Made in Buffalo

Aug 01, 2003 9:30 PM  By

BUFFALO, NY, is known today for Buffalo wings, Lake Erie, and some of the nation’s most punishing winters. Few remember the time when the “City on the Lake” was one of the more prominent manufacturing centers in the Western Hemisphere.

Artifacts of former glory can be found everywhere in Buffalo, from magnificent Victorian mansions on Delaware Avenue and the labyrinthine waterfront complex to the scores of abandoned warehouses and factories downtown. But what Buffalo has lost in economic power, it has retained in spirit. Vacant industrial facilities have been reborn as upscale condos and loft apartments, and the Erie Canal and waterfront are slated for redevelopment.

No one is more enthusiastic about the possibilities of Buffalo than Gary Steszewski, executive vice president of Madeinbuffalo.com, an online provider of Buffalo products and novelties. “These are great days to be Buffalonian,” says Steszewski, citing the city’s “glorious” summers and the local football team’s four trips to the Super Bowl. Even the city’s name arises from an English rendering of a French phrase for “beautiful river.”

BUFFALO BUFF Madeinbuffalo.com is a celebration of all things Buffalo. The Web site’s offerings include apparel; Buffalo-themed art, CDs, and videos; food products such as the internationally famous “Buffalo wings”; gift boxes and baskets; and sports and collectible memorabilia.

Madeinbuffalo.com began as an advertising business. If local businesses represented on the site lacked a Web page of their own, Madeinbuffalo.com created one for them. “We soon realized that a pure advertising model wouldn’t work over the long haul,” Steszewski says. “Early on we came up with the concept of the ‘Buffalo Box,’ a gift box containing some of the best-known Buffalo-based merchandise. We offered things like Buffalo wings sauce, chef’s pasta sauce, and Weber’s mustard, all local favorites. Success was gradual, but now we’re getting orders from as far away as Japan.”

GIFT PACKING Eighty percent of Madeinbuffalo.com’s dry goods shipments are handled by Phoenix Frontier Inc., a local not-for-profit organization that hires disadvantaged workers. The company does light manufacturing as well as fulfillment, and has contracts all over town. The organization’s objective is to provide workers with temporary employment while Phoenix finds them full-time jobs, says sales and marketing manager John Lupi. Phoenix’s fulfillment operation comprises only 3,000 sq. ft. of the facility’s total 80,000 sq. ft. Three employees run the fulfillment department using no material handling technology except a single Danmark Shrink-Packaging System.

Orders packed by Phoenix Frontier are shipped as gift packs in four sizes. “The gift boxes range in price from $32 to $60, and the largest box has room for 25 items,” Lupi says. When Phoenix Frontier supervisor Charles Lewis receives an order by e-mail, he passes it to two workers who pick and pack the order by hand. Sample orders are set up in the room to guide the process. Once an order is packed, Lewis checks it for accuracy, and then it is sealed, shrink-wrapped, and forwarded to the loading dock for shipping.

WINGS FOR THE MASSES Buffalo wings, invented in 1964 in Buffalo’s Anchor Bar, were the brainchild of Teressa Bellissimo, mother of bartender Dominic Bellissimo. Teressa was working in the kitchen at the time, conducting a culinary experiment involving chicken wings, which Teressa had decided had potential as bar munchies. She deep-fried the wings and whipped up a secret sauce to make them even more palatable. When her son’s buddies sampled this treat, they immediately demanded more. The rest is part of Buffalonian history.

Madeinbuffalo.com sells the original Anchor Bar Buffalo Wings on its site. “Because they are made to such narrow specifications, the people at the Anchor Bar prepare the product themselves and drop-ship it to the customer,” Steszewski says. “Customers order wings via the Web site for Madeinbuffalo.com or Anchor’s own Web site, which we host for them. When orders come in through our Web site, we forward them to Anchor. They prepare and fulfill the order, then ship it via FedEx, which they bill back to us.”

Drop-shippers represent approximately 20% of Madeinbuffalo’s current volume. According to Steszewki, the principal reason non-drop-shippers have teamed up with MadeinBuffalo.com is that they don’t want to ship small orders direct to customers.

DOWN IN THE BASEMENT Orders for perishable items other than the Anchor Buffalo Wings, ice cream, and cookies are handled in Madeinbuffalo’s other facility, the basement of Steszewski’s house. “We offer many perishable products on the site such as Bocce’s Pizza, Paula’s Kraut and Mushroom Pierogies, Zweigle’s Texas Hots, and Perry’s Ice Cream,” Steszewski says.

The Web site’s offerings of hot dogs, sausages, pierogies, and other foods are shipped out of a 20′ × 30′ area of the basement of Steszewki’s home. The fulfillment space includes an office and a kitchen-model refrigerator/freezer. Steszewski performs all shipping duties solo. When he gets an order for hot dogs, for example, he packages it in a 20-lb. Styrofoam cooler, which in turn is placed inside a cardboard box. Depending on the season and destination, gel packs are used to keep the product cold in transit. Gel packs come in 8-, 12-, 16-, and 24-oz. sizes and are kept frozen pre-deployment.

Polyfoam Packers of Wheeling, IL, provides gel packs for Madeinbuffalo. A 12-oz. pack costs $0.65; a 24-oz. pack sells for $1.35. Until recently, Polyfoam Packers was also Steszewski’s source for Styrofoam cartons and cardboard boxes. He would order by the pallet and pay the shipping fees.

Now Steszewski gets both foam cartons and boxes from a local source called Armstrong Brands. Not having to buy in quantity and pay for shipping has allowed him to drop prices on the Web site. Armstrong inserts the foam carton inside the cardboard box at no extra cost. Steszewski stores boxes in the rafters of his garage as well as at the Phoenix Frontier facility. Gel packs and all the perishable food items are stored in the basement refrigerator. The perishable items are placed inside the freezer prior to shipping (except in winter) to get them to a very cold, pre-frozen state.

Phoenix expects to have a refrigerator installed and operating by this fall, and thereafter Phoenix will take over all of Gary’s current shipping duties.

D. Douglas Graham is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, MO. He can be reached by e-mail at mahakala@charter.net.

Chill, Out

Several local companies have formed partnerships with CityMade Inc., the parent company of Madeinbuffalo.com, so that they can sell products online even if they lack the expertise to do so on their own. Madeinbuffalo purchases product from them in caseloads and holds the inventory. According to Gary Steszewski, executive vice president of Madeinbuffalo.com, most perishables are shipped overnight or by second-day FedEx service in 30-plus gel packs to keep product fresh. “Dry ice is expensive and unnecessary except in the case of products like ice cream that must remain frozen in transit,” Steszewski says. At the moment, the only perishable food products drop-shipped directly from the manufacturers are Cookie Expressions cookies, Perry’s ice cream, and Anchor Bar Buffalo wings, but the shipments of those last two items represent roughly 25% of Madeinbuffalo’s total food product sales.
DDG

MADEINBUFFALO.COM

Headquarters: Buffalo, NY

Annual sales: $500,000

Total employees: Two office employees and three persons at Phoenix Frontier assigned to fulfillment

Size of fulfillment operation: Phoenix Frontier’s two facilities total about 40,000 sq. ft, of which 3,000 sq. ft. are devoted to fulfillment.

SKUs: 540-700

Number of shipments: 25-30 a day; 100-150 per day during Christmas