Oilerie Before Shark Tank
Curt Campbell and his wife, Amy Jo, were on vacation in Poland in 2003. While there were visiting Krakow, they encountered high-end boutiques that specialized in selling fresh Olive Oil, along with spices and other speciality foods. The Campbells, from Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, were impressed that the Olive Oil was bottled right in front of the customer, and that the buyer could try the taste before they committed to a purchase. Curt wondered why there were no similar outlets back home and suggested to Amy Jo that they could open their own store along similar lines.
Amy Jo had been laid off from her job as a nursing home manager not long before that, but the couple had always dreamed of running their own business. Despite their financial concerns they made a trip to Milan, Italy, to obtain their customized stainless steel drums. They also found a producer of extra virgin Olive Oil near Rome, whose family had been in the business for generations.
It was in July 2003, just a few months after the European trip that inspired the idea, that they opened their first Oilerie location in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.
Business went well, and before 2005 they were forced to move to bigger premises to keep up with the demand. Unprepared for the success of the business at first, they found it hard to keep the premises stocked and were unable to find the time to hire employees.
As their experience of managing the business grew, along with the reputation of their brand, they soon realised that their thriving and profitable business, was an ideal model for franchising. In 2007 they began offering franchise licenses, and the first satellite outlet opened in Milawaukee in December 2008. By the time of Curt’s Shark Tank appearance, in October 2014, there were seven franchised Oilerie stores open for business.
Oilerie on Shark Tank
When Curt appeared on the show he was offering 35% equity in the Oilerie business, in exchange for an investment of $500,000. He was also seeking a shark to assist him with his plans for franchising the operation nationwide.
Kevin O’Leary is a shark with a well known interest in collecting high-end oils and Curt began his pitch by giving a nod to Kevin’s expertise in the area. He told the sharks however, that most ordinary Americans, the ones without Kevin’s wealth and contacts, had never even tasted fresh olive oil. They were stuck with having to look at a range of pretty labels, with no real way to tell how fresh the oil inside was. The Oilerie store not only sold the freshest olive oil available, but its customers could ‘Try it, before they buy it’, and sample the quality of the wares before they ever committed to a purchase.
At the mention of samples, Robert Herjavec jumped in, ‘Can we try it?’ he asked, keen as the sharks always were to enjoy a perk of the job. ‘Absolutely’ agreed Curt, and handed round a selection of products for them to try.
‘This truffle oil, Oh my God, its good’ enthused Lori Greiner, instantly impressed with the taste of the oil. Curt was quick to tell her it wasn’t just good, it was profitable. The truffle oil sold for $16.50, yet cost only $3.60, it was a huge profit margin and Lori nodded her head in approval.
Mark Cuban wanted more information on the sales so far. Curt announced that sales last year had been over three million dollars. At the mention of the ‘M’ word, Kevin O’Leary seemed to rouse himself from his apparent deep contemplation of the oil, and the other sharks expressed their admiration of such huge sales figures. ‘Unbelievable’ commented Barbara Corcoran.
Curt, a thoroughly all-round splendid guy, looked suitably pleased at the praise from such esteemed business moguls. His appearance on the show so far seemed to be as sweet as Lori had found the Truffle oil, but there was a bitter after taste soon to come, and that would create a far stickier situation for the friendly oil salesman.
Lori asked where the sales had been made. Kurt explained about he and Amy Jo’s trip to Poland, and the inspiration for their own store they found there. He detailed the opening of his own ‘tiny’ store in Fish Creek back in 2003 and asserted it was ‘The first Olive Oil store in America’.
It was fairly obvious to the sharks, that three million in sales hadn’t been achieved from one tiny retail outlet. Robert Herjavec queried that discrepancy and Curt suddenly disclosed that he operated a franchise system. The sharks all chorused a round of ‘Ahhhh’ as they finally understood where those huge sales were being made. Curt apologized for not having made that point clear before.
The oil entrepreneur explained that there were now an additional seven locations, he added that there was a healthy trade online too. Robert inquired what fee was charged to franchise owners and Robert confirmed that he took 8% of profits from each location.
So far, the sharks had been fairly pleasant to Curt, it had been almost a friendly chat compared to the experience of many other applicants, but Kevin O’Leary was about to to sneeze into Curt’s salad bowl. He explained that he had ‘distilled’ the essence of the Olierie business. It was successful in Wisconsin, and the areas where franchises had been opened, because there were no other options available.
Kevin was strongly of the opinion that the business would flounder in cities like New York and Chicago, because there was far more competition to a relatively unknown brand.
Curt defended the brand recognition, it wasn’t known yet, and he believed it could be the next Starbucks.
‘Oh no, I don’t think so’ said Kevin, and the other sharks were equally unsure of that claim.
Curt explained that the Fish Creek store had been beaten by only Apple and Tiffany’s in the town, in terms of business per square-foot of retail space. Robert asked if that was only because Curt was there, and that’s when Curt made his only real error in the tank, but it was a whopper.
Curt admitted, in that unguarded moment, that he no longer worked at the store because the stress had been ‘Killing him’. The sharks didn’t say anything, but the looks on their faces went from ‘fairly interested’ to ‘quite concerned’ in an instant.
Lori had seemed the most disturbed by Curt’s revelation and she told him that she had severe doubts about going into partnership with him. She would need any partner to be able to run a business without problems, and she doubted that Curt would be up to it. With that, Lori dropped out of the negotiations. Curt politely asked if he could address her concerns and she agreed.
Curt explained about the personal hardships he and Amy Jo had experienced during their initial start up phase, the disconnected power supply and the week by week struggle to buy stock. He was attempting to show his strength and resilience to the sharks, but even though they may be rich beyond their wildest dreams these days, they had all overcome similar struggles in the past. ‘I’ve been there’ Mark Cuban said sincerely with a strained smile, and Lori nodded too, no doubt having overcome numerous hurdles to get where she was today.
Barbara Corcoran, like all of the other sharks, could not have been more impressed with Curt’s character. She described him as ‘A lovely, patient hard-working gentleman’ but she knew that the franchise business could be ‘A royal pain in the neck’. She didn’t think Curt was cut out for the stresses that such a strategy would create and because of that, reluctantly, she was out.
Robert admired the success of Oilerie so far, he expressed his personal liking for Curt and his appreciation of a business built up from nothing, but the Olive Oil wasn’t ‘Speaking my language’ as he somewhat cryptically put it, and with a supportive smile for Curt, he was out too.
Even Kevin O’Leary was fairly mild to Curt as he joined the others in rejecting a deal. He thought Curt had a good business, and a great character, but he had big doubts about the likely success of the business in more metropolitan areas. Simply put, the business wasn’t invest-able to him. Kevin dropped out too, leaving Mark Cuban as the only shark left who might offer an olive branch to Curt.
Mark wasn’t going to offer that branch, but he left Curt with the most glowing assessment that any failed applicant on the show has ever received. He professed his love for Curt and his attitude, he had hoped that another shark would make an offer, but he just couldn’t see himself in the Olive Oil business, it pained him, but he was out too.
Oilerie Now in 2018 – The After Shark Tank Update
After the show aired, Curt was reportedly ‘up to his knees’ in responses to his appearance. Even though he had failed to secure assistance in his franchise scheme from the sharks, the viewers of Shark Tank clearly believed that he was onto a winner.
He fielded inquiries from over 550 investors interested in an Oilerie Franchise, including some from Africa and India, but without the infrastructure to deal with such a huge interest, he was unable to respond efficiently to most of them. Sales increased after the show too, online sales went through the roof and the retail locations received a big influx of new customers who liked the idea of sampling some fresh olive oil for themselves.
In an interview in September 2015, Curt asserted that had a shark partnered with him, and assisted during those hectic weeks after the show first aired, they would have seen their investment returned within months. He reported that he had sold a further three licences, including locations in Washington State and Texas, and he claimed that by the end of 2016, the business would have 25 outlets. As of the current time however, there are still only eight locations where you can sample the experience for yourself.
Curt could have been more articulate in his pitch, and perhaps he would have secured a deal if he had communicated with the sharks more effectively, but even without their help, the Campbells are continuing to spread the experience of quality, freshly made Olive Oil to the doorsteps of ordinary Americans. Only time will tell if Curt’s vision of 100 stores within five years will come to pass, but either way, his personal philosophy, ‘Show no fear, know your business and be respectful and polite’ showed him to be a rare gentleman of business on the show. He may not have gained a deal, but he gained something far more exclusive, the respect of all the sharks.