"Bringing the Heat" - Gaston County based business named Small Business of the Year by Business NC

Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Original article via Business NC

When Elijah Morey was 6 years old, he found his dad, Bret Morey, working in their garden and asked what he needed to do to be the youngest person to eat the hottest pepper out there. After sinking his teeth into a banana pepper, he was hooked on trying more spicy foods. About six years later, he asked his father if they could start making their own hot sauces.

After years of trial and error, the father and son duo perfected their hot sauce. In 2014, they started Elijah’s Xtreme Gourmet Sauces in Gastonia. Now, they sell five hot sauces with different heat levels and flavor profiles. They utilize various social media platforms, a weekly newsletter, social media influencer outreach and other strategic marketing tactics to continue to grow the business.

Elijah, 24, graduated from Highland School of Technology in Gastonia and attended Anderson University in South Carolina. He’s convinced that he made the right decision to leave Anderson early to focus on the business. He later took online courses and earned a bachelor’s degree from Anderson.

Comments are edited for length and clarity.


How did you quadruple sales in 2021?
There were a few keys to allow such amazing growth. First was figuring out the best social media strategy. We developed a structure to grow our audiences on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and pinterest.

Tiktok was huge for us. I sent direct messages to people I found on TikTok, mostly in the food space, and sent them free hot sauce in the hopes they would make a video. Now, our hashtag on TikTok has over 13.5 million views and incredible exposure to potential new customers.

Amazon was another huge area of improvement and continues to grow. By really understanding the algorithm and how it works, we have been able to maintain our products as best sellers in the hot sauce and sauce categories.

We also have tripled down on social media advertising. This one was tricky and took many months of failure to figure out the best structure. We now have a pretty intense breakdown of how we reach potential new customers and retarget them on almost every social channel possible. We currently reach over 5 million people each month.

Our team provides the best customer experience possible.When using social media advertising, it is great to get an initial purchase, but I knew in order to really — and I mean really grow — we needed to nurture our customers. By nurturing our customers, we have seen a massive increase month over month of returning customers. One out of four come back the next month.

Lastly, passion. My dad and I work more than 80 hours a week because we love what we do — not because we have to do it. We add our passion into everything we do. I believe that is the final key to growing our company the way that we have.

What makes your sauces distinctive?
It is our passion. From the beginning, our desire was to create hotter, better tasting hot sauces that are unique, thicker and full of flavor. Using all natural ingredients, such as fresh peppers, we work many hours, sometimes weeks and even months, as we handcraft each recipe with one goal in mind: flavor first, then heat. We have been honored with 58 industry awards for
our sauces.

How did you get TV star Mario Lopez to like your product?
We were accepted into a very exclusive part of Amazon called LaunchPad. This program allows you to have the backend insights as the biggest companies in the world do and get in front of some amazing people.

I submitted one of our most popular products to be shown to Mario’s team for a Father’s Day gift guide, and we were one of 10 lucky companies to get picked. This led to Christmas-like sales over the weeks leading up to Father’s Day.

Is building strong ties with Amazon important?
Amazon is a necessary evil in today’s society. Our relationship with Amazon is one of the most critical relationships we hold, as more than 50% of our entire revenue comes from that platform. The biggest thing with Amazon is getting the right connections with reps and learning the algorithm to enable us to not just hold where we are in ranks, but to grow and gain higher positions.

How much capital did it take to start?
We launched our Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce hot sauce in June 2014 with enough money to incorporate, register and trademark our name, Elijah’s Xtreme®, and our X®. We also had enough money to pay for our first pallet of our Ghost Pepper Sauce, all under $10,000. As we sold products, we continued to save to buy more, using those funds to then buy two pallets. We now order over 75 pallets a year.

Why did you choose the hot sauce business?
When I (Elijah) was 6 years old, I came to my dad in the garden and asked what he needed to do to eat the hottest pepper in the world. My dad gave me a hot banana pepper and said, “Start here.” Each summer, we would challenge who could eat the hottest pepper from the garden and wait the longest before drinking any water — which led to us trying different hot sauces. I was about 12 years old when I asked my dad if we could make our own hot sauce, one that was still hot but tasted good.

It took three years and many moldy batches of homemade mash until we figured it out. After sending out over 100 samples, we received great feedback. We now have five hot sauces.

What has been your biggest challenge in 2021?
There have been a lot of privacy updates with social media advertising. This has led to bad data, so it is harder to figure out which ads have attributed sales. On top of that, we are running at such a high level with our ads; the video and creatives we use get saturated very quickly. This means I have to come up with new ideas, shoot videos, edit, and optimize them in social media forms every two to three days. It’s crazy. We have run more than 500 different video ads this year alone.

What is the best advice you have received for growing the business?
“It’s not a problem; it’s a challenge” — Dad, 2020

What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working?
Honestly, there’s little time we’re not working. We love it. We’re so passionate about our company. We’re always thinking of other ideas to share our passion.

Do you personally enjoy the spicy, burn-down-the-house sauces?
I enjoy a medium to hot burn on most of my food to really get me going. I don’t want to suffer. A ton of people love to suffer, and that’s why our hottest hot sauce is our top seller. ■