From Hobby to Career: An Interview with Big Johnson Jerky
We recently reached out to one of our most loyal and engaged customers, Bryan Johnson, owner of Big Johnson Jerky, to ask about the growth of his company. We asked him about how he started his business, how he engages with his audience, and how he has gotten where he is today. Read the full interview to discover how his business started, and how you can follow his lead when growing your own company.
What got you interested in the jerky and snack business?
Johnson- “Beef jerky has always been something I enjoyed eating growing up, and I still remember the first time my dad taught us how to make it. We would take trips to our local grocery store, buy the thinnest cuts of meat, and make jerky for road trips or trips out of state. We would stop at jerky shacks in Indian country and purchase jerky too. Everything from authentic Native American jerky to gas station sheet jerky, I would always seek it out… As I approached the age of 26, I needed a job that would pay me good benefits. In 2016 I started working at Costco Wholesale as a rotisserie chicken man, where I spent long days cooking endless chickens for Costco members. There was something about serving people and making people happy that kept me going. I was always inspired by Costco’s success and their heavy footprint in the retail industry. It sparked a fire in me that still burns strong today.”
“I wanted to be well known for something that I had a passion for. After my first year at Costco, I decided that I wanted to do something a bit bigger. I made a small batch of beef jerky for one of my film trips to Guatemala one year, and while I was on the plane eating my jerky a lightbulb went off in my head."
“Maybe I can try to sell this stuff and make some extra money too. The second I got home, I made a new batch and cut it up into small sample size pieces. I typed up a brief introduction of my goal and promise to my customers, stapled it to a ziplock with my samples, and handed it out to as many people as I could. Slowly but surely, people started to ask me for more. I made my first 'big batch' and filled my first 'orders' and my jerky brand was born! My little hobby began to take off and before I knew it, I was doubling and tripling up on my batches. I decided from that day on, that jerky was what I wanted to invest most of my time in. I would work 30-40 hours per week at Costco, and on my days off, I would work on my jerky recipes. 'Big Johnson Jerky' was no longer a hobby, it was a full-time preoccupation.”
How do you reach and connect to your customer base?
Johnson- “I connected with my customers mostly through Instagram, collecting small donations in exchange for trying my products. When I first started back in 2017, I had no experience with any social media beyond Facebook or Myspace…It wasn’t until about mid 2018 that I started putting more time into my social media account and actually tried to seek out more followers. I began reaching more and more people, and slowly but surely I kept improving my jerky and services. I was still learning social media and trying to find my own style of marketing.”
What has contributed the most to the growth of your company?
“I would say that with the help of Instagram and the tools I was able to utilize through them, such as polls and feedback from my followers, I was able to fine tune my recipes and processes through trial and error as well as utilize social media to get my recipes to where they are today. I think it is very important to listen to your customers because without them, you wouldn’t be providing your products in the first place. The customer is your anchor, and they know what they like. I feel it is my duty to provide nothing less than what my customers want, and most of all, quality products.”
"'Big Johnson Jerky' was no longer a hobby, it was a full-time preoccupation."
How did you come up with the name and logo for your company?
Johnson- “I decided to start making jerky and attribute it to a brand name that may someday be well known. I did some searching online to see different beef jerky brand names to get some ideas. I knew I wanted to use my name in is somehow, so naturally, Johnson came to mind. I thought, 'What would sound good with Johnson?' I had seen many other jerky names through Instagram and one brand stuck out to me.. Mammoth Jerky Co. I liked the way that sounded and their slogan said something along the lines of 'Mammoth Flavor and heat.' Then it hit me, 'Big!' The idea was born, 'Big Johnson Jerky, Big Meat, Big Flavor.'
Next, I needed a good logo. I sat down and started drawing out different logo possibilities for my company. I wanted something that reflected my native heritage but I also wanted something simple but attractive. First, I drew out a couple ideas for a logo. The first design idea was to have me wear an Einstein wig and be in the center of the logo. But I wanted something sooner, so I took a photo that was taken back in 2010 because it was the only photo I had that had a green screen in the background. So we used that and it all kind of fell into place.”
What do you look for in packaging?
Johnson- “For me personally, when it comes to packaging, I want something that will be durable, presentable, and classy. Preferably something that can be resealed in case someone wants to graze on it throughout the day or save some for the next day. I want a bag that I can be proud to show off and that will represent my brand in a positive light.”
How did you discover QQ Studio?
Johnson- “When I first started making jerky I was using the typical ziplock bags most people have in their pantries today. I would make a batch of jerky and cut the finished product into small bite size pieces. I would then type up a short introduction of my goals with my jerky and my contact information. I would pass out samples to people I knew and some that I didn’t know. Before I knew it, people started placing orders! A bit later on, I “upgraded” to food saver heat seal bags. In 2018 or 2019, when I was searching for a new bag that would represent my brand, I discovered these cool window standup resealable black matte bags that I still use to this day. Instantly, I knew these were the bags for me, so I decided to go to the source rather than through Amazon, and that’s how I found QQ Studio. All these years later, I am still a proud customer and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a quality bag company.”
What is your biggest goal for the future of your company?
Johnson- “My biggest goal for the future of my company is to become one of the top 3 craft jerky brands on the market. I hope to go into business with my Native American Indian tribe that I am enrolled in and mass-produce my brand with my main goal being to help put my tribe on the map and most importantly, employ tribal members in the process. I also plan to connect my brand with a known charity so when you purchase my products, you know that a portion of my sales are going toward a good cause.”
Clearly, Johnson is working hard to turn his passion into a professional business. The future looks bright for his company. Be sure to follow Big Johnson Jerky on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with the status of his business. Also, check his new website, which will be coming soon. Johnson has also branched out into the dried fruit and gummy market. If you would like to learn more, check the sister company Big Johnson Goodies. Follow Johnson’s lead if you too are interested in following your goals and growing your company! If you are interested in other thriving businesses utilizing QQ Studio packaging, read our Interview with Olde Virden or MDX Headliner.