Bowman & Landes grandson launches online store

A Dayton-area business started 65 years ago by German Baptists and others is moving into the digital age through the efforts of one of its founders’ grandsons.

Bowman & Landes, one of Ohio’s largest free-range turkey farms, sells turkey products at its New Carlisle farm store and supplies them to 300 meat markets and independent grocers in the Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and Indianapolis regions.

The family-owned and operated farm’s products are now available for delivery nationwide via Top Chop Market, an Internet retail site launched in February by Jon Hamber of Vandalia and three friends. Hamber, 25, is the grandson of company co-founder Ken Bowman.

Top Chop Market is a separate business from Bowman & Landes that markets and distributes the farm’s whole turkeys, breasts, sausages and other products through the Internet. Hamber and his partners launched the online retail site at a cost of about $10,000.

“It is something I want to try to set up for the future generations,” Hamber said. “That is going to be some part of the way of the future.”

Bowman & Landes’ second-generation owners support Hamber’s online venture, “but we stand in the background,” said co-owner Carl Bowman, who is Hamber’s uncle.

Bowman said the turkey business has its own website where customers can reserve items for farm store pickup, but Internet marketing is not the owners’ interest. “Younger people are much more excited about doing e-commerce than guys my age,” he said.

Bowman & Landes also will ship special orders on request, but that service isn’t something the company promotes on its website, Bowman said.

“It is perfect for me for me to come in and try that avenue,” said Hamber, who works as a machine designer at Futura Design Service Inc. in Dayton.

Founded in 1948 by Ken Bowman and Dennis Landes, the turkey business is now owned and operated by siblings Carl and Anita Bowman, and brothers Stan and Steve Landes. The Landes family are German Baptists.

Last year, the farm raised 65,000 turkeys, Bowman said. The free-range turkeys are raised in the open air without antibiotics, and are vegetable fed.

Bowman & Landes does 60 to 70 percent of its annual business during the Thanksgiving holiday period. The turkey business employs about 30 workers year-round and increases its staff to 150 during the holiday season, Bowman said.

Top Chop Market has not yet created any new jobs at the farm, said Hamber, the site’s founder and chief executive. His partners are Tristan Marshall, who does the marketing; Logan Price, who handles social media; and Brent Barrow, who is responsible for shipping.

Hamber, who speaks with a slight British accent, was born in England and moved to the U.S. with his family at age 10. He lived at the 160-acre turkey farm in New Carlisle until age 18, when he left to attend college.

Hamber said he was raised on fresh fish while living on the coast of England, and free-range turkey after moving to New Carlisle. “You get this high-quality meat all the time, and then going away to college you realize, ‘Wait, not all meat is that good,’” he said.

The name Top Chop Market signifies the high quality of Bowman & Landes turkey, Hamber said. The website is currently being marketed to “mommy bloggers” whose readers want to feed their children good food, but who may not have access to it.

“They may be able to go to a Whole Foods Market, but with us they know exactly where it is coming from, and they know it is good,” he said.

Top Chop hopes to sell from 1,000 to 2,000 turkeys at Thanksgiving, Hamber said. The products are shipped in 1.5-inch insulated containers that are packed with dry ice. One- or two-day shipping is available.

Bowman said the online store has the potential for year-round sales of products such as turkey sausages, burgers and fillets for the grill. He compared Hamber’s concept to Omaha Steaks, a Nebraska-based family business that markets and distributes premium steaks and meats through direct sales, including retail stores and online. Omaha Steaks has 2,000 employees and annual revenues of $450 million.

“Obviously, they have been very successful doing that,” Bowman said.

Southwest Ohio specialty food businesses that offer direct sales online also include Montgomery Inn Ribs, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Skyline Chili and Esther Price Candies.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, online food, beer and wine sales accounted for $2.2 billion in 2009, representing 61.2 percent of the total $3.6 billion in electronic shopping and mail-order house sales for those items that year.

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