Sometimes a career in an unrelated business can ultimately provide an excellent foundation for an entrepreneur to launch a food business, even if the path doesn’t seem too straight at the time.
A youthful entrepreneur, Lori Volk started her first business cleaning boats in Ventura Harbor, while living on her father’s sailboat. A wonderful thing that happened during that time was that she met her husband Tom at the harbor. They have now been married over three decades and have three children.
Her “grown-up” job was in sales and marketing for a cellular telephone company: Cellular One at the time, later bought by AT&T. “It was the best professional preparation for me. The skills I acquired and developed in that career have been invaluable,” Lori explains. “I learned interpersonal skills, how to talk with customers. I became confident selling a product I believed was a good fit for each customer.”
With the birth of the couple’s third child, the Volks had decided that they could make one income work. Lori was able to be home with the children and think about new business ideas. One day, Tom came home with what looked like a dead tree in a pot. “It didn’t have any leaves, but we planted it anyway. We even watered it occasionally, though I’m guessing our neighbor’s water actually extended over to this poor tree and kept it alive.”
“All of a sudden this courageous little tree had lots and lots of lemons on it. How did that happen! To top it off, we discovered that they were the delicious Meyer lemons.” (Meyer lemons have a sweeter, less acidic flavor than a standard lemon, so they are prized for juice and baking. Alice Waters and Martha Stewart drove its popularity in the U.S.)
As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. “Ojai can get hot, so our kids had a popular lemonade stand. When I created a lavender lemonade recipe, it was so good that everyone who tasted it said we should bottle it. This planted the seed that became Lori’s Original Lemonade.”
“Once I decided to create a business with my lemonade, it released a massive amount of adrenaline. From that point on it was a whirlwind of activity. I worked very hard, and within 4 months I had bottles on the shelf in a local store.”
Since then Lori has not stopped learning and investing in her business. From the beginning, she absorbed every bit of knowledge she came across. Because she has been so open, she has been able to benefit from the counsel of significant mentors, asking about things she didn’t understand, being referred to other experts and resources.
“From the beginning we have never cut corners. Everything is done the best way we possibly can, because we are laying the foundation for a growing operation. To fulfill that goal, I have been willing to put in an enormous amount of time.”
“Every day my business challenges me, but I know I can do this. After all, if I could sell a $2000 cell phone back in the 80’s, I can sell a $3 bottle of lemonade now!” Lori says with a smile.