How One Lifelong Culinary Expert Built and Bootstrapped Her Own Artisanal Jam Brand From the Ground Up

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with ecommerce founders who were featured on Live From Your Laptop in celebration of Black History Month.

Trade Street Jam Company isn’t your typical jam. 

In fact, these vegan, small batch jams are more than just a topping for your toast. With flavors like strawberry chipotle and fig, blackberry mulled merlot, and smoked yellow peach, Trade Street Jams are delicious in everything from marinades and salad dressings to cocktails. Plus, they’re made without all the additives of traditional jams, which means they’re a fresher, healthier, and more scrumptious alternative.

The founder behind this innovative jam company is equally fascinating. ashley rouse founder ceo trade street jam company

Ashley Rouse has been in the food business her entire life, starting at culinary school and then, more recently, running the cafe at Condé Nast before deciding to start her own business.

I recently caught up with Ashley to find out how she went from chef to entrepreneur, how she made almost half a million dollars in revenue in 2020, and what’s next for the brand. 

Find out how Ashley has built and bootstrapped her business from the ground up, then watch her in Live From Your Laptop to hear more about the digital marketing tactics she’s using to triple sales year-over-year.

 

Alex McPeak: How did you come up with the idea for Trade Street Jam?

Ashley Rouse: I’ve always made jams and preserved different foods. I love the concept of taking something in a season where it’s peak and ripe and then being able to eat it in the dead of winter, so I was always canning things and sharing them with friends and family. 

I lived in a small apartment on Trade Street in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I remember telling a friend who I wanted to turn my love for making jams into a business. I wanted to call it Trade Street Jam Company. And she said, “I love it. Write the name down so you don’t forget.” I wrote it down, but the idea never left my brain. 

Then I moved to Brooklyn about six years ago. Around 2016, I decided I needed something to do when I got home from work. There’s a huge maker community here in Brooklyn, and it really inspired me, so I thought, “I should finally start Trade Street Jam Company.” And so I did.

 

Alex: What would you say is the difference between Trade Street Jams and other brands?

Ashley: We’re nothing like Smucker’s or the traditional jam brands you find at the grocery store. There’s a ton of sugar and ingredients you can’t recognize in those. 

With Trade Street Jam, everything we do is clean. It’s all vegan. It’s low sugar for people who are on diets and typically avoid jam. And, most importantly, it’s culinary-inspired. 

I never set out to do a plain strawberry jam or a plain grape jam. It has to have something funky behind it, and it should throw you for a loop when you decide to try the products.

"I never set out to do a plain strawberry jam or a plain grape jam. It has to have something funky behind it, and it should throw you for a loop when you decide to try the products. "

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

I also have to educate people about the consistency difference because they’re used to seeing goopy jam made with thickeners, but when you open the jar and flip it upside down and those jams don’t move, that means there are additives in it. 

When people start to see and understand the difference, it’s easy to get them on board with the product.

trade street jam company flavors

Alex: Where did you first start selling Trade Street Jam and how did you get your first customers?

Ashley: I started out by selling Trade Street Jam on Etsy, but word-of-mouth through social media was a major way that we got our first customers. 

We focus more on Instagram now, but starting off, I was always on Facebook and I had a ton of friends and family who were on there. I was always posting the Etsy link saying, “We’re making this really great jam and we only have 10 or 12 jars of it. If you want some, you have to grab it now.” 

I started to build up a small customer base there, and I’m sure we still have customers from then who buy from us today.

 

Alex: At what point did you create your website and start building your direct-to-consumer presence online?

Ashley: About a year after I started Trade Street Jam Co., my husband suggested I move off of Etsy because you’re basically promoting another brand. You go on Etsy looking for one thing, and then next thing you know you’re buying something totally different. 

I feel like it was the same for my customers. You go on Etsy. You look for jam. But then it says, “You might like this,” and then you end up buying someone else’s jam. 

Essentially, it was just time to go direct-to-consumer. We were about a year in and we were growing. Getting our own website was the natural next step.

"You go on Etsy. You look for jam. But then it says, "You might like this," and then you end up buying someone else's jam. Essentially, it was just time to go direct-to-consumer. We were about a year in and we were growing. Getting our own website was the natural next step."

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Want to learn more about how Trade Street Jam Co. is using Klaviyo to grow?

Watch Live From Your Laptop with Ashley
 

Alex: At what point did you realize that Trade Street Jam was more than a side hustle and when did you decide to pursue the business full-time?

Ashley: One of the pivotal moments for me was when I was spending more time at my full-time job working on Trade Street Jam Co. than I was doing my work.

It would get to a point where I spent over half my shift sending emails for Trade Street Jam, and I felt so guilty, but around that time I realized I should figure out how do it full-time because I was spending so much time doing it, anyway. 

I had no clue how I was going to do that. But my husband believed in it from the beginning. He’s really analytical and good with numbers, so we put together a spreadsheet and found out how much money we needed to cover bills. 

We came to the conclusion that we could go one year without me contributing—and that was after emptying our savings account and dipping into our 401k. We could go one year without me bringing in any income before I would have to go back to work. 

Once I saw it on paper, I thought, “I can do this for a year.” So I put my two weeks’ notice in a couple days later.

 

Alex: How do you use email marketing to help your business grow?

Ashley: Email marketing is such a big piece of our growth. You have to be able to re-target and retain your customers. 

Klaviyo has a lot of features and functionality that have been helpful. Overall, email is the best way to capture people. When we did giveaways on Instagram, initially it was all about getting followers. 

As we’ve grown, it’s like, “Who cares about followers?” Click the link in our bio to like sign up for our newsletter. Now, we do these giveaways and we get thousands of emails that we can use to re-target in future marketing promotions.

"Email is the best way to capture people. When we did giveaways on Instagram, initially it was all about getting followers. As we've grown, it's like, “Who cares about followers?” Click the link in our bio to like sign up for our newsletter. "

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Our ecommerce specialist, Bridgette, does such an outstanding job with email marketing and capturing new customers. She sets up different email automations that trigger based on customer behaviors, which are really effective. I wasn’t using them before. I had a basic email list, but I wasn’t really targeting people. 

Now, we have post-purchase emails that go out after you buy a jam. After you buy the peach jam, for example, you’re going to get an email that asks how it was. Then, you’re going to get another email with a recipe you can make with your peach jam. And then, of course, you’re going to get an email after a couple months if you haven’t made another purchase asking if you want to try it again. 

trade street jam company post purchase email

All of these email automations have helped us make thousands of dollars each month on email by itself.

"All of these email automations have helped us make thousands of dollars each month on email by itself."

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Alex: Talk to me about the growth you’ve seen since you first started. What does Trade Street Jam look like today?

Ashley: The growth has been so crazy. Since 2016, we’ve tripled our sales and revenue every year. 

Going into 2020, we were doing a ton of events and selling our jam in person, which was a great revenue driver. At the same time, I knew I wanted to have a baby, and I wanted to run my company without physically running these events. But I didn’t know how I was going to triple my revenue without doing events. 

Then COVID-19 came in March and all events were canceled. And then I was really nervous because I didn’t know how we would meet our goals. 

In January of 2020, we were doing $1,300 a month in revenue. In June, we did $75,000. 

After the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, so many people wanted to talk about Black businesses, which we got a lot of press from, as well.

A ton of Black brands grew exponentially after that. There was this outpouring of support for Black-owned businesses, and I don’t know where that came from—Black businesses have always been around. But after that, it was publication after publication, like the Food Network, Cosmopolitan, the New York Times, which definitely helped grow awareness of our brand.

At the time, I was eight months pregnant. It was a blessing, but it was so challenging. My ankles were swollen. I was exhausted. I had a fulfillment center in my house. We were fulfilling day and night. My mom was helping. My husband was helping. I had two employees with masks, trying to distance, but still filling packages. It was crazy. 

We ended up at almost half a million in revenue last year, which is amazing because I couldn’t imagine how we were going to do any of this. Now the bigger challenge is if we’re going to triple our sales this year. I don’t know how we’re going to, but I would love to see us get to one million dollars.

"We ended up at almost half a million in revenue last year, which is amazing because I couldn't imagine how we were going to do any of this. Now the bigger challenge is if we're going to triple our sales this year. I don’t know how we’re going to, but I would love to see us get to one million dollars. "

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Alex: Wow. So with all this new attention on your brand, how did you capture new customers? 

Ashley: We stayed tuned into the brand and what we offer. Racial injustice has always been around, so for me, I didn’t feel the need to tell everyone that we believe Black Lives Matter because, of course they do. 

I did start posting myself more so people could see the owner and the face of the brand and say, “Oh, they’re Black-owned—even better.” But we’re all about our product. The product is good. I’ve been a chef forever. I know how to cook. The flavors are good. 

There are so many other pieces that we have to continually work at, but we focus on telling our audience how healthy the jams are, providing fun recipes, and creating videos on social media that show people how to use the different flavors. 

trade street jam company recipes

When you focus on your product and the core of the heart and soul of your brand, and then something like the Black Lives Matter movement happens, things fall into place because you’re already doing what you do and sticking to your values.

"When you focus on your product and the core of the heart and soul of your brand, and then something like the Black Lives Matter movement happens, things fall into place because you're already doing what you do and sticking to your values."

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Alex: What would you say has been the biggest challenge in starting and growing your own business? 

Ashley: The biggest challenge was that I didn’t know anything. And since growing the business, the bigger challenge has been capital. 

We haven’t raised any funding—even from friends and family. We were recently talking to an investor because we’re trying to get money, but people pat us on the back for being bootstrapped all these years. 

I didn’t really understand why that was such a big deal and didn’t know there were alternatives. But now I’m surprised that we’ve gotten this far without anything besides a few grants.

Now, now we need investments. So that’ll hopefully be the next step for us in 2021.

"We were recently talking to an investor because we’re trying to get money, but people pat us on the back for being bootstrapped all these years. I didn't really understand why that was such a big deal and didn’t know there were alternatives."

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Alex: What’s been the biggest reward?

Ashley: We made a half a million dollars. Who does that? 

I look at these other businesses and I don’t know how people start with nothing and can create these $20 million businesses. After not having a lot of money going into this, not having investments, it really means something to me that I’ve been able to grow Trade Street Jam Co. from the ground up.

"After not having a lot of money going into this, not having investments, it really means something to me that I’ve been able to grow Trade Street Jam Co. from the ground up. "

Ashley Rouse, founder and CEO, Trade Street Jam Co.

Alex: What’s your advice to others who are thinking about starting their own business or who might be in the beginning stages of starting their own business?

Ashley: I usually stick with this quote that a mentor told me, “Learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable.” 

I love it because I feel like it’s gotten me pretty far. There are so many uncomfortable pieces to starting a business and you hear No so many times before you hear Yes. 

When you learn that starting a business is going to be uncomfortable, it can get you a little further. 

Then, just stick with it. It’s a challenging road, and you have to be in it for the long haul. I thought I was going to see success quickly, and I didn’t. You have to be ready to roll with it.

Interested in hearing more about Trade Street Jam Co.? Watch Ashley in Live From Your Laptop to hear about how she’s growing the brand.

Back to Blog Home
Get email marketing insights delivered straight to your inbox.