Brad Finkel, the owner of Hoboken Farms, found a way to bottle a jar of happiness and sell it. The Wall Street Journal named Hoboken Farms the best jarred marinara sauce in the country. Finkel started his journey in his twenties. While Hoboken, New Jersey is known for its diverse culture and friendly atmosphere, he started off by bringing the taste of Hoboken to old friends and neighbors that moved out of the area. He would personally deliver old time favorites from classic Hoboken bakeries such as Italian bread from Marie’s Bakery or mozzarella cheese from Piccinni’s Deli (who, by the way, made the “best mozz in town” according to Finkel). Keith Buscio, Assistant Vice President, Director of Public Relations, Provident Bank, interviewed Brad Finkel to hear more about his success story.
KB: Tell us about Hoboken Farms
BF: I started Hoboken Farms in 1992, we are celebrating 25 years of producing a wide array of local foods including fresh mozzarella cheese, and baked bread throughout Hudson County. Most importantly, we produce our famous Hoboken Farms tomato sauce that is sold in stores all over the country (retail and wholesale). We participate in 30 weekly farmer’s markets in and around New Jersey that are produced by the Farmer’s Council, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and each individual municipality. Hoboken Farms is the only company in the country that has been able to sustain a business and farmers’ market of its size and leverage the quality and recognition to supermarkets. Right now, I do not have a storefront, I sold my brick and mortar Hoboken Farms restaurant. It was originally located in Summit, New Jersey.
KB: What challenges did you encounter while starting Hoboken Farms that Provident Bank was able to help you with?
BF: The biggest challenges for most small businesses are growing sales and managing expenses and cash flow. Provident is always very helpful with making sure I always have an adequate credit line. They have always been smart about how they have extended credit to me. If there was a certain amount of credit I needed, Provident has always been there to tell me “Brad, if you need this money, here’s a marker of how much you need to meet to earn that trust. Rest assured, we will always be a partner in your business.” For example, after Hurricane Sandy, we were completely decimated. We lost our warehouse and we were literally out of business for three weeks. I had bills that were due and absolutely no income coming in during this time. Provident helped me manage my cash flow to make it through this.
At this stage of the business, we are growing. Last year, our sales were up somewhere around 400%. It was one simple phone call and some paperwork and I got the credit line increase I needed, as well as advice on the best way to finance our growth. Provident has always been helpful to me and my business.
KB: How did Provident Bank demonstrate its brand promise of “Commitment You Can Count On” to help overcome these challenges and enable you to succeed?
BF: When I opened my first Hoboken Farms Restaurant in 2011, we raised money for the Community Foodbank of New Jersey. It was a “pay what you want” fundraiser and the income went to the foodbank. As I was explaining this fundraising effort to the branch manager at the Hoboken branch, she suggested coming on as a corporate sponsor. Within 45 minutes, I was informed that Provident was going to match the donations raised for this event. Because of this, I was able to promote the event more than I would have been able to do before and when the day came, we had a line around the block and in about a day and a half we raised about $10,000. This was a complete win for Hoboken Farms and a complete win for the Community Foodbank. This showed me how committed Provident is to their small businesses.
I have been a customer of Provident Bank for 20 years. The commitment shows with the front of house staff too. The way that I am treated when I walk into a branch makes me feel like the branch associates understand that I am running a business so they get me in and out very quickly. Everything always gets done to my expectations. If there is ever a discrepancy with a deposit, or an issue with my account, they call me ASAP! And just being able to walk into a branch to get a document notarized is fantastic and beyond helpful to me and my business. Where else would I be able to get all of this done? On another note, I even had a business meeting in the branch manager’s office. I was negotiating for some property and I needed a place where I could have a long and private phone call. Without hesitation, I was welcomed to have this phone call in the branch manager’s office, and I was in there for over 45 minutes. This was completely unplanned. Just another example of Provident’s commitment.
KB: How do you perceive your bank as a partner in your business? How important is a relationship with a bank?
BF: We all know that the bank is the middleman, they pay the bills and they do the transactions. Fundamentally, I look at my bank as my partner. Provident takes the time to understand my story and my background. I want a bank that’s flexible and able to expertly, enthusiastically, and creatively plan on how best to reach my goals. My goal is to build my business and to have the services and finances to be able to do so. Provident has been able to put out quality loans to quality businesses and that’s not just written down on an application, it’s spoken too. I know that Provident isn’t going to say yes to every credit line increase every single time, but they are always going to give me reasoning behind it.
A business’ relationship with their bank is extremely important. If I had a great opportunity, Provident would be expertly enthusiastic about it. Same goes for if I had a major issue I needed to overcome, Provident would be flexible and understanding with how to resolve any issue. To some degree a bank is a partner, you never really know that they’re there for until you need them, and that’s the way it should be. A bank is there for you when it’s necessary.
KB: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to make the leap to start or expand their business?
BF: Before you do it, make sure you have a really good team; lawyers, accountants, bankers, and mentors. These people should be able to help you avoid the common mistakes we as humans are most likely to make. Your team should also help you to understand cash flow and how to manage it. Become familiar with the difference between your bank balance (the amount of cash you have in your bank account) and your book balance (the amount of money available before any adjustments). Know the difference between markup and margin. These are very fundamental principles, but worthwhile to have a solid grasp of them and to understand them inside and out. You may have a business plan, but once you start your business, the business plan may as well go out the window. Be prepared for the unknown because the value is not in the plan, but it is in the planning. Every decision that you make has a known outcome and an unknown outcome. One of those solutions needs to have the flexibility to keep your business moving. Lastly, you need to delight your customers, satisfying them is not enough. Make your customers fans.