The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC People: Brian Zweig
Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) works with an impressive constellation of advisors, planners, strategists and field experts. Brian Zweig of Business Opportunities Management Consulting in North Greenbush, New York, is one such expert. Zweig serves as a business consultant for small business owners, start-ups and entrepreneurs in need of direction on how to get started, grow or expand. For more than ten years, Zweig has worked with HVADC clients through the Incubator Without Walls, Farm and Food Business Accelerator and on a variety of other projects.
Among the services that makes Zweig one of HVADC’s go-to consultants is that he helps develop business plans, helps clients increase sales and profits, and helps businesses secure financing. Zweig earned a Bachelors in Economics and Business Management from Cornell University and his M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck school at Dartmouth College.
Zweig has a diverse background that includes product management with an outdoor power equipment company, consumer food marketing for the Freihofer Baking Company, and managing a marketing research company. This background has given Zweig familiarity with an array of business models, which provided him with experience needed to start up his own consulting business, which he has been operating for over 20 years.
In starting his own business, Zweig learned first-hand the importance of focusing on sales to grow your business. “The number one question I get from people who hear I have my own business is: ‘How do you get clients?’” said Zweig. “You have to always be focused on marketing yourself and making a good case for how you can help your clients.” Zweig said he works with many entrepreneurs, including Ag and food businesses that are trying to grow their business and finance their growth. “Typical clients include someone that is starting out and needs money to buy equipment, or a businesses that want to grow and be more profitable,” he said. “Those are the most common situations I deal with. You have to evaluate the business and what their challenges are, and typically the challenges relate to sales and cash flow management—two very important areas. If you can grow sales, you have cash. You have to make sure you have your handle on your cash flow. If a business runs out of a cash that is when they are forced to cease operations.”
Zweig emphasized that the most common culprit behind a struggling business is poor bookkeeping. “If they don’t have good bookkeeping system, that is a recipe for failure,” said Zweig. “You have to know how much money is coming in, when it’s coming in, and how you are spending your money. If you are a struggling business, you don’t have much margin for error.” Zweig says that good bookkeeping is so critical to success that he suggests biting the bullet and hiring a bookkeeper, if it’s not your thing. “If you appreciate that bookkeeping is important, then it’s a problem that can be solved. If you’re not willing to pay attention to your financials, then that is a problem that cannot be solved.”
In 2011 HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson and Zweig worked together to create a new business plan for Don Lewis, the owner of Wild Hive Farm, in Clinton Corners. Among the various enterprises that Lewis was operating, was a restaurant that promoted the use flour made from local grains. “Restaurants are a lot of work and often are not very profitable,” Zweig noted. “Don was really good at producing unique and high-quality flour, and knowing how best to incorporate that into recipes,” said Zweig. “After working with him, we convinced him he should focus on selling flour-- and taking advantage of the interest in locally sourced flour… to grow his business.”
“I feel honored that HVADC helped me and has been very supportive,” said Lewis. He explained that he made the difficult decision to close his longtime bakery after 30 years, and now mills grain for other bakers. Without the restaurant and bakery, Lewis has had more time to grow his grain and flour business and now supplies four Eatlily bakeries, and restaurants in Manhattan, Boston and Chicago, and credits HVADC and Zweig for his impressive ongoing expansion.
“[HVADC] provided [Zweig’s] services to me. He has been so tremendous for years in my company, helping me… [Zweig] always took a very professional and logical approach to expenditures. He oversaw a lot of my formula, he really provided me with a very professional edge that was really appropriate and still is to this day.”
Lewis said that as he gets older, he values more and more the concept of team work, and feels grateful to have Zweig as a team member. “He is an integral part of that—the financial end, the structure. And the logical balance. He gave me the guidelines to make logical choices. We are still connected because I am going into a new phase.”
Lewis is now moving his milling operation into a new building in Red Hook area, in a more visible spot, with climate controlled storage, and building another production facility that is even more efficient, as well as a separate building with a gluten-free operation. “[Zweig] doesn’t make the decisions for me; he gives me the tools to make the decisions. I respect him and the work he does and HVADC for putting me in the position to receive that kind of help,” said Lewis.
Some free expert advice from Zweig that many are paying good money to hear: “Have customers who want to buy your product and manage your finances” said Zweig.
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Photo Source: Jennifer Bock, Program Associate HVADC