Close Up: Rulebreaker
Jason Lucash has always wanted to do things differently. “I’m a dreamer,” he says. “I’m an entrepreneur from a family of entrepreneurs, and I love breaking the rules on purpose. My inspiration comes from doing things completely different from how they’ve been done before.”
Lucash has been involved in the promotional products industry for over 15 years. He is the co-founder of supplier Origaudio (PPAI 421483, S7), which was acquired by supplier HPG in September 2018. “I am in a unique situation,” says Lucash. “After I sold my company in 2018, I didn’t have to continue working. I live in the Bay Area and Origaudio was the fastest-growing supplier in the industry for five years in a row. I decided to sell to HPG because I wanted to continue to set the industry ablaze and leave my stamp. I want to continue to innovate, and Batch has allowed me to do that, which is why I still enjoy doing this daily. It’s new challenges and new objectives, just with more arsenal behind me.”
After the acquisition, Lucash joined HPG and is currently a board member and its chief development officer. “In August 2019, I was in New York at Chelsea Market and I had that ‘eureka-aha’ moment of there’s all these cool food brands that exist in the U.S.,” he says. “Why aren’t they in the promotional products industry?”
Jason Lucash's favorite batch kit, the "Speakeasy."
That question led Lucash to create Batch & Bodega in August 2020, an upscale take on customizable food gift boxes that focus primarily on promoting makers’ stories. “It’s crazy that I learned so much about the food industry in a year after knowing nothing as a previous tech guy,” says Lucash. “I mean, I could tell you how to build a speaker or a power bank with all the necessary testing requirements like the back of my hand, but I knew none of that with food. I learned on-the-fly from working with our makers.” In April, a fresh food line was added to the premium food kits, expanding the unique offerings and tapping into a new market in the promo industry.
“All of the food gifts I have ever gotten from the promo industry have been lackluster,” says Lucash. “There’s no nutrition facts or origin stories, and that’s when it clicked in my head: If someone could bring in these cool food brands with amazing stories behind them, support small businesses and flip the food model on its head in our sector, they would do really well.” Last August, HPG accelerated the launch of the new food gift brand, shipping exclusive, award-winning snacks from across the U.S. in giftable kits. “I ran my own company for 10 years with over 100 people, and now with HPG, there are 1,000 employees working here and it allows for things to get done much faster. Batch & Bodega was able to launch so quickly because of the teams of people working together, which is one of the reasons why I sold my company to HPG.”
Lucash says he built the Batch & Bodega industry supplier model very similarly to his company, Origaudio. “No minimum, no set-up fees, full digital printing and shipping in three days or less,” says Lucash. “My partner Mike [Szymczak] and I started the industry trend for this model many years ago with Origaudio and it caught on with other suppliers trying to adopt it. I said, ‘If we are as successful with Batch & Bodega as we were with Origaudio, we will continue to gain major market share. If you look at all the other suppliers in the food sector, they have high minimums, long lead times, and you can’t order just one, which is unfortunate for such a gift-heavy sector.”
But what really makes Batch & Bodega stand out are the people behind each specialty snack. “We are leading with the makers’ stories,” says Lucash. “If you go to the Batch & Bodega website, we market the makers’ stories more than the Batch story, because it’s about the makers making that food. For me, that’s actually one of the most rewarding things about doing Batch & Bodega because I was a small-business owner and now, I am supporting other small-business owners. Especially during the pandemic, we really kept a lot of these businesses afloat with some having to move into bigger factories because of the demand we’ve created for them—which is awesome.”
For potential Batch makers, Lucash says there are five checks and balances they must pass. “First, what’s the maker story?” says Lucash. “Second, prior to us launching the fresh food line, it had to be shelf-stable. Third, it must have an amazing taste. Fourth, cool packaging and lastly, it must be able to scale up or support the promo industry’s demand cycle, which can be unpredictable.” Lucash says the vetting process for makers is the most important part of the business. “We can only look as good as our partners.”
Even with the perks of taste testing, Lucash says launching Batch & Bodega’s new fresh food line was one of the hardest projects he has worked on in the past five to seven years. “It’s been insane figuring out how to ship perishable food made the day before or day of and get it to customers’ doors in 24 or 48 hours. That’s just logistics and real life Tetris. If it doesn’t deliver in the timeframe we’ve accounted for, and it’s a six-pint box of ice cream, the dry ice only lasts for 24 hours and someone’s going to get melted ice cream on their doorstep.”
In the weeks since its launch, Lucash says the fresh line has received an amazing response. “If we can have success with shelf-stable makers, I said, ‘Let’s bring perishables into the market.’ You can now order ice cream from a liquid nitrogen ice cream store in Newport Beach, California, or handmade cookies from a family-run cookie business in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
For 2021, Lucash wants to do three times the business he saw last year. After blowing through a six-month forecast in six weeks, Lucash knows it’s possible. “I am hoping to have a massive holiday season this year, and I think we will. We are adding more fresh makers to have a more robust holiday offering, and we are on pace to meet that goal. A personal goal of mine is to also support more small businesses and have more people experience the absolute deliciousness that I’ve experienced, especially from our fresh makers.”
For the promo industry’s future, seeing small businesses flourish has Lucash optimistic. “We have such a talented workforce and such creative people who continue to create cool stuff. I am really optimistic about bringing those people into the promo industry, specifically food makers. I’m also excited about the future of small-batch makers and small businesses created during the pandemic. Like Origaudio, Uber, Pinterest and Tesla in 2009, the best businesses are born during crazy times. There’s no better time to create something new than when times are tough.”
PPB spoke with Lucash to learn more about how he breathes life into ideas and his advice for other industry leaders hoping to do the same.
PPB What do all great ideas have in common and how do you make them a reality?
Lucash I think people who have done innovative and different things all have in common the ability to do something different than how it’s ever been done before. If an electric car doesn’t exist, build an electric car. If a social media platform to communicate has never existed, create the concept. For me with Origaudio, we made our mark by building speakers made from recycled materials that could fold and unfold like origami. That didn’t exist and we saw a need in the market. Same with Batch & Bodega; if there is no fresh food in the industry that can be shipped fresh or food kits that can be ordered in one piece, do it. Great ideas are successful because nothing has been done that way before.
PPB What concerns you most about the future of the promo products industry?
Lucash This industry has to innovate and do things differently. There’s been so many suppliers and distributors who have really changed the way products are bought and sold within the market. For distributors to continue to have a leg up on the competition, they must have more innovative and value-add ways to sell and market products to corporate buyers. During COVID, a lot of those small- and mid-sized companies have closed up shop. Distributors must continue to evolve and change the way products are sold to end buyers. Suppliers need to build and innovate products that are more attractive to end buyers and not keep doing things the way they’ve been done for 50 years in this industry. Innovate—bring new concepts to market to push the boundaries of the whole industry because that’s the only way the industry is going to evolve and continue to grow. If we challenge each other, the industry will flourish.
Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB.