Innovation, Growth and Community

Innovation, Growth and Community

Denis Kreft, president and CEO of Imaginasium, and Keith Lindsey, president and CEO of Salm Partners, sat down to discuss Salm Partners’ incredible growth and innovation, the company’s approach to hiring, and their commitment to their people, customers and the community of Denmark, Wisconsin. Salm Partners is the nation’s largest co-manufacturer of fully cooked sausage and hot dogs, producing about 15% of the fully-cooked sausage in the United States for the world’s most trusted brands and retailers.


Denis: Keith Lindsey, welcome to Coffee & CEOs.
Keith: Morning, Denis.
Denis: Yeah, good to have you here. I appreciate you taking the time to come in. Let’s start out, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role and your company?
Keith: Sure. My name is Keith Lindsey, I’m CEO and president of Salm Partners. Salm Partners is the country’s largest co-manufacturer of fully cooked sausage in the country. And what that means is we co-pack, so we don’t have a brand—we make for other people’s brands, and we make fully cooked sausage. This would be the product in the back deli wall of the grocery store.

The origins of our company are essentially innovation. Innovation to us is the implementation of an idea into a marketplace. So people spend a lot of time inventing ideas and finding new inventions. But then getting them to be commercialized and launched at scale is a very tricky proposition. Essentially, our company was created to help that innovation step happen.

To this point, we make about 15% of the fully cooked sausage in the country. We have about 450 partners that work with us in Denmark, Wisconsin—we hope that to be about 550, about five months from now with our new expansion that we’re going through. And it’s just been a really, really exciting time where we’ve been able to help a whole lot of brands in the country grow their market share with a great quality food safe product.

Denis: So you’ve had some rapid growth. And hiring, retention in today’s marketplace is so challenging. There aren’t enough good workers out there for the positions that are available. How did you go about finding these great people to grow so quickly? What’s the magic?
Keith: There’s never a silver bullet. So we have a several-pronged approach. Some of our best people come from referrals of our current team. You know, recently we implemented a referral program, where we recognize those who bring others to the organization as candidates for different roles.

We also have a, what I believe is a very unique and specialized recruiting and selection system. The process that we have is just as important for us as it is for the person who is going to be joining our company or who’s considering joining our business.

So it really starts with the role description. And it’s not just a list of tasks. It’s about—we incorporate the behavioral portion of it. For example, we talk about the candor, the candid conversations with teammates and vendors and management. That’s built right into the role description. When you come into our organization, you do everything you can to help each other be successful. You do whatever it takes, whatever is necessary, such that the customer has a great experience. So those things aren’t relative to the job that they applied—that they’re actually going to do in terms of tactical and, you know, day-to-day activities. But those behaviors have to be exhibited every day.

Denis: I was gonna ask about why Denmark—that’s my hometown, I don’t know if you know that—and, and you guys really changed the face of the village.
Keith: Yeah.
Denis: It’s kind of cool.
Keith: Yeah, Denmark’s been a great partner. Our mission at Salm Partners is to provide an avenue of growth partners. We define our partners as the community that we live in, work in, so Denmark, and we also do have a joint venture in Decatur, Alabama … our suppliers that provide us the raw materials that we turn into our finished good … our customers who take our products to grow their position in the marketplace, and we give them a market advantage … and then those that work inside our company, our internal partners. So it’s been fun to see the growth of all four of those over the now 15-year time period.
Denis: You guys are growing like crazy fighting for good people. What’s your secret?
Keith: Yeah. Yeah, well, the secret is to be flexible, adapt and be ready to change. Because it’s a quick it’s a quick market.
Denis: Right.
Keith: But yeah, so—but outside of that we want to retain people and make, you know, make meaningful careers at Salm Partners. Absolutely. Because we are 15 minutes outside Green Bay.
Denis: Yeah.
Keith: We do run buses on three times a day from Green Bay to help people get—take care of that transportation leg. Because it is, it’s not too far, but it’s far enough. And there’s a lot of people inside Green Bay that are closer that are hiring. So once we—so we need to offer a very competitive, very competitive opportunity to our partners. I’ve been using the word partner—we refer to everyone that works inside our company as a partner. Because our view is that an employee is somebody who works for a paycheck, and a partner is someone that you work with to solve a common problem. And so we like to find people that are coming to Salm Partners to solve problems and work hard and hopefully accomplish a lot along the way.
Denis: Yeah. You mentioned you don’t have a brand. Yet you’ve got all your internal partners that you want to feel proud about Salm and what you do in the community. So what’s the intention behind not having a brand? How is that going to evolve? How do your internal partners relate to not having a brand externally but internally?
Keith: Yeah.
Denis: Can you talk a little bit about that?
Keith: One of the reasons why we haven’t emphasized our brand in the past has been that we don’t have a brand at retail. So if—one of the fun, one of the things I like doing with, during our town halls, is to put up a picture of a local grocery store, and show all the products in the case that were made at our facility, because you look at it and not a single one says Salm Partners on it, but close to 20% of the packages in that case have come from Denmark, Wisconsin. And it’s a way of helping our partners see the impact—especially the newer ones that don’t know all of our products quite yet that we produce for customers—see the impact of our company. Often we get questioned, why don’t we have a brand—we have the capability of producing product, why not have a brand?
Denis: Right.
Keith: I should say a retail brand.
Denis: Retail brand, yes.
Keith: We all have a brand, we don’t have a retail brand. And for us, it’s been a very conscious decision. And it’s been that we want to focus on the manufacturing for our customers. So again, they can focus on the marketing, product ideation, creation. And then we can know what our lane is, which is we’re going to be the best in the world at manufacturing fully cooked sausage. And then two, we can go to our customers and say, we’re not competing against you in the marketplace. There are other people in the country that will co-pack for brands, but generally they have a brand, a retail brand of their own. And if they could make all their products, fill their line with a retail brand, they’d do that, and co-packing is something they do to cover overhead, utilize some of their line time. Whereas we can go to our customers and say, “We are in this with you. The only way we grow is if you grow.” And I think that’s a strong message that we’re able to give our customers of being true partners with them.
Denis: Yeah, definitely. Appreciate you coming today and sharing your story with us.
Keith: It was fun. Thanks for the time, and appreciated the invite.

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