties ish? Is that right?

Joy Beam: Yeah. Yeah. That’s correct. So my grandpa started the farm actually, way back in the fifties. He brought hogs and cattle on here. And then my dad took over in like the 1990s. And then, so me and my siblings would be the third generation. All of us are working away from the farm right now, but we all hope to someday be involved [Inaudible 3:30.31] But, yeah. It is the primary source of income for my parents. And then two other families involved as well.Aand it’s our passion and our lifestyle. 

Joe Casabona: That’s absolutely fantastic. And before I throw it over to Liam, why don’t you tell us a little bit about, so we have the farm and then we have Cedar Meadow Meats, which is kind and an interesting business aspect that we’re gonna be talking about today. Right. 

Joy Beam: Yeah, absolutely. So Cedar Meadow Meats is the retail outlet of our family’s farm, which is called Cedar Meadow Swine. And we developed, we started Cedar Meadow Meats just this year, back in the spring before Covid hit. So we’re excited about that. We’re currently retailing beef through there, but then also we’ll be adding on pork for [Inaudible 4:21:93]

Joe Casabona: Nice. 

Liam Dempsey: That is fantastic. And before we get to real questions about the business, I have to ask, are there any Cedars near the meadow or is that just a nice name? 

Joy Beam: Yeah. No, great question. Yeah. So actually the name comes from, because we did used to have a Cedar meadow, and back when we kept our hogs outside, we actually just keep ourselves. Our [Inaudible: 4:47.84] out in the Cedar Medow. Since then, our production system has kind of evolved. So, we’ve found that hogs do better inside, so they’re not outside, typically anymore. But, yeah. We did use to have hogs on our Cedar Meadow. 

Liam Dempsey: There you have it folks. Now we know the story. So before we hit record, we were talking about the backstory for Cedar Meadow Meats and how that came about, and it was really a technology goal and aim that the two of you had around the business. Can you tell us about that please? 

Gareth Yoder: Yeah. I can start off. So last summer into last fall, we develop, or our goal was to try to predict the health of cattle based on real time sensor collection. And so we had this idea that we can use sensors to help predict the cattle’s health through tracking their activity and their movements. And then running that through an algorithm to try to determine if they’re exhibiting signs that they may need treated for a potential sickness.

And we started off, we had this idea, and we actually, to gather our data, we strapped a smartphone around the neck of one of the steers and then video record their movements. And I was able to get their activity recognition through the algorithm to around 85%. And that’s when we figured, “Oh, we might actually have something”. And so we started. We created a business plan. We worked with Penn State Berks TestLab and did some client work. Got some grant money for a client discovery for this product. 

And leading up to our client discovery event which was the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the NCBA,  event In the beginning of February, we started taking a deeper dive, and looking at the hardware pieces that were involved and a deeper dive into the software. And we realized the hardware pieces for the startup costs would be quite substantial. It would’ve taken a lot of time and resources that we really didn’t have. 

And then when we were down at the National Cattlemen’s and Beef Association in San Antonio, beginning of February, we saw some other competitors there that had some infinite resources and developing this technology out. And we were listening to one of the seminars, and the speaker said, people and consumers nowadays wanna know where their food comes from. They wanna know that their food is coming locally, and that, you know, spawned an idea and kind of led us to pivot away from the technical aspect to more now of a retail beef outlet. 

And so I had the technical sales. So I quickly built a website around this. And the end of February, beginning of March is when we actually launched our website and kind of launched our company. 

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. And so I love like a bunch of things about that story. But first, you know, I have a master’s degree in software engineering and one of the things that we talked about that like totally blew my mind, I never thought about it, and this was back in like the late two thousands, was that cattle and a lot of farm animals have sensors or tags, right? Where like you can kind of see their path. How different were the sensors that you needed from the tags that kind of had been on a cattle for some amount of time?

Gareth Yoder: Yeah. So the traditional tags are typically RFID tags, which is more or less just, as they would walk through an RFID sensor would record their number. The tags that we were using were sensors that had the accelerometer and the Gyrus Group in them. And then we would have to stream that data into the cloud then to do our data processing.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So you would essentially need like almost like a mini smartphone attached to.

Gareth Yoder: Correct. Yep. And that was one of the core hardware issues around keeping this idea from going deeper into it. Pursuing it farther. 

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. 

Joy Beam: And I’ll add into here. I’ll say agriculture as a whole is really looking at how we can implement technology into management of livestock for more efficient and more accurate management so that we can maybe treat earlier, but then use fewer antibiotics and maybe really cut down on some of there usages their. 

And I know that there industry some has some kind of form of this to both detect heat so you can be a little bit better with your breathing accuracy. And then yeah. Detecting sickness there too. So we were hoping to come in more from the beef market angle, but also produce a product would be cheaper than what’s currently on the market. 

But, obviously, we saw that there’s actually several other big players looking at the same thing right now. And, of course they have a lot of resources available to them that we don’t have. So..

Liam Dempsey: So while I wanna ask, if you were able to determine which one of the steers was the fastest from the metrics that you were? I ‘m gonna ask you actually about pivoting your business.

So the technological approach that you had wanted to take about health management through data collection and devices was maybe a bridge too far or one that you weren’t willing to go down. So you decided to pivot to customer based or direct to customer sales of beef. Talk about that because you, we talked beforehand about how folks are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from, and how the animals were cared for, and raised and treated. But then you still had to sell it. You had to let people know, we have steer available. We can properly butcher them and prepare them so that you can take ’em home and eat them. Talk to us about that. What was like that like? in February, in March since we Pivoted.

Joy Beam: Yeah. So we pivoted and then of course Garreth did an awesome job developing our website. And then, yeah. The goal was to get our name out there. We had several steers booked with a butcher for May, so that means we had product to get names on a move. 

And the other interesting thing about selling has holes and quarters. If you only sell half the animal, of course you can’t only butcher half the animal. So you gotta be able to sell in whole steer quantities and,  match up customer orders to fit whole steers there. 

So, I guess we started where any new business would start. Ofcourse the free marketing tools available, which would be probably number one, Facebook. So we made a little video describing the business that we started and what we had available. 

And then local word of mouth. So we sold the first quarter to somebody who knew us. I think who knew my dad through the township or something. And then of course we had the remaining three quarters we had to move. And that was a little bit of a tougher sale.  Thankfully one of our friends needed was able to move some with her mom. And they were able to save our first year that way. 

So that was the first year. And then covid hit [Inaudivle: 12:47.12] What road do you wanna go down with? Covid in mind, but, I’d say the story kind of flipped when that hit. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Talk about that. Yeah. Go ahead Gareth, I cut you.

Gareth Yoder: So, joy created a sign and she has quite a bit of traffic out at the end of her road and you know, big, big four letters, B-E-E-F and then with a phone number underneath. And as the price and the store was skyrocketing and on the news you heard this, the labor shortages at the processing plant, a simple, simple sign did a world of a difference just to get people calling us and getting that interest. And then we would point people to the website. And that’s where we started trying to communicate our story of this is local beef from Chester County.

Joe Casabona: That’s…

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I think that’s…Oh. Go ahead, Joe.

Joe Casabona: Oh, I was gonna say that’s incredible. And something that we’ve heard regularly on this show from other guests is, you know, people called, and then you pointed them to the website. were you doing anything to capture any of that information upfront, or was it when they placed orders? Like what, what did that kind of look like? 

Joy Beam: Yeah. So as far as capturing the information, when somebody called, we kept track of their phone number and how they heard about us and what their interest was. We also try to take notes on like if they had bought, and I’ll say bulk freezer beef before, or if they’d be a new customer to this kind of, I’ll call it an arena. Because yeah. There are some different kinds of how the process works, which is easy to explain. But then we knew kind of where to start with the process. But yeah, for sure trying to collect as much information as we could. And I’d say that’s one thing we’re trying to improve on for the coming year. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I just wanna ask a little bit more specifics on that because we do have listeners and an audience who may be trying to apply some of the lessons that you and Gareth, Joy are Leading on here. Is that a Google Doc? Do you have a C R M? Is it a paper notebook that you pass between the two of you? How are you recording this data in a way that will enable you to actually use it for the upcoming email campaign or updating the stories on your website, or thinking about what video do we need to shoot and what story do we need to tell?

Joy Beam: Yeah. So we are using a Google Docs right now, which is great. And for right now, it’s working well for us. Of course it’s only two of us involved in the company, and so it’s easy to communicate and then they communicate with texting on the side. So yeah, we have a page for our 2020 product and then the product, we hope to move in 2021 along with customers have already placed orders for 2021. And then, yeah. We keep track on their, what money has come in, of course check numbers and all of that good stuff. And, yeah, and then we’ll call on the phone and be able to pull that sheet right up and discuss it and change things on there as we talk and go from there.

So that’s what I’m told, that’s been working very well for us, in our current state of business.

Liam Dempsey: That’s fantastic. And let’s talk a little bit about the business side of things. So you’re selling beef that’s coming from Joyce Farm? How are folks paying for that? I didn’t get a chance to go through the process myself. I’m very interested in learning more. Is this, is your site e-commerc or did you make e-commerce site? Are you doing over the phone sales? How does it work? Again, thinking about other businesses that may be interested in pivoting, what does your payment process look like? 

Gareth Yoder: So for right now, we try to avoid credit cards mainly to avoid that fee. And it just helps keep our prices lower. So we were accepting Venmo, PayPal, and or check by the mail. And then if they were local, like if they drove past and saw the sign, they were more than welcome to just drop off either the check or cash to Joy.  

Looking at the future, we may consider adding that e-commerce section. For us, it was, let’s quickly just get something out there first this year and then we can start collecting feedback. We plan to have like a follow up thank you email and kind of a quick survey to all of our customers that bought from us this summer. Just asking, you know, what went well through the process, through was everything clear and and concise. Did it meet your expectations? And then offering, you know, asking for feedback. If there’d be something that you would improve upon, what would that be? And so we’ll take a look at that over the course of this winter and then we will be able to kind of enhance our business for whatever the customer is asking for.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. So you’re iterating, you’re let’s, we have three quarters of a cow, there I said it, I knew it was of a steer to sell that we have to do that. So let’s talk about Venmo and PayPal. Are those business accounts for you folks, or is that going into, you know, one of your accounts and you’re running it through that way? How does that work? Again, thinking about examples for others to follow. 

Gareth Yoder: Yeah. So right now we have a PayPal that’s linked up with my business email. And then the Venmo for right now is a personal Venmo. We look at this fall is when we’re gonna really kind of circle back around and get some of the formalities of this business in place. So, we definitely, we kind of did it as a trial for the summer to see how it actually goes. And it kind of, it surpassed our expectations and so that’s when we kind of have to loop back around and say, oh, let’s get a more official  in a couple of these areas. 

Joy Beam: Yeah. So I’ll add on to that as well. So currently if a customer makes out a check, they make it out to either myself, Joy Beam, and that’s been a point that’s been a bit misleading. We’ve had probably not too many, but we’ve had a few customers who make out a check to the actual Cedar Meadow Meats, and that’s not set up. We don’t have a bank account associated with that right now. So that’s one thing. We’re hoping to do over maybe our off selling season to really get a set up next year and make it easier for customers to use. 

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I love that. Right, because there’s a really good lesson here in that, you don’t need, it doesn’t need to be like the exact process you envisioned in the beginning, right. You can iterate, you got, you pivoted quickly from the idea, which I think is amazing ’cause I think a lot of people would just be like, well, I’ll just go back to my regular job. Then so you pivoted quickly. You set up a website quickly. And now you’re thinking about how to improve that process. So you mentioned the fall. Is summer a busy season for you? I know nothing about really anything outside of computers. 

Joy Beam: Yeah. So, I mean, I’d say traditionally grilling season is when people really start to think about meat. So probably your May, June, early July, sales are your strongest and that’s kind of what we thought to. But then we also have people  wanting some beef in Sep[tember. Maybe not as high a demand, but definitely some people there. And then we have people already booked out through this December and then next May. and then, yeah, so, and then we also have some freezer hogs available for the fall and spring for people looking for more immediate meat to fill the freezer. 

Joe Casabona: Nice. Do you see like an increase for like,  like Christmas ham or something like that? Like in the…

Joy Beam: We hope so. We hope so. But  yeah, so we’re hoping to kind of use Christmas as, I guess a marketing strategy, because I would think filling a family member’s freezer with would be a really cool christmas package. [Inaudible 20:40.32] I think 5 Square feet of freezer, you can do it that way, or even divide between family members. But yeah, it’s some premium. Sacred Christmas sounds pretty good to me, anyway. 

Gareth Yoder: That’s awesome. 

Joe Casabona: Yes.

Gareth Yoder:  It’s also Christmas gift.

Liam Dempsey: And I love the way that you’re packaging it, right? Because I mean, we see a cow or a steer in the field and, you know, there’s a 1500 or a 2000 pound animal. That’s not getting in my freezer anytime soon. But what does it look like when it comes butchered and packaged in five square feet? Well, that I can figure out and I’m no parts mathematician. So that’s really helpful. And I guess that goes back to that storytelling that Gareth was talking about and the data that you’re trying to get from folks who are inquiring of your business and inquiring of your products and learning from what’s their education standpoint? What’s their background? What do they know about this? Because yeah, it’s one thing to pop into to Whole Foods or to Giant and Acme and to buy a nice steak, but it’s quite another to go pick up 120 pounds butcher beef from a farm in Chester County. So that’s really interesting to think about how you’re translating for the folks who are new to the marketplace.

Joy Beam: I actually add one comment on here, but one misconception probably, I mean that consumers had that I didn’t realize until three years ago, is so the United States is known for premium beef throughout the world. We’re known as the highest quality beef. But actually all of our choice and prime steaks, which would be the highest quality steaks produced. Those are all sold on the overseas market. So you will not find those on the local grocery store shelf. I said some restaurants could have them. But cannot guarantee they all have them.

Sometimes the only way to really get that premium steak is to buy it direct from the farmer or at least really know where you’re getting that steak from.

Liam Dempsey: Look at us, Joe. We’re breaking cattle news right here on the podcast. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Well, this has been a fantastic conversation. I know I learned a lot, and I just love your story. It’s fantastic. if people want to get some meat or  want to learn more about you and your story, where can people find you? 

Gareth Yoder: Yeah. I’d say go ahead, check out our website, www.cedarmeadowmeats.com] and on there you’ll see a couple pictures about who we are, about the cattle that we raise, and then some of the benefits of beef. And you can see our prices of course, and you can choose if you want a quarter steer, a half steer, or a whole steer. And the kind of, the nice thing is that you don’t have to make that commitment for a whole steer. So you can, we link up four different people that don’t even know each other, that all could get a quarter. And for the size it really works out nice. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Joy Beam: And then of course customers get to choose their custom cutting instructions. So, I’m a huge fan of inch cut steaks compared to three quarter inch cut steaks cause they really hold the juice in their better. And, they grilled really nicely.

Joe Casabona: I’m going to remember that point specifically. Alright. So you will be able to find the link to Cedar Meadow Meats and more information in the show notes for this episode over startlocal.co. 

Joy, Gareth, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. Thank you so much for having us.

Liam Dempsey: Thanks so much folks. We’ll chat with you soon. 

Joe Casabona: Yes. Thanks everybody for listening. Until next time, stay safe out there.

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