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Exploring Life & Business with Tracy Landau of MarketPlace

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Landau.

Hi Tracy, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Twenty years ago, my husband Phil and I were working at a food, beverage, and supplement ingredient company in St. Louis when we were offered new positions that required relocation. Neither of us wanted to leave St. Louis, and Phil, coming from an entrepreneurial family, had always dreamed of starting his own business. So, we stayed in the city we love, ventured out on our own, and started MarketPlace.

Drawing on Phil’s technical background and my career in brand strategy and marketing, we started MarketPlace as a consultancy to support food, beverage, and ingredient companies in developing successful business strategies. Shifting from corporate life to consulting gave us a newfound satisfaction in using our experience and knowledge to help others. Being entrepreneurs provided the type of vocational freedom we’d longed for: we found so much joy in building relationships, exercising our creativity, and solving complex business and brand challenges for our customers. They valued our consulting and strategy partnership so much that they then began requesting tactical support to execute the strategies we developed. So, we hired our first employee, Josh Schipkowski (now fellow entrepreneur owner of UpStart Food Brands), which set us on the path of the MarketPlace of today.

That was 20 years ago! Since then, we’ve expanded not only our team but also our services and our areas of focus. It was a natural evolution to expand from food and beverage consumer products and business-to-business ingredients into synergistic pet + animal and health + wellness industries (which include vitamins/minerals/supplements, sports nutrition, medical foods, and more). We now have a team of approximately 30 talented strategists and creatives, and we’re growing, much like the industries we serve. We consider ourselves to be a full-service agency, and key service offerings include business and brand strategy, research and insights, brand identity and packaging, creative services, website development, media and promotion, video, photography, and more.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The values that we held when we started MarketPlace have guided us every day since, so even if the road got bumpy at times, we always had conviction about why we do this, and that conviction has provided the stability we need. For instance, right around our 10th year in business, we found ourselves navigating incredibly rapid growth. It was a complex challenge and one that we didn’t anticipate when we were only three people working in our basement. But we handled it the same way we would have back then: the core members of our team spent focused, collaborative time together around food and drink and reminded ourselves who we are, our mission, and our value as reinforced time and time again by our customers.

The result? We stayed true to our roots in the face of the temptation to become another big creative agency. We knew that—with consulting, strategy, and industry expertise in our DNA—we didn’t and never would fit the classic agency model. So instead of growing to accommodate the layers and roles typical of an agency, we doubled down on ensuring that our structure reflected a commitment to keep our focused business knowledge, industry expertise, and desire to remain an agile team front and center. In other words, by ensuring that we added no barriers between our clients and our strategy and design team, we preserved the consulting model that informed our founding and continues to serve us and our partners best.

This desire to prioritize strategic consulting over all else has had a profound effect on the strength and longevity of our relationships and the success of our work. Most customer relationships we have extended well beyond the industry average for creative agencies. Currently, our key customer relationships average approximately eight years.

We started MarketPlace shortly after 9/11, lived through the recession of 2008 and 2009 and now, the COVID pandemic. So, while we’ve certainly experienced many of the same macro-struggles as many other businesses, we’ve faced a smooth road overall, due in large part to the industries we serve. Economic recession or pandemic, people and pets need food and wellness products, and we’re fortunate to serve this ever-growing innovative niche.

Now, as we look hopefully toward a post-pandemic world, we’re poised again for disciplined growth. We’re promoting leaders, building experienced and talented teams, and implementing scalable operational models, all of it built upon our core values and our conviction that our food, pet, and wellness industry expertise and intelligence are and always will be the biggest value to our partners.

As you know, we’re big fans of MarketPlace. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
We recently finalized our updated mission statement, and I think it perfectly captures who we are: We better the lives of people and pets. Deeply rooted in nutrition and lifestyle markets, and driven by intelligence, collaboration, and care, we create breakthrough brands and cultivate meaningful success.

This focus on foods and wellness for people and pets has allowed us to develop an incredibly deep understanding of our partners’ industries and categories—in most cases, we can jump on board with them knowing as much, or in some cases, more than they ever imagined a partner understanding about their business. Our partners greatly value that we can get to work from day one. And that we bring rich insight and expertise due to 20 years of focus in their space. Honestly, probably our favorite piece of feedback over the years from our partners is when they say, “Wow, MarketPlace gets it.” That confirms and validates our decision to stay focused on these industries and to work so hard to keep strategic insight at the forefront of every project we work on. For the most part, this translates to our partners viewing MarketPlace as an extension of their internal team. We’re viewed as a partner, not a vendor.

There are other facets of MarketPlace that fall outside of the typical agency experience. For example, much like a board member or strategic advisor would, we’re able to tap into our social capital to connect our customers to the partners that will grow their business: formulation and regulatory experts, private equity and investment firms, co-manufacturers, brokers and distributors, and more. In other words, because we’ve worked with so many different types of people over the course of 20 years, we’ve become something of food, pet, and wellness industry matchmaker, and we love helping bring people together to better the lives of people and pets!

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
MarketPlace’s core values are care, capability, and confidence, and the team we’ve built around these values is the greatest reason for our success.

Because of our industry focus, our people—many of whom have been with us for over a decade—have deep expertise in our categories, and that expertise shows through in the care we take with our work, the capability we offer our partners, and the confidence to continue pushing our partners and ourselves to better the lives of people and pets!

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