Smoked hams, bacon smoked over fruit chips, wieners with actual meat from parts of the pig that people have heard of -- these are some of North Country Smokehouse's specialties. But it's what makes the company different that makes it successful.When other companies have gone big, North Country went niche. When other companies went fast, North Country slowed down. When other people pulled up stakes from Claremont, owner Mike Satzow dug in."He is very Claremont-minded," said Karen Parker of the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce. "It's not that he's going to make his money and then move on to bigger and better things. Clearly, he doesn't need to leave Claremont. His products are world-renowned and he sells the products to a lot of high-class restaurants. They are making their money and staying in Claremont."Satzow is a third-generation butcher. His smokehouse sits on the same piece of farmland in Claremont where his grandfather, Abraham Satzow, an immigrant from Russia, set up his shop in 1912. For the past 40 years, Mike Satzow has been creating a product that hearkens back to those early days.But the process is somewhat different, said Satzow. "We employ very sophisticated machinery that we bring in from all over the world to emulate a product that my grandfather would have made," he said.Nevertheless, Satzow has rejected a lot of the "modern conveniences" to speed up the manufacturing and flavoring process for his products.For example, Satzow explained, a major packing plant would take a pork belly, cure it, smoke it, slice it and package it within six hours. Satzow's plant takes closer to a week to complete the same process."You have to age the product. You have to marinate the product. Any cook knows that when you put something in the refrigerator for a day or two it picks up different flavors," he said. "And that's what we do with our product."That's also how North Country Smokehouse stays competitive.Satzow said he recognizes there are many bigger companies that can push out a product faster and cheaper, but he's not interested in that."When we were just starting out, we needed to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace," he said. "So we do corn cob-smoked bacon, we do applewood-smoked bacon. If we just did hickory-smoked bacon and we did a commodity bacon like everybody else does, then we wouldn't be competitive in the marketplace. So we look for products that we can add the most value to."And it's working, with more than 200,000 pounds of bacon alone leaving the Claremont smokehouse each year. This is also what's helped the company go from what was basically a fall-to-January mail order business to a year-round smokehouse."We have successfully eliminated the real peaks and valleys" in the business cycle, Satzow said.That's not to say that the winter holiday season isn't his busiest time of year. During the normal times of year, the smokehouse crew of 25 usually works a regular five-day workweek, but from August to January, they start working seven days a week, smoking through the night, every night.'New model' of businessAside from its product line, what helps North Country stand out are the steps the company has taken to be an environmentally friendly smokehouse.The company is part of the Free Farmed program, which assures proper care and handling of livestock, and many North Country products carry the "certified humane" label. Recently, the company also got rid of the majority of its chemical cleaners and replaced it with the PathoSans System, which uses salt, water and a small charge of electricity to create a sanitizer. The process kills microorganisms and dissolves grease, but the nontoxic liquid is harmless -- safe enough to drink.Besides reducing the company's environmental impact, switching to the PathoSans system is saving the company "tens of thousands" of dollars per year in cleaning product, he said."And we can utilize it as a marketing tool to go back to our marketplace and show them how we share their concern relative to sustainability. The slow food movement is a major factor today and we're part of that-- and it allows us to use this as a selling point," he said.It's all part of a new way of doing business, Satzow said.It used to be that a company had a product, customers evaluated that product and decided whether they wanted to pay the price for it."The new model is more of a partnering basis on my end of the business. The people look at the product, they appreciate the product and they are willing to pay a premium for the product. But they're also interested in how the product is made and how safe the product is and what you're doing for the environment and what you are doing relative to sustainability. This is one of the ways that we compete with large companies," said Satzow.All of this is well and good and is clearly a point of pride for Satzow. But the thing that gets him, the thing that puts a little twinkle in his voice?"We also make New Hampshire's only hot dog," he said. "And that's my pride and joy because it's a very high-quality hot dog."Satzow explained his father used to take him into Manchester to get some of the great New Hampshire-made hot dogs, like Schonland's, which are no longer produced in the Granite State.The hot dogs don't make him a profit, he said, but he's got other things that do that. Rather, he relishes, being able to "concentrate on making the best hot dog I know how to make and enjoy it. It's almost a hobby of mine.""Over the years, you had a number of small, family-owned companies that made a very good wiener," Satzow said. "Today, most wieners are made by huge conglomerates, only interested in enhancing the bottom line. They have purchased most of the small houses that used to make these hot dogs, and they don't have the passion to make a high-quality sausage. They need to satisfy Wall Street -- and I don't want to fall victim to the Occupy movement."
This article appears in the November 5 2011 issue of New Hampshire Business Review