Submitted by Dee Word
I read the Nov 26th Nation article “A Miller’s tale…” on the company Windmill Products and was somewhat troubled that this once high-flying company was not currently a major […] international playergenerating oodles of forex in exports,
from licensing fees or from monies repatriated from overseas operations. As I read these comments from GM Peter Miller I cringed: “I’m 67 now, I want to put some young energy in the business. I think it needs that kind of refreshing.” Equally troubling were the remarks, “about three years ago, I read in Entrepreneur Magazine that the pepper sauce industry in the United States is worth US$1 billion and it was growing at the rate of one per cent per year, so by now it must be worth nearly US$2 billion.”
Now consider that back in early 1990s when I was in and out of US, I recall many Bajans and Caribbean folks in general loved to get their seasoning condiments, pepper sauces and beverages like mauby. As the other products like the ginger beer and sorrel came on stream they too found favour with the expatriate groups. But beyond that any business operator back then appreciated that the US food business was always a huge opportunity for local businesses. Huge.
Of course, as they say hindsight is 20-20 but I am truly amazed that this company (after all, they had some really good products) was unable to break into the big-time. According to Miller it appears as if it was not due to a lack of trying as he stated, “years ago, I attended the Zesty Food Show in Texas. … when this tall white Texas guy came to the booth”. As reported the man ‘showed him he had unique yellow pepper sauce’ gave him marketing advice that he should price it as a premium product and also ‘bought a case of the product’. So there was an opening. And some booming times: “We used to have a lot of markets in the Caribbean … that is gone mainly because of the difference in currency.”
Miller said, “I came back here, met with the right people, told them this thing could be big, … 40-foot containers with this stuff, but I never got the kind of financial assistance . You would have to go up there [in the United States] and set up properly”
So the question I would ask Mr. Miller is what stopped you from doing that? Or what about a partnership with a food manufacturer there for licensing or some other beneficial arrangement? Why now in 2015 is this entrepreneur of long-standing saying things like, “I want to put some young energy in the business… What Windmill wants is a refreshing and a relaunching. What we have depended on all the years is basically that people know the product and they love it.”
To put this in context, as I recall in his heyday and I presume at the height of opportunity to take his company to greater heights Mr.Miller spent time in local politics. So is it fair to say that he WASTED time in that endeavour. Should he have focused on convincing his Board of Directors (family) on this path about which he speaks still with passion and about infusing it with the youthful, skilled manager to help them attack the international markets, manage the currency risks and go after investment capital…or about building meaningful partnerships regionally and beyond?
Why is Windmill not a food processing/manufacturing colossus today making him and partners millionaires times over, establishing the Windmill brand with renown and providing awesome benefits to the local economy?
This looks to be a wonderful opportunity lost to interesting decision making and maybe political folly. A case-study of commercial potential only partially realized. I am completely flummoxed by this story and current status of a company that should be towering above all others particularly when one looks at the successful supermarket retail operations like that of Andrew Bynoe. A company that saw its high-points evolve over a somewhat similar time frame.
It puts too into perspective the discussions about the successes of COW Construction, Williams Industries and all his other endeavours. And companies like Rayside Construction faltering into ‘abeyance’. The talent, skill and differentiated superior product is there and it can’t be about race; so is it simply lack of focus and ineffective management/family matters?
There is so much to this Windmill story left untold from that brief Nation article. In fact I would suggest Mr. Miller does himself no favours with some of his comments (particularly re his Maths). It would be great for other entrepreneurs to examine the lessons from Windmill Industries !