Our guest, Justin Kalvitz, President of Spatula Consulting LLC. Justin has 30 years of experience guiding clients to achieve their goals. He finds opportunities to improve and align these companies around an impactful vision and then works with them to create a plan for growth. He focuses on 4 main areas: * Growth Planning * Product Development * Strategy/Vision/Business Planning * Amazon, Digital, Retail strategies.

In this 30 minute discussion Justin shares:

  • Why is the owner not always the best one to lead growth and marketing strategies, ie. grow the team?
  • How does looking at the goals from competitors or prospective buyers’ perspectives helps advance a small business?
  • If a business has a sales/marketing person on board, how can a consultant or advisor fill in the gaps?
  • How does a company stall their own growth by doing too much at the same time and how do you find clarity?
  • Justin discusses “The Plan” – “must-haves” that really make a difference

Justin gained his experience at a variety of different brands and business including Sherwin Williams, Krylon, Newell Rubbermaid, Zenith Products, Bemis Corporation, Mactac, and Boogie Board. He’s worked in historic brands managing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and built businesses and divisions from the ground up. As a general manager leading businesses, he focuses on sales and marketing but most importantly the P&L. Justin has worked in CPG, Retail and Commercial Manufacturing and B2B businesses and has done business in over 50 countries.



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Transcript of Biz Chat Ohio’s podcast 1.9: Justin Kalvitz

Welcome to Biz Chat Ohio, the podcast bringing you big ideas for small businesses. Throughout this series, we hope to bring the best of small business news and industry trends from Ohio’s thought leaders and hopefully something to help you run your business a little better. I’m your host, Cathy Walsh, Director of the Small Business Development Center at Lakeland Community College. And I’m joined by my co-host and soul sister Gretchen Skok DiSanto, Director of Lakeland Community College’s Entrepreneurship Center and business advisor for the Ohio Small Business Development Center. Howdy, Gretchen.

Howdy, Kathy. How are you doing today?

I’m doing great. How are you?

I’m doing great, too. I still have power, which is good. Yeah, a lot of storms been going through Northeast Ohio, but we’re still cooking with oil. So what are we doing today? So Cathy and I work a lot with small businesses. And they have great services and products to offer their potential customers.

But let’s face it– if they can’t find their customers and make those sales, the business is not going to find success. And as we all know, the world of commerce is a very crowded space. Competitors can come from down the street or the other side of the globe.

So how to get your business noticed and getting it to stand out can really be challenging for that small business. But we don’t feel that it has to be a losing battle if you take the time to do your research and develop a sound marketing and sales plan. And you don’t have to do this alone. It’s really important that you reach out there and tap into the resources that are available to you.

Today we are joined by Justin Kalvitz, president of Spatula Consulting, LLC. Justin has nearly 30 years of sales, marketing, and global business leadership at companies including Sherwin-Williams, Newell Rubbermaid, Zenith, Boogie Board, and Bemis. He has developed products that have equated to nearly a billion dollars in consumer sales, including developing and launching industry-first technology.

His broad set of experiences in consumer products and B2B markets with Fortune companies, historic brand leadership, and creating businesses from the ground up have helped sustain a successful track record of establishing solid business strategies, launching exciting product innovations, and building global commercial programs through distribution, retail, partnerships, and web digital platforms. Spatula Consulting focuses on accelerating growth, overcoming business challenges, and developing strategies for success for their clients. Justin, thank you for joining us at Biz Chat Ohio. Gretchen and I are really pleased to have you with us here today.

It’s great to be here. I’m excited– always excited to talk to fellow Ohioans, and especially when it comes to helping small businesses.

I’m also going to give a shout-out to the University of Dayton, of which you are an alumni and I am an alumni. So I think that speaks well to the content that we’re going to talk to you today. It’s going to be–

Well, we know it will be fun. So, Go Fliers.

Go Fliers. And Gretchen’s husband is an alum, actually.

I was going to– we got to–

–for a second. But yeah, my husband is an alum, so OK.

Oh, you’re a fellow Flier. You’re good.

Yeah, by marriage.

Yeah, exactly. All are welcome, so. But let’s dive right into our topic today, which is sales and marketing, sales being the very lifeblood of a business, and marketing being that vehicle that drives the business. Justin, let’s start out by having you explain to us why the owner of the business, who knows their business best, is not always the best person to lead the growth and marketing strategies of their team.

Yeah, I’ve worked with a lot of– listen, I’ve been in business for over 30 years, and I’ve seen and done a lot of different things. And now that I’m on my own working with small businesses and starting my own company, you realize some of the traps people fall into. And I think there’s three big things that owners tend to fall down on when they get too far involved.

One is emotion. I find it all the time that when a leader wants something so badly and believes something so badly in the vision that they’re trying to create, that when they dive down and they start to get into the day to day, the emotion affects the vision and the decisions that they’re making, because they say, no, this is the best ever. People are just going to love this. And they don’t really take a real perspective of what needs to happen in order to get them to where they’re trying to go.

The other is execution. People just can’t do everything, right? The people who are entrepreneurs and start small businesses– they want to do everything. They want to be involved in everything.

Many times– I’ve done it a lot– they want to control everything, right? What happens is they get overextended, and they touchpoint everything in the business versus really managing and running it. And so they end up with not really understanding or having enough control. And they split decisions. And people feel like they can’t make decisions. s

The third is vision. What I find with business owners and leaders is they’re either really, really good at where they want to go and understanding what this is going to look like. Or they’re really, really good at detail.

Typically, they’re not good at both. And most entrepreneurs, most business owners, are really, really good at being able to take a company and say, we need to get here. We need to go here. This is what it’s going to look like when we get there or what I want it to look like.

But most times, when they say, go run the day to day thing and go manage the little tasks and make the little micro decisions that help you get there, they’re typically not very good at it. Or at least on their own, they’re not very good at it. And so those kind of things tend to get in the way when you have that sort of– the owner creating and managing the day to day stuff.

Next, could you talk about goals and how looking at the goals from, let’s say, the other side– so that side being the competitors or prospective buyers– how do those help advance a small business?

Yeah, so I think there’s a bigger picture when you talk about goals. And people have a hard time with this. They say, well, what do you help– when you come into a company, how do you help? Do you help with sales? Do you help with marketing? Do you help with strategy?

When I look at a business, I look at all of those things intertwined. It’s all different parts of the puzzle that create what you’re trying to do as a business. What drives all of those elements of the business is what you’re trying to do. The goals of the business become the driving factor.

If you say, I want to double my business in two years, you have a very different strategy versus I want to expand slowly, 10% a year, and keep my business going and build a long-term brand. So when you define goals, and you look at it from the end game, you have to understand where you’re trying to get to and what you want to do with the business, because all of those things that make up how you’re going to get there are defined by what you’re trying to do. That’s a loop that some people forget about.

And if you look at it from the end game, what you’re trying to do is affected by what your consumers want; what they have available to them as products, services, whatever it is; and what your competitors are going to be doing when you get into the marketplace. So all that stuff plays in. So I look at it more as goals and strategy are where you start. And everything else helps you figure out the best optimal way to get there.

If a business has a sales or marketing person on board already, how does a consultant fill in the gaps or work with that individual or department to help that company?

Yeah, I think it’s– for me, I’ve seen it done a lot of different ways. When I was in the corporate world, consultants would come in, and they would have a model that you would follow, which is great. If you need a business process, those are really good.

If you need guidance as an executive, that’s another type of consultant. You just need somebody to bounce ideas off of. Here’s what my challenges are. So I think consultants from a business help can do different things for companies. It just depends on what you’re looking for, where your business is, and what consultants you’re talking to.

What I tend to do– I’ll just give you from my perspective. When I come into a company, what I do is I help businesses provide perspective on what they’re doing. I don’t come in and flip things upside down and tell them what they’re doing wrong and try and change their business dynamics.

What I do is really act as an advisor or as a partner to see and identify things that they may not see, help advance things that may already be in the system that they just need to focus on a little bit more, or things that they need to tweak. I think a consultant in general provides a value that is years of experience. They’ve done it with other companies. They’ve seen the challenges and the roadblocks and the pitfalls that happen in companies.

And you don’t– as a small business owner, a lot of times the biggest challenge– you don’t know. You don’t know what you’re going to come up against. You don’t know when you make a certain decision.

I hear it all the time. One of the things that– reasons I started my business is I heard small companies wasting so much money because they would talk to an expert in a certain field– a web developer or a digital marketing agency or a Amazon expert, a product development company, a manufacturing company. And you hear them spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and spending energy around something because this partner was saying– or this company was saying, you should do this.

And in a vacuum, that made sense. The problem is they didn’t have perspective on what needs to have– what not to spend money on, where to focus their energy. I just talked to a guy the other day who spent $150,000 and invested another $50,000 in tooling and inventory because this manufacturing said, this is what you have to do to get your product to market. There’s no other choices.

Well, as a consultant, I would have come in and said, no, no. Look, here’s other ways you can do this. You could spend prototype tooling. You can start with this. You can test the market with online sales to see if people want it and then buy the inventory.

Those are things as a small business you just don’t know. And so you waste time, you waste money, and you waste energy. And you put yourself behind the eight ball with things that you have to then overcome. And so I think as a consultant what you can do is you can help avoid the pitfalls, understand where the challenges might be, and be a guide and a mentor and a partner to people versus coming in and just telling them what they are doing wrong, and hopefully save time and money.

And if I’m hearing you correctly, I mean, you’re basically describing to me an objective viewpoint. I mean, would you agree with that? You’re coming in and giving all the different options.

Yeah. I think it’s perspective, absolutely. Again, you hear people– that when they have emotion, you built this business, right? Whether you got it to $100,000 or a million dollars or $10 million, you built this business. And you have an established thing that you are– it’s your baby. You got it to this point.

But sometimes getting it to the next level, you’re so wrapped up in– no, no, this is what I’m doing. This is great. Or we’re just on this path. And you just don’t have the experience of what happens when your competitor goes, no, I’m just going to wipe you out. I’m going to drop my price 50% to get you out of the market for the next year. I can afford to do that. You can’t. Well, now what do you do?

Or the dynamics of the market change, and how do you adjust? The pandemic was this ever-cleansing thing. And everybody said, well, if I’m in digital marketing, my business is going great. I’m on Amazon. This is going amazing because this is the [INAUDIBLE]. So that’s not sustainable when the pandemic is over, and things go back to some normal state.

Or companies who weren’t online are like, I need to get online. And so you have these things where you need perspective, and you need a– I think just somebody to bounce ideas off of, to hear things to think about. It doesn’t mean you make a different decision.

But you go into it with your eyes wide open of what could happen. What are my choices? Where could I go with this? I’m going to make choice A versus choice B. If you have the information, and you have those– that background– then it does give you an objective way to make decisions and decide where you want to go.

So could you explain how a company stalls their own growth by doing too much at the same time? And what do you suggest for gaining clarity in that business?

Yeah, listen, I see it all the time. I think the biggest thing is going back to what we talked about with goals and strategies. If there is not a laser focus and a laser understanding of where the business is trying to go and what they’re trying to get to with a framework of how much time and money do we have to go do that, then all the things that you end up doing from a product development standpoint become maybes. And they don’t bet big, or they don’t get focused around the things that they want to work on.

And so I think the first start is you need to make sure you really understand what your goals are and what your strategies are because that will drive your product development. That will drive what you’re working on.

Reverse that now, and you look at it from whether you have an R&D team or a marketing team or a product development team, whatever it might be. What I see people doing is they put 50 things into the coffer, which is fine. You talk about the top of the funnel when you talk about product development and product marketing. You want to put ideas in and projects in and make sure you have things in the top of the funnel.

What they don’t do, though, is they don’t prioritize those, clarify those, and narrow them down to get to the bottom of the funnel to work on the most important things that they think give them the best chance to win. And that’s where I think a lot of companies fall short. What they do is they put a lot of things in, and they put a lot of things into the top of the funnel. But they never funnel those out and sort them out and say, these are the four or five things that give us the best opportunity to win.

The other thing I see happening is the “because we can” methodology of development and product. If you don’t really understand how you’re going to compete in the market and what your goals are, your development team ends up working on things because they can. I hear it all the time. Oh, wasn’t this cool?

Well, does anybody want it? Or how are you going to sell that? Or how is it going to fit in? No, no, look how cool it is. It does this. And you’re like, you’re right. That is very cool. Or you hear, oh, my gosh. We took this, and we made it half the size.

Great. How long did you work on it? Oh, it took us six months. But how does that fit into what you’re trying to do? How does that help you reach your goals? And so you have these things or these projects that you’re working on that don’t maximize and get your company as quickly most efficiently as you can to the end goal. But the company is working on a lot of stuff.

And what happens is they have this mishmash of things that might work. And they put a little bit of money and a little bit of effort behind a bunch of stuff. And they hope that one of those things becomes the next big thing for their company and their business and the thing that takes them to the next level.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. More often than not, it advances the company, and it helps them with the business, but only a little bit. It doesn’t maximize and optimize what they could be doing.

I mean, do you see this as maybe not understanding who their target market is or not having enough information before they start developing a product? You said they don’t– does anybody want this? So we experience a lot of customers who really don’t know who their target market is.

They’ll say, well, we’ll sell to anybody and everybody. But that’s not a target market. So could you just talk about target markets and how important it is to identify who that target market is?

Yeah. I’ve always said when I talk to people about product development, I’m not the smartest guy in the room. But a really easy question to ask is, why does anybody want this? And who’s going to buy it?

And I think those simple questions really fail companies. It really is, if you don’t understand who is going to buy this product and why, you really– what you’re doing is you’re just throwing spaghetti up against the wall and hoping something sticks. It goes back years and years and years, hundreds of years, for people that fail companies.

So you develop this product. And you’re like, I can sell it to a grandmother. I can sell it to a mom. I can sell it to a dad on a golf course. And you’re like, I know, but who is the core? Who are you going to start with? If you’re going to tell your neighbor, hey, do you know anybody that wants to buy this product?

And they say, well, who should I talk to? You need to be able to tell your neighbor, oh, it’s great for kids who are just out of college at 23. And it helps them be more efficient in their micro apartments because they don’t have a lot of space or whatever it might be. But that end user– and this goes back to how you’re going to compete in the marketplace and where your products and your business, your brand, fits.

You need to understand, it doesn’t have to be 25 to 30 with $300,000 of income and living in the Midwest with a blue house and a white fence and one dog. It can be people who have this profile or people who like to do this. It doesn’t have to be so– you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on research. But it is part of that goal, right? Who are you going to sell to, and why would they buy it?

And so that just goes into plans– marketing plans, sales plans, business plans.


We often talk to– often– always talk to our clients about the importance of having that plan, because without the numbers, without the goals, without the target audience that you’re trying to reach, it’s really just a dream. And you’re just out there, like you said, throwing spaghetti on the wall. So can you talk a little bit more about a plan? And you’ve mentioned it a couple of times. Can you give a few good points about the plan or must-haves to be included that will really make a difference for a company?

Yeah. And again, I keep going back, because I think it’s a simple thing. You have to understand your goals. You have to understand how you’re going to compete, what your strategy is. That starting point for businesses is critical.

I’ll say one thing just in general about plans. One of the things that people think about plans is that they have to be so detailed that it’s like, on Thursday, we’re going to do this. And we’re going to spend $8.00 on this.

What I look at plans is a general roadmap. If I tell you to go to California from Cleveland, there’s a lot of ways to get to California from Cleveland. I’m going to fly. I’m going to drive. I’m going to bike. I’m going to walk– you know, what path I’m going to take.

Well, once you get on that path to go to California from Cleveland, there’s a roadblock or there’s a traffic jam or you get delayed, and your flight gets moved. The plan is a general guideline for the business in how you’re going to go compete. So you need to have enough detail in the plan to be able to say, if I tell my team, they need to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how things will work in order to fit in.

But we also need to understand that that plan isn’t so rigid that you can’t adjust because things happen. I think one of the biggest fail points in companies is the micro decisions that happen day to day in the business that come up– that if you don’t have a good plan and a framework for what you’re trying to do, how you’re trying to get there, and what your goals are, you end up with touchpoint, touchpoint, touchpoint, touchpoint, touchpoint. And slowly but surely, those micro decisions take you outside of your framework and your plan.

And now you have to course correct. And the plan should just be enough of a guideline and a platform that says, what are we going to do in the short term? Where are we trying to get to in the long term? And what are we putting in place 18 to 24 months from now to help us bridge that gap from the short term to the long term? And then you adjust based on what you’re trying to do there. So those are just a couple of things about planning.

Thank you.

I’ve got a follow-up question there. You mentioned 18 to 24 months. Folks have different thoughts on how– the time period for these plans. I mean, you think one to two years? Three to five years? I mean, do you think there’s a magic number, or it really depends on the business? What are your thoughts on that?

No, listen, I will– I’m a staunch believer in that you should never– you should have a vision for what you want to do long term– five years from now, right? Five– great. Have a vision for where you want to be in five years.

Never plan more than three years. The world is changing too fast. Your business is changing too fast. I look at things in six to 12 months. You need to do things now– cash flow, take care of current customers, supply chain planning– things that are going to affect and could put you out of business that you need to manage and do now.

That’s the six to 12-month vision of what you’re trying to do. You look at the 18 to 24 months, which is– a lot of times in business, it’s just your cycles. You can’t do something in eight months if you want to do it– just buyers, or getting things produced and out into the market, and then seeing how it sells.

So that 18 to 24 months gives you a full cycle or two of the business. And then where you’re really looking at it is by the time that happens, and then you repeat that cycle again, is your three-year plan and where you’re trying to get to. Beyond that, listen, we could be in flying cars, so.

That’ll be interesting if we are.


Please let my kids learn to drive first on a road.

I know.

That’s where my mind went.

My kids don’t even know what a stick shift is anymore.

So I got a final question. We’re dying to know why the name “Spatula Consulting?” What’s the history there?

Oh, so when I was in the business world, and I was an executive at 27 years old, running a $300 million business. And I was naive. I would have all these people come in that were consultants. And they would say, oh, you’re doing this wrong.

And they would parrot out all the things that we said we need to fix. And then they would say, here’s this model. And you need to have optimized manufacturing capability alignment with– and you’re like, what? These buzzwords. So when I started– when I decided to go off on my own, all my buddies were giving me a hard time. They were like, oh, you’re going to be one of those guys.

I’m like, no, no, I’m really not gonna be one of those guys. I’m like, I just want to help companies and businesses. And I was trying to figure out a way to tell people that I’m not Falcon Consulting Company and Financial Business Review Dynam– and so I was trying to come up with a name that represented that.

One night I was sitting around, and my daughter brought out this Vitamix blender that we have. And I’m like, oh, we haven’t– I actually forgot we even had that thing. And it clicked in my head. I want to be the tool in your kitchen that you can pick up for all these different things every single day and gets the job done.

And then you put it back. And then the next day, you pick it up, and it’s– you’re stirring with it. The next day, you’re flipping an egg with it. The next day, you’re using it for this. It’s a low-cost simple thing that just plain gets the job done, not the Vitamix or high-end appliance in your kitchen that you bring out once or twice a year. And so it’s just a way to represent cost-effective, get the job done, simple partner for my clients that I work with.

That’s awesome.

I love that.

I love it.


And I wanted it to be memorable, right? I wanted–


It’s memorable as well, so.

I’d like to think that we’re spatulas, too, Gretchen– that we–

Oh, absolutely.

Some people will move things along. When you get stuck or something needs to be revved up a little bit, we can just come in and help them out. So I like that– the metaphor of that.

Hey, Justin, thanks so much for being with us today. We greatly appreciate you sharing your business knowledge with our listeners. We’ve got your website here. It’s And we’re going to make sure that we include that in our show notes. Are there other resources that you’d like to mention to those listening today for small businesses that can help them stay up on upcoming trends, et cetera? Any go-tos that you think are worth paying attention to?

Sure. Well, listen, I wanted to offer anybody listening two free consulting sessions with myself– two one-hour sessions. So if they would like, they can email me at the letter J-K-A-L-V-I-T-Z at, Just put in the title subject this chat, and they’ll receive two free one-hour consulting, mentoring, or just discussions, however they want to do it. Happy to offer that as a free service for all the listeners.

That’s great. Thank you, Justin. We will put that email address in our show notes as well. And we really appreciate you offering that to our listeners. That’s really valuable. So thank you for joining us today. We were so glad to have you.

It’s been great to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity.

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