A single mom and her three teenage sons have gone into business together – and created a delicious hot sauce that is now carried in over 200 Texas stores. Here’s her story and how she took her lessons and turned them into a successful business.
Traci Bourque Johannson is the co-founder and CEO of the Katy, Texas-based 3SonsFoods, LLC. Not only is she a single mom to three teenage boys, but her kids are also her business partners.
Their debut product is a sauce called Diablo Verde, which was originally sold as a fundraiser for the conservation of rhinoceroses. With it, they raised over $4,700 for the charity. Soon, 3SonsFoods became the family business, and in just under three years, the company has won numerous awards – including Grand Champion in H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best.
Diablo Verde is now carried in over 200 stores throughout Texas, they have a successful online commerce business and they are expanding their wholesale market nationally. Their newest sauce is Diablo Vegan, an animal product-free creamy cilantro sauce, with a portion of the proceeds going toward wolf conservation.
It hasn’t been easy, though. “Beginning a business is not hard, as long as you don’t mind working long hours without pay,” says Johannson. “Just kidding! To be honest, it was exciting; just like when you bring your newborn home and all you dream of are the possibilities to come.”
In fact, Johannson was born to be an entrepreneur. She grew up in a divorced family and learned from the experience. When she spent time with her mother and sisters, money was tight, and they relied on government benefits such as food stamps to get by. But her father was a millionaire – and she lived with him, too. Such lifestyle extremes gave her a diverse viewpoint on what it takes to be successful and happy in life.
Johannson started her career in the performing arts and real estate, but by going into business with her sons, she’s able to teach them about how entrepreneurship can make the world a better place by giving back. The strategy worked. Johannson has been featured in many local news outlets and she and her sons are currently featured in an H-E-B commercial highlighting Diablo Verde.
As for credit cards, she uses them carefully and for the generous rewards they provide.
See related: Four walls of beauty and some business card savvy
Any challenges you had to overcome when you first started the business?
The hardship came when the boys’ father and I divorced. I had no income, and Diablo Verde was only carried in a handful of small mom-and-pop stores in Houston. My soon-to-be ex-husband told me I would fail without him, and most everyone I knew thought I was crazy, besides a few friends that believed in me.
Luckily, I believed in myself and most importantly, I made a promise to my sons that we would succeed – and we are. So, hardships are only pebbles on our path, and I would not allow them to become mountains.
There were some surprise costs that caught us off guard, however. A big one, for example, was the amount of all the middle-men and -women that make it possible to get our sauce from point A to the consumer’s table. Paying them was a major cost.
How have you been using credit cards for the business?
We pay with our business credit card as much as possible to gain rewards! I have found the rewards to be very beneficial.
The cards we have for 3SonsFoods are the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, which gives between 1% and 4% cash back*, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that gives 1 to 5 points per dollar on purchases**.
To make the most of the rewards, we charge business travel, research and development, marketing costs, labels and office supplies. Basically all business expenses.
*Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi offers 4% cash back on eligible gas (on up to $7,000 per year, then 1%), 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases, 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com and 1% on other purchases
**Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 points per dollar on dining, 2 points per dollar on other travel and 1 point per dollar on other purchases
Are you usually leveraged, or do you remain debt-free?
We always pay the cards off, so we are debt-free. In fact, we pay our vendors early and on time and are working hard to make sure our Dun & Bradstreet rating is top notch! We know that we are not just in the salsa business – every business is in the customer service business. How we conduct ourselves not only to our customers but also our vendors will predict our success.
Do you have any regrets – anything you’d like to do over?
How much time do you have?! From the oversized cowboy hat I wore at the Austin Salsa Fest to signing up for a desktop accounting system that has cost me hours of frustration.
However, I now will only wear that hat on the river and that desktop mistake pushed me to make some very positive changes with our accounting and bookkeeping department. As I always say, mistakes are just lessons.
What are the future plans for the business?
As we expand throughout the United States, we’d like to diversify our wholesale buyers as well as start sourcing Diablo Verde in bulk to restaurants. While building our brand, we hope to bring awareness to the issue of rhino conservation and help these majestic beasts continue to thrive for future generations.
We are excited to launch the vegan version of our current sauce, Diablo Vegan, and are certain it will be a welcome addition, not only to the vegan market, but the salsa market as well – because it that good! Plus, a portion of the proceeds of Diablo Vegan will be donated to the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. We really do want to make the world a better place through entrepreneurship.
If you could give tips to future entrepreneurs about money and business, what would you say?
When you hear people’s negativity, use it to fuel your passion to achieve! You have to work hard and not detour from your beliefs and your dreams.
As for money, I prefer not to borrow it if possible, but you can turn borrowed funds into a successful business. Personally, and with business, we don’t spend unless we have the money to pay our credit cards off in full at the end of each month. So that’s my advice for others too!