A conversation with Bill Coleman

06/01/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

First, Bill Coleman sold his travel trailer to help start his Bill’s Homegrown business.

Then, he sold his golf cart.

“That’s when my wife knew I was serious.”

Coleman – “just like the cooler, no relation” – was a drywaller when he got the idea for a pepper-based salt substitute. He calls it Heat.

“I wanted it to be fun,” Coleman said.

That’s why he’s determined not to take on debt to do the company.

“I didn’t want a lot of stress in it.”

Coleman, 61, had been a drywaller his entire career.

“I’ve joked about this,” he said. “I grew up wanting to be in the drywall business. I was living what I wanted to do.”

When the physical demands of the job drove him to do more office work, he started thinking of the salt substitute he created and what he might be able to do with it.

A year and a half ago, Coleman started Bill’s Homegrown. He called a friend who works in produce for Dillons to inquire about getting more peppers. The friend said what he needed to be investigating was getting his product into the chain’s stores.

“Which was flooring to me because that wasn’t the intention,” Coleman said.

Eventually, all Dillons stores in Kansas will carry it, but for now Heat is mostly in Dillons Marketplaces.

Coleman said he’s now in talks with Whole Foods Market and Fresh Market, and he’s experimenting with some other products, including a dip and a smoothie blend.

“Shipping has kind of been a thorn in our side,” he said.

Once that issue is resolved, Coleman said he has other things to tackle.

“I’m still exploring possibilities of expanding it out,” he said of getting the product a broader reach.

Coleman also is working part time in the pro shop at Rolling Hills Country Club.

“You’ve got to find some way to support the habit.”

Along with receiving a crash course in opening a business, Coleman says he acquired a 900-square-foot west-side space to dehydrate his peppers.

“I’ve got it out of my house, and my wife is a happy camper.”

What made you invent a salt alternative?

About five years ago, I was told by a doctor that I needed to cut back on my salt. I truly was a saltaholic. It was terrible.

Why did you think of peppers?

I remembered what my father did, because they told him the same thing when I was young, and what he had done was starting cutting up jalapenos to flavor his food to get past the use of salt.

Then some friends suggested dehydrating your own peppers?

So I started my own garden. I grew a variety of peppers and ended up with the three that I use for my blend now. Honestly, it was pure accident in finding the three peppers that I use in the product.

How did you use what you made?

Started carrying it around in my pocket in an old pill bottle (with friends) teasing me about having an old pill bottle with what looked like pot in it. I would explain to them what I had and what I was using it for, and the natural progression was to share that, and I was happy to do that because I was having fun with it.

How did the fun lead to a company?

Started having people tell me to start doing something with it for a business. (I thought) you know what? I’m getting older, and maybe this wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to do something with this.

Still using old medicine bottles?

Oh, no, no, no, no. It’s way beyond that. Honestly, the Heat, it’s the weirdest thing. It’s like a life of its own. I say this with pride but not braggadocious. It just seems like people when they like stuff like that, they’ll share it.

How else are you getting the word out about it?

Facebook is how I let everybody know I started a company. It’s been a great avenue to get started.

You’ve sold almost 3,000 bottles so far. Where will your plans take you?

If it stalls and sits right where it’s at that’s OK, ‘cause I’m still having fun with it. This didn’t come about as a scheme to try to do something.

You did it for you, right?

I haven’t salted any foods in close to five years now. I don’t want to make any health claims, but I think I’m healthier because of it. Is it a cure-all? No. I wouldn’t say that, but I definitely believe in it. So if I can share that what more can you say?

What more can you say?

Just the thought of people using my product, that’s over the top. I never would have dreamed this.

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