Boho Soul Market: Customer Discovery Process

Nov 16th, 2020

Boho Soul Market is a small manufacturer of fermented foods and beverages–kombucha–operating out of Minnedosa, Manitoba.  Their products are produced and bottled in-house and distributed to retailers in communities including (but not limited to) Onanole, Wasagaming, Dauphin, Brandon, and Winnipeg.  Flavours include Raspberry Lemon, Blueberry Ginger, Hibiscus Lime, and Tangerine Mint.  Boho Soul Kombucha is popular with health-conscious people in Westman. 

Boho Soul’s founder, Magen Swift, began making kombucha for personal health reasons, and slowly grew her hobby into a business, brewing it at a local coffee shop and then in February 2019 opening her own storefront, Boho Soul Market.  She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her story.  What interests us today is how Boho Soul Market takes two common business problems in regulatory costs and customer feedback and handles them together with a single elegant solution.

Magen tells us that she spends a lot of time using creative energy and “playing around with flavour ideas” which she will then “test out with the public.”  In Magen’s early growth phases, selling on-site or at farmer’s markets, the law only required that she provide contact information and an ingredient list.  Once she began to bottle and wholesale her products, a full package label became mandatory. 

Every industry has its own set of regulatory obligations.  The significant one for a small food manufacturer is the mandatory nutritional label which Magen calls “a rather expensive obstacle.”  Any product to be sold wholesale must first be sent to an official government laboratory for analysis and approval.  In Boho Soul’s case this regulatory requirement is even more challenging because it is a bioactive fermented beverage, containing trace amounts of alcohol.  The Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie coordinates the kombucha’s testing at multiple labs for this process.  This regulatory process costs several hundred dollars per flavour.  And as every flavour requires separate analysis, the costs add up. 

A larger producer can absorb these costs readily, but for a small business like Boho Soul, which operates with less funding and investment, this becomes a risk for every new product.  If customers try samples, give positive feedback, but then return to their old favourites, that investment, effort, and inventory is lost.  Every new creation is a gamble on the marketplace. 

To get useful information about what customers really think is more difficult than it seems on the surface.  Consider how often major corporations with gigantic marketing resources launch doomed new products.  It’s so difficult that the entire big data market research industry orbits this problem.  Companies like Google and Facebook spend billions of dollars in research and development to get tiny gains in consumer behaviour predictions.  This problem draws so much focus because there is a big gap between a person showing interest in a product and that person becoming a buyer.  Consumers will hear a concept pitch or try a sample, sincerely like what they are presented, but then never think about the product again or support that business.  This pattern makes a lot of marketing or product research useless.  And this doesn’t include people who contaminate results with false positive feedback given out of a sense of politeness.  Review or focus group information often fails to translate to actual sales.  This is the difference between what customers say they will buy and what they will actually buy (perhaps “their money is not where their mouth is”).

This is why entrepreneurs need to put energy into observation beyond asking friends a few questions or taking uninformed risks on products.  People will tend to be supportive of an idea, to a fault.  Customer behaviour speaks far more than a survey or customer feedback ever can.  If a business takes a risk on a new product or service that fails to convert to real sales, that business may have not done enough research.  Sales are what tell the truest story because as the cliché goes (and actually means) the customer (meaning a person who has made a purchase) is always right–not the reviewer, not the focus group, and not the hopeful business owner.

Magen’s solution to this problem is an “extended product line available in the brewery.”  Labelling regulations are far more relaxed for products sold at the point of production, remember.  Presently Boho Soul Marketplace has two taps, and Magen tells us that she intends to install more.  These taps aren’t only for in-store exclusive flavours or quicker service: they function as a customer discovery centre which for Magen’s business gets better and more useful customer information than big data ever can.

So Magen creates new flavours and offers samples to customers.  Any sample products which produce polite smiles and nods from customers can then move to the taps.  There, Magen can see whether a new creation can convert smiling sample drinkers to regular buyers.  After a trial period certain flavours prove more popular, and only those top performers get promoted to the primary bottled line-up–she’s sending two new ones away in the new year–and Boho Soul gets far better odds when risking money and effort on new products.

Magen’s exact solution to the feedback gap won’t work for every business, but the wider principle of observing what customers will actually buy through trial models or alternative channels can translate to other business models.  The trick is to develop the insight which gets the best information about a particular product or service.  Businesses don’t need to spend big money on full profiles of every person who comes through the door or to collect terabytes of data about wide markets.  Observing your own customers will provide the best information.

So congratulations to Boho Soul Marketplace for finding a low-tech solution to this oldest problem in sales, and thanks to Magen for answering our questions.  You can visit Boho Soul at 66 Main Street South in Minnedosa or on their website, Facebook, or Instagram.  Kombucha delivery is available, and Boho Soul products are sold at many retailers in Manitoba.