Beyond the Click Ep 2: Andy Kurtts of Buttermilk Creative


On this episode of “Beyond the Click” we’ll talk to Andy Kurtts, of Buttermilk Creative.  You’ll hear about business challenges, small businesses face, and how they can be turned around with packaging design and learn about Andy’s favorite design resources and sources of inspiration.

Listen to Episode 2

Episode 2 Transcript

[00:00:00] Rob Ainbinder: Beyond the Click is a show about small business marketing and more for attorneys dentists and other small businesses. I’m Rob Ainbinder CEO of Why People Click and your host. On this episode, we’ll talk to Andy Kurttz of Buttermilk Creative, a packaging design company based in Greensboro, North Carolina.

[00:00:17] You’ll hear about business challenges, small businesses face, and how they can be turned around with packaging design and learn about Andy’s favorite design resources and sources of inspiration. Welcome, Andy.

[00:00:30] Andy Kurtts: Thanks, Rob. Glad to be here. Yeah.

[00:00:33] Rob Ainbinder: So we’ll start off with kind of your origin story. How’d you get into packaging design?

[00:00:39] Andy Kurtts: Yeah, sure. So I, I was lucky in that long, long time ago in elementary school and middle school, I knew that my path was gonna be through art. And so I was lucky enough to in public school be able to. Enroll in some sort of art class in each [00:01:00] grade from like sixth grade onto, you know, graduating from high school.

[00:01:06] And so as my path was pretty set, I was pretty sure I wanted to go into some sort of art making field. And initially I wanted to do fine arts. Okay. And I went out, I followed my dreams out to San Francisco. and followed in the path of, of the, the artist’s artists that I emulated mm-hmm and quickly learned that, that it was a very conceptual program out there.

[00:01:32] And it felt like. They were training artists to be gallery artists. And I knew that that was more than likely like a one and a million win, the lottery kind of thing. And so I talked to one of my mentors and he said, you should really look at something that’s more. Trade based and more commercial art based for your training.

[00:01:53] And so I, I reconfigured my path mm-hmm and ended up at Ringling college of art design down in [00:02:00] Sarasota, Florida went through their illustration program, which is well rounded and I was able to, you know, feed my fine art. Sort of tendencies with fine art minor in printmaking. And then I was, they also included a lot of graphic design and layout and typography in the illustration program.

[00:02:19] Mm-hmm and so, and there’s just, just a melting pot of all different types of creatives there. So it was a, it was a great experience from there. I spent a short stint at print shop in Sarasota, Florida. That’s really my trial by fire. It was learning. About plate making separation. You know, colors, all that kind of stuff.

[00:02:41] Mm-hmm PMs, colors, Panton all that kinda stuff. And which was, you know, just wasn’t touched on in our in my training. Mm-hmm, in the academic training from there, my wife and I moved back to Greensboro. I’m from Greensboro and we both got [00:03:00] jobs at the Fresh Market. It was, we had no idea that working in house at a grocery store was even a thing.

[00:03:07] Right. But lo and behold, they had openings for me. It was in the marketing department for her. Was in the store design department. And so I ended up working there for around seven years and over those seven years I designed Ton of stuff to support the business signage point of purchase, brochures, catalogs, everything.

[00:03:31] But one of my favorite things was their private brand packaging. And quickly I learned that or, or I, I really, you know, really set my sides on. Getting some of those projects at the time they were farming them out to another agency. And I said, no, I want the in-house department to be doing those. Cuz we know the brand.

[00:03:52] We know how we can execute these. We interface daily with the the merchandisers who are, you know, picking these [00:04:00] products. So we know we can create really great designs for these. And so that’s really where the love of special specialty food and beverage and packaging design came from is my experience at the Fresh Market.

[00:04:12] And so in right at the beginning of, I guess, 2015, I left the Fresh Market and started Buttermilk Creative, just doing what I had done for the past seven years for folks, the Fresh Market for our own clients. And we’ve just continued to, to carve out that niche within that community and, and build for our clients to this day.

[00:04:36] Rob Ainbinder: Wow. That’s quite an interesting story. And, and actually, it’s kind of interesting how, how you explained about your commercial art experience and how you were kind of pushed in that direction. I can relate that. To my mom, because she was a commercial, she was in a commercial art program. Mm-hmm she wound up working in the sales department of Gillette doing the sales sheets for the sales force.

[00:05:04] So, oh yeah. Yeah. So, and, and doing it, not on computer, but paste up. Oh yeah. So, so I was kind of exposed to that from. A young age and getting to see stuff come off. The printing press was kind of a really interesting experience.

[00:05:20] Andy Kurtts: Very cool.

[00:05:20] Rob Ainbinder: Yeah. So that was, that’s really interesting how you, how the I, as I talk to people, how their experiences build on one another and how they wind up expressing them in, in different ways, you know, on the design for, for your clients, what’s been your most memorable packaging design client or moment so far.

[00:05:43] Andy Kurtts: Sure. So the most impactful and memorable I have, I have two the most impactful and memorable is that private label design that I did for the Fresh Market. It was the coolest thing as a young designer [00:06:00] in my twenties. To create something and then be able to drive across town and see it on shelf, you know, within a few months mm-hmm and there’s nothing like that fix, you know, like it’s like, it’s like I was hooked, I was addicted and it was so neat to be able to see it and then come Christmas time, we could build gift baskets for family, with packaging that I designed mm-hmm and it was just really fun to be able to, to have that, that feeling. And it was just, and beyond that, you know, we had the, the grocery buyers and merchandisers coming to us saying, yeah, I, you know, a lot of it comes down to margins and numbers and all that kind of stuff, but.

[00:06:47] Something has to be attractive and to sell and for them to come to us and say that packaging was beautiful and it’s flying off the shelves. And it’s like, that’s, that just makes you feel good. Cuz it’s like, not only [00:07:00] did we create something that’s aesthetically pleasing. It also is improving the business as well.

[00:07:05] So that was, that really was my most memorable and impactful. And then from a, from a client side, Fresh market mm-hmm we worked on a, and we still work with them. It’s Whitley’s peanut factory. They’re based in, in Virginia. And this was a re redesign and rebrand of their not only of their identity, but also of their packaging.

[00:07:29] They have over 200 products. So this is a big deal. Mm-hmm , it’s a family run company. The the son of the guy that started the company. Is now in charge. And so, you know, it’s like he’s making his mark on his 30 plus year old family run company, you know? And, and that’s a, that’s a lot of pressure. That’s a lot of stuff on our shoulders.

[00:07:53] Sure. But we, we did a lot of work on the, on the front end, in the foundation, really [00:08:00] learning the brand and sort of figuring out, okay, what are. Who are we trying to speak to? What are some of those like tenets of the brand that we have to, we have to make sure are there. And as soon as we had those sort of subjective data points in place, then we knew the design was just gonna flow through that. And we knew whatever we created was gonna satisfy those needs. And and, and two years out, it’s doing great for them. And so that’s been, and, you know, just to hear their anecdotal evidence about existing customers that they had for years and years liking the pack, the new packaging, not being scared of the new packaging.

[00:08:35] That means a lot to me because, you know, we haven’t alienated anyone, but we’ve also evolved the look and feel to, to, you know, go into the future.

[00:08:44] Rob Ainbinder: Mm-hmm sure. Yeah. That’s, that’s, that’s really great. When you can kind of hit the brand on the head and extend it out to packaging is one of. Key experiences that a prospective customer has when they’re when they’re [00:09:00] shopping.

[00:09:01] For sure. Yeah. What are some of your favorite packaging, design resources or sources of inspiration?

[00:09:09] Andy Kurtts: Sure. Well, my most favorite. Ever is the grocery store, no matter the grocery store, whether it’s Aldi, Costco, Whole Foods, Sprouts, some weird boutique store. You know, when we’re traveling in a big city, you know, I don’t care what it is.

[00:09:26] I want to go there and I wanna see the funkiest, craziest product I can find, you know, like the. The, the kombucha that’s been brewed over a stone that then has been fermented in a barrel that was, you know, you know, Thor, you know, crafted it or, you know, who knows, you know, it’s like, I wanna try that. I wanna see it.

[00:09:48] I wanna see how people are messaging it, how they’ve designed the packaging for it. And that’s really a great source of inspiration. As soon as we start a project with the client, especially if it’s a new [00:10:00] category that we’re not familiar with, we immediately go to the grocery store and just, you know, just wrap ourselves in that category. And so that’s really the biggest place I go to. I also am a firm believer in inspiration, being everywhere and trying to make yourself available and open to that. So, you know, your kids are doing something crazy and it just, some, a light goes off, you know, like you have to be, make yourself available or a friend in the neighborhood who has, who isn’t even remotely in your field just brings something up, you know, and like says something that just, just, you just have to be available to that receptive. I also a big source of inspiration is the fashion industry for me. I look at the. You the, this was recommended to me a long time ago at one of at a design conference because they, the fashion industry is looking at trends and forecasting well into the [00:11:00] future.

[00:11:00] So when you look at their lines that they’re forecasting for. Next year, fall, winter, spring, summer, all that kind of stuff. You’re sort of seeing into the future in a way. And so you can look at colors and textures and patterns there. And, and then also within my creative network, like I have a few very close friends designers who were on a little text thread and we send out works in progress and things like that.

[00:11:26] Just to get feedback or encourage each other. That’s that’s really, I try not to go to very expect, like I love, like for instance, the, it’s a big packaging design blog. It has amazing content, amazing articles, but I try not to go there for inspiration because it’s already out there. It’s already published.

[00:11:47] Therefore, you know, we have to keep innovating and creating new stuff. Not that, that stuff. Isn’t great, but I can’t go there for inspiration because I would be ripping somebody off.

[00:11:58] Rob Ainbinder: That’s great. Well, thanks for sharing [00:12:00] that. I, I think, I think we can, as, as beings on this planet, take inspiration from a variety of sources, including nature.

[00:12:09] Yeah.

[00:12:10] Everywhere.

[00:12:10] Andy Kurtts: Exactly. Exactly.

[00:12:13] Rob Ainbinder: What are the three biggest problems you see with packaging design right now?

[00:12:20] Andy Kurtts: I think from what I see, the three things that I. That stand out to me are when brands try to meld their look and feel to a certain fad or trend it just, you look like you’re trying to fit in when you might not necessarily.

[00:12:38] You can or, or should, and it might not be brand appropriate. And so that’s a big red flag for me, you know, you see a lot of similar visuals and cues and elements happening mm-hmm and you try to fit into that. It just doesn’t work because you know, a lot of times it’ll happen within the category because you’re just trying to, you know, piggyback on the success of another product.[00:13:00]

[00:13:00] Rob Ainbinder: Right.

[00:13:00] Andy Kurtts: And so that’s a big thing for me. I think another big problem is hiring someone without retail packaging design experience. There’s a lot of guidelines that the FDA requires you to follow. And if you’re not following those. A grocery buyer will call you out immediately. And and then you might run a foul with the FDA.

[00:13:22] And so you need to make sure, you know, very technical things are followed around net, weight, nutrition, facts, all that kind of stuff, which bless their hearts they’re very talented and they might be great. But if they don’t know those things, then they’re gonna then you’re gonna have issues. And then.

[00:13:40] The last thing is when brands see design as something flexible as, as a budget item that is flexible. And, and I think that’s a, that is a dangerous path because, you know, for some reason, design is. Is this mushy thing, whereas [00:14:00] like hiring a lawyer for copyright or legal things or, or building a facility, those are all concrete things for some reason in our minds.

[00:14:09] But for design, it’s not concrete. It can be flexible. We either have $20,000 or we have $500 it’s, you know, who knows, you know? And so. I think that’s a, when people don’t take the time to invest and really learn the cost of great design, then they’re, they’re going down a sort of trepidacious path that that might not, I mean, it might be fine, you know, and they they’ll, they’ll get on shelf and all that kind of stuff, but they also might not be fine and get pulled and then the first couple weeks, and, and then you have all that inventory and so on and so forth.

[00:14:46] It’s a dangerous path. If, you know, if you don’t invest.

[00:14:50] Rob Ainbinder: Hmm. Well, those are three really good, good points about problems with packaging. Sure. As we wind things up, what’s something you wish I [00:15:00] asked you? And how would you answer ?

[00:15:03] Andy Kurtts: I think the, I cannot stress enough the importance of learning, how to run a business in addition to being creative, you know, like that is a huge part of what I do on a day to day basis, whether it’s marketing or keeping up with our finances or, you know, just running the numbers every quarter. I mean, all that kind of stuff, you know, it’s just, you, you, if you’re gonna be successful, whether you’re freelancer or a small shop, you need to know how to run your business.

[00:15:39] You have to have visibility on all those things. In addition to. Being creative. So that’s, that’s a, I think I can’t stress that enough. I think that’s very important for creatives to have, cuz we’re creative. Like we know how to solve problems. Running a business is just another creative problem that you have to solve.

[00:15:57] Rob Ainbinder: Absolutely. That’s a great point. [00:16:00] Now, if somebody wants to reach out to you for creative. Packaging design, how can they find you?

[00:16:08] Andy Kurtts: Oh yeah, you bet. So we can be found at and you can connect with me, Andy Kurtts on LinkedIn. And then if I can plug our podcast that we do just search “Kirk and Kurts” on any of your podcast providers and, and listen in.

[00:16:30] Rob Ainbinder: Great. Well, thanks for sharing those resources with our listeners

[00:16:34] Andy Kurtts: you bet.

[00:16:34] Rob Ainbinder: Thank thanks for joining us, Andy.

[00:16:37] Andy Kurtts: Thanks for having me, Rob. It was a blast.

[00:16:42] Rob Ainbinder: And I want to thank those that have listened or watched our show. “Beyond the Click” is produced by Why People Click the premiere agency to lawyers, dentist, and other small businesses. Listen to the podcast on Apple, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Find out more about our marketing services at 

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