A journey of creating and delivering flavorful meat snacks, corn dogs, pre-cooked bacon, smoked sausage, appetizers, pet treats and other value added products
He has always been a serial entrepreneur and believes he inherited it from his father who passed away when he was 18. He ran small businesses in high school and throughout college, and has always been attracted to new ventures. So, when the idea for a new venture was pitched to him, he couldn’t reject. He got in the food business and was largely driven around his respect for his partner who had spent his entire career in that space. During the due diligence period, he also learned that his partner had a significant following. He correctly predicted that if his partner got involved in starting his own business many of his partner’s associates would follow. But how could have he known that more than decade later their business would grow to become a leading producer and distributer of packaged meat products, snacks, and appetizers. How could have he known that the company he was starting with nine employees would grow to employ 3000 team members? He couldn’t have. But it was his faith in his partner and in their idea that grew the company. He is Karl Schledwitz, his partner is Wes Jackson, and the company is Monogram Foods.
Karl and Wes founded Monogram Foods in 2004 after purchasing King Cotton and Circle B brand meats from Sara Lee Corp. Today, Monogram Foods creates and delivers flavorful meat snacks, corn dogs, pre-cooked bacon, smoked sausage, appetizers, pet treats and other value added products. Monogram’s broad portfolio includes products such as beef jerky, sausage, hot dogs, pre-cooked bacon, and other processed food items. While on the other hand, Monogram has plethora of brands that include Circle B®, King Cotton®, and Trail’s Best Meat Snacks®.
Customer satisfaction is prioritized.
Over the years, Monogram has appreciated the importance of its customers for private label brands and co-packed brands. Monogram has earned the trust of its customers and has produced over one-billion dollars of business without a single product recall. Monogram’s rapid growth in private label and strategic co-packing is based on producing consistently to customer specifications, food safety, service, innovation, production capabilities and exceptional total value. Monogram manufactures a full line of savory, nutritious meat snacks including jerky, meat sticks, pickled products, corndogs, pancake and sausage on a stick, mini corndogs, precooked bacon, a wide variety of appetizers, and more. The company formulates its products to meet rigorous taste and quality standards, and ensures that their products meet the same strict standards as national brands. Monogram understands its product categories and shares its experience in packaged goods with their partners, helping to ensure that the products they choose to put their name on are competitive and relevant to customers. Monogram’s in-house creative department offers design services and is proud to have developed some of the strongest packaging and merchandising vehicles in the marketplace.
For Monogram, maintaining over 40% annual growth rates has truly been invigorating, but it has also been extremely challenging. Monogram puts growth in the first sentence of its mission statement, “Grow our team. Grow our customers. Grow profits together.” Everybody knows Monogram is a growth company. “When you are a growth company there are always a lot of uncertainties, sometimes some insecurity and lots of ups and downs. Not everyone can survive much less thrive in such a fast paced environment,” asserts Karl.
Growing with the team and customers makes profits
Monogram is primarily a co-packer and private label manufacturer. “In other words, 80% of our revenue comes from making products for private label retailers and/or other branded companies. As a result our brand strategy is limited to primarily regional brands that don’t directly compete with the national brands we co-pack for. In the jerky section, we are very proud of the Wild Bill’s jerky which has a cult like following. Regionally in the mid-south area, we have King Cotton and Circle B brands, our fastest growing brands,” he adds.
Karl says if given the choice, he would always invest capital and upgrade existing infrastructure with smart technologies as opposed to acquiring another business. The main difference is not having to paint the sky blue for an acquisition. If Monogram invests in their current assets, organic growth and opportunity happen through increased internal capacity. Karl believes the other important benefit in today’s environment is new technology and automation. He firmly trusts that almost every CEO of any food company would say the number one priority of the food industry is food safety. The number two priority for Karl is being able to attract, retain and train a qualified work force. Automation increases food safety and decreases the effects of employee turnover on production. Hence, automation is a big advantage in this food industry market.
Never, never, never give up.
“I truly believe a company’s culture is the one thing that you can control that can set you apart. My partner, Wes Jackson, and I focus on company culture in everything that we do. We are in the process of adding a full time Chief Development Officer who will help us make sure that the values of the company are engrained in every step from hiring, to orientation through advancement,” affirms Karl on company’s culture. “I don’t know that there is any moment that one realizes that the hard work is paying off. When you are growing as fast as we are it is something you can never take your eye off of,” he adds.
Karl’s favorite advice to give to anybody wanting to be an entrepreneur is summed up in the tag line he has added to his signature line in which he borrows his favorite quote from Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.” You just have to have positive attitude combined with a hard work ethic and make sure you are pursuing a company vision with passion.
Meet the spearhead
Karl Schledwitz was born and raised in Frayser, TN. He worked his way through college at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where he was Student Body President and was heavily involved in democratic politics. Karl also worked full-time through his graduation from the University of Memphis Law School. Karl began his career as a lawyer and real estate developer and transitioned to entrepreneurship in the 1980’s by raising private equity for start-up companies. He has since raised over $250 million of private capital.
In 2014, Ernst & Young recognized him as the Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2017, Karl was selected as the recipient of the Meatingplace’s Richard L. Knowlton Award, recognizing his innovation and business acumen within the meat industry. Also in 2017, the National Provisioner named Monogram Foods “Processor of the Year.” Most recently in 2018, Inside Memphis Business honored Karl with the title of “CEO of the Year” for the 1000+ employees category.
Karl is an active member of the community, having managed several political campaigns, served ten years on the Board of Trustees for the University of Tennessee, is a Board Member Emeritus for the Memphis Zoo after serving on their board for 16 years, and he is currently serving as a Board Member for the University of Memphis Law School, Orpheum Theatre and Memphis Tomorrow.