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Making The Cut: Sanders Meat Market

Tim and Heidi Sanders, owners of Sanders Meat Market in Ballston Spa, NY.

For Heidi and Tim Sanders, the meat counter represents more than how their parents made a living or where they met and fell in love- it’s the inspiration for their second careers as entrepreneurs. Tim apprenticed for three years to his father, a butcher in Nashua, New Hampshire, before beginning a 30-year career in the supermarket field. Heidi’s mother worked in a meat market in Westfield, Massachusetts and taught her how to bake from scratch. To honor their history, both Tim and Heidi’s parents are featured in framed photographs on the walls of their successful startup, Sanders Meat Market.

During their time at Shaw’s Supermarket in New Hampshire, Tim worked in the meat department and then as store director for 11 years, while Heidi worked her way up from cake decorator to deli and seafood department manager over 22 years. Ready for retirement from their supermarket careers, the Sanders vacationed in the Saratoga area in 2008 and fell in love with the place and the people. They relocated to the area and worked for several months to stay busy, but Tim and Heidi quickly realized they didn’t want to work for anyone else any longer.

“With our skill set, we looked around and thought the area was ripe for a high quality meat market,” Tim recounts. “We used Northeast NY SCORE in Saratoga Springs to help build our business plan, working with counselors Bill Hunt, Bill Edwards, and Dennis Crimi. They were very knowledgeable about this particular area. We needed help putting it all down on paper to create a plan and pursue the financing.”

Heidi and Tim sought a startup loan during the credit crunch of 2009, and found that in spite of their extensive industry experience, their business loan application was turned down by several banks. The Sanders increased their equity investment and decreased the loan amount, trimming back the extras they could add later. Their revamped business plan was approved by Saratoga National Bank & Trust Company. The SBA-backed loan provided working capital for the Sanders to run their fledgling store, coming through the same month they opened the shop’s doors in February 2010.

The Sanders set out to create a local meat market that offered Ballston Spa area residents top quality meats previously unavailable, without steroids, hormones or antibiotics. Their slogan “A Cut Above” is more than just a marketing slogan-it’s a mantra. Tim’s longstanding relationship with distributors ensures the shop receives top quality cuts such as USDA Prime and Certified Choice. And if a cut of meat doesn’t meet Tim’s high standard, it’s promptly rejected and returned to the distributor.

“I’d rather have to tell a customer that I didn’t like the way something looked than sell sub-standard products,” explains Tim. “When people ask our customers where tonight’s dinner is from, I want them to proudly say Sanders Meat Market.”

Increasingly, customers are asking more questions about what is in their meat and where it comes from. Last year’s controversy over “pink slime” or lean, finely textured beef brought national attention to the content and quality of mass-produced meat products. The Sanders saw a dramatic increase in new customers as locals switched from buying their meat at regional chain grocery stores.

“The same day the news broke, our phone was ringing off the hook from people asking if we sold ground beef without pink slime,” recalls Tim. “We’ve never sold it and we never will. Ever since then, I sell more hamburger than I can possibly keep up with.”

“Our beef isn’t sprayed with ammonia or squeezed from a plastic tube into packages. You can’t get any fresher than our ground chuck and sirloin, which sits in the display case just 20 to 40 minutes,” adds Heidi.

Ballston Spa residents have discovered that Sanders Meat Market offers more than top quality meats; customers can pick up everything to make tonight’s supper in the store. The shelves are stocked with salad and bread items, appetizers, vegetables, drinks and desserts. The desserts are scratch-baker Heidi’s specialty, ranging from dish-size chocolate chip cookies to flaky apple pies just like her Grandma used to make. Customers who prefer ready-to-cook meals enjoy bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins stuffed with apricot and dates and savory chicken pot pies.

As their business turns three in 2013, Heidi and Tim are completely at ease in their second careers as entrepreneurs. With persistence and a great team of employees, the Sanders turned their passion into a successful small business. They haven’t had a second thought about trading the corporate pay, benefits and security for something they can call their own: “After years of being serious, now is the time to have a little fun. We’re free of the golden handcuffs and we laugh a lot here. It’s the best thing we ever did,” says Tim.