Tapping the Family Tree

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Entrepreneur Josh Parker with wife Alessandra and son Rhett at the Parker’s Real Maple road side stand in front of his County Route 21 business in Canton.

BY: Jake Newman

While infant son Rhett was attended to by his aunts, Emily and Elizabeth, and supervised by his grandfather, Christian, his parents Joshua C. and Alessandra Parker sat side-by-side at the family’s dining room table, taking a break from their hectic lives as the heads of Parker’s Real Maple.

    The maple-making season is short and fast, and while most in the trade are at their busiest during the early spring when sap is flowing, the Parkers’ business and its focus on year-round production of value-added products keeps the newlyweds on their toes at all times.

    While the couple is constantly on the move, Mr. Parker said having his wife invest her time and care into the company has relieved him of some of the burden.

      “I would say that working together is the best and the hardest thing we have ever done,” he said. “For me, before her I was just doing it by myself and it has gotten a lot easier.”

    Before Mrs. Parker there was just a young entrepreneur from Canton who chose to make a living out of his passion for maple. A chance meeting in the lobby of a hotel has changed the layout of not only Mr. Parker’s home life, but of his business as well.

    “I was at a political conference,” said Mrs. Parker, who was working for a presidential campaign at the time. “Josh was there with one of his friends who had started a student organization.”

    The pair kept in touch and eventually started dating long-distance. Mrs. Parker found out she was expecting their newborn, Rhett, in September of last year, and the pair were married in January. It was not long after that when Mrs. Parker took her campaigning experience and applied it to her husband’s company.

    “Marketing a person and marketing a product is kind of the same thing,” Mrs. Parker explained. “I found out that was what I would like to do, so I started to take over the marketing and in about April we decided I would take over as CMO.”

    Before she began her work with Parker’s Real Maple, however, she had to know more about the product she would be selling as chief marketing officer.

    “I did not even know there was such a thing as real maple, which is super embarrassing now,” Mrs. Parker said with a laugh. “I thought syrup came out of trees. I literally did not know about sap.”

    Mr. Parker said his wife is a perfect example of the demographic he is targeting.

    “She is the consumer we are trying to reach. Her, in Texas, who had never heard there was a real and fake maple and who had no problem buying a $9 vegetable smoothie at Whole Foods, was still buying Aunt Jemima because she just did not know the difference,” he said.

    Mr. Parker admits there was a learning curve when Mrs. Parker came on board, but he is excited with how the dynamic has played out.

    “I would say it has created more work, but more work for the better,” he said, adding that the process of learning to work together is ongoing.

    The young CEO said he has realized that when he and his new business partner work in the same direction, their productivity is immense. At the same time, there are moments when he and his wife clash and progress halts. Finding a way to stay on the same wavelength is crucial.

    While working in a cohesive manner can sometimes prove difficult, Mrs. Parker said there are certainly perks to working with her husband.

    “There are the positives of it, like we are always together. The work day will end and we are still working at the dinner table together,” she said. “We will be lying in bed at night and we will be throwing out ideas at each other about what we want to do, but the other side of it is you do have to make time for your marriage and kind of separate the two so you can go out to dinner or something.”

    Finding ways to interact outside of their business has proven difficult for the young CEO.

    “I don’t know how it is for her but for me, something goes through my head and I’m like, ‘We are not supposed to talk about business at dinner, but what the heck else are we going to talk about?’” Mr. Parker said with a smile. “I would ask ‘How was your day?’ but I know her answer is going to be about business.”

    A major shift in the company is fast approaching as Mr. Parker looks to move his operation from the barn behind his parents’ house to 19 Commerce Lane in Canton, where he is renting space from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. Moving from the building he founded his company in will be a difficult, but necessary, move.

    “I enjoy having it in the back yard,” Mr. Parker said with a laugh. “I think the nicest thing will be taking the burden off of my parents and having eight cars sitting in the driveway and having 10 people walking around at any given moment.”

    “It is hard too because that barn is basically where I started the company,” he added. “When you only have that much room, we turned it into everything we possibly could.”

    Now that the business is bursting at the seams in its current facility, the decision has been made to transition into an expansive space where the company can continue to grow on the hard work of the newlyweds.

    Both Mr. and Mrs. Parker are young, intelligent and driven in the pursuit of the company’s success, but much of what makes them such a powerful pair is their ability make up for the other’s shortcomings.

    “One thing Josh is very good at is that he is a dreamer. He can think of stuff that I would never think to do and they are great ideas and we do them,” Mrs. Parker said. “I am much more of a day-to-day person where I want to be on time, I am organized, I have my to-do list. Josh is very smart and his brain is just kind of everywhere.”

    One example of Mrs. Parker bringing her husband’s vision to reality is her blog, MapleMade. Mr. Parker had already secured the domain name, but had left it vacant while trying to figure out how to best make use of the site. Mrs. Parker jumped at the opportunity and has turned it into a way to provide an inside look at the company, and to offer recipes that include real maple.

    “The word was Josh’s idea, but it was my idea to make it into a blog,” she said. “I get a lot of moms who comment on there and say ‘I am definitely trying this over the weekend,’ so it has definitely been a way to connect with families and moms.”

    Real maple has not only been a unifying force within the Parker family, the new couple believes it can help bring other families together, as well.

    Mr. Parker said, until recently, he had never realized how unique it was to see a family come together around a food product. The process of creating maple syrup is something that can be enjoyed over several generations.

    “It is this nostalgic, fun, beautiful experience that is really bringing families together. So what we have found is not every product is like that in the food world so we are really lucky to have a product like that,” Mr. Parker said. “Since the beginning, when I was boiling syrup in my kitchen everyone was definitely around and thought it was cool and was tasting the overcooked syrup that I made on the stove.”

    “It has always been a centerpiece of the family and now it has grown to be not just in the spring as a centerpiece for the family, but actually all of the time. It never goes away, it is always there,” he continued. “If we weren’t working on it as a family I think it would feel unnatural because that is what maple is. It is bringing people together, and we have found working as a family has been the best way to do it.”

    In the relatively short time Mrs. Parker has been around the family and company, she has recognized the power of the sweet product her husband has become passionate about and wants to be selfless in its power to unite.

    “We want to take that family feel that we have here, where it is warm, and we are all about bonding around this incredible thing that nature has given us, and we want to give it to other families,” she said. “We want to invest in other people’s families and allow people to experience that feeling of warmth and bonding around our product.”

    Mr. and Mrs. Parker are now fully committed to both each other and their business, and they are dependent on it. Their goal moving forward is to make sure their employees and customers feel comfortable relying on it as well.

   “We really want to have a family company where everyone can depend on each other and get to know each other,” Mrs. Parker said. “It is more than just a maple business, we feel like we are family.”