Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

This is our third November in business and each one has been slow in comparison to the other months. This year is no exception. It's noticeably slower, especially at the shop. But I'm grateful for the calm. It's been a much needed time of rest after the busy summer, the whirlwind trade show experience and the busy leaf peeper season. December, traditionally, has been the busiest month for us, so we are preparing for the storm.

Sales of our dough in stores is always higher in December, about a third higher than our next biggest month. People do a lot of baking around the holidays! Not only that, but a new distributor will be debuting our products in its catalog in December, potentially leading to sales in a bunch of new stores that we are not currently servicing.

Internet sales for the holidays were just starting last year when we opened our shop and debuted our ecommerce site on December 15, but we had a whole lot more orders than we expected last year. Now that a lot more people know about us, we kind of expect this year to blow last year out of the water on the internet. Then there is Dakin Farm, a local mail order company, that has put a box of our cookies into one of its tower gift offerings (click here). We really don't know what kind of volume to expect from that, but they say they do most of their business during the holidays. And then there will be more customers in the store itself wanting to buy fresh baked cookies to take to a party or office event or whatever. We anticipate that all of these things together will make December a total blur, in the best possible way.

I try to have perspective about November's "slow" sales. Just two and a half years ago we ended our first day at a farmer's market having sold $127 in cookies and dough. This past weekend Paul delivered $1,800 worth of dough to just two stores in New Hampshire. We've grown a lot and "slow" has a very different definition now than it did two and a half years ago. And there are ebbs and flows in business and in life, and that is just ok.

There's another sort of storm we are readying for other than the ho-ho-holidays. That distributor I mentioned that will debut our dough in December serves stores throughout most of New England. There is the potential for getting our products into hundreds of new stores. This sounds great, doesn't it?? Well yes, of course. But it makes us worry about one of the most challenging aspects of our business right now, which is production capacity.

Currently one person does all the mixing for us. She's a mixing superstar, doing about 1,000 pounds a week in 88 pound batches. Then the rolls of dough are all cut, wrapped and sealed by hand as I described in an earlier post. If this distributor starts ordering large quantities, we will have to do some serious scrambling to amp up production.

In anticipation of all this, we met with a possible co-packing company two weeks ago. For those of you who don't know about co-packers, they are companies that will manufacture your product for you so you can focus on sales and marketing. There are an awful lot of specialty food companies out there that are built on this model. If you would like to learn more about available co-packers in your area, you can contact the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) ( This trade organzation maintains a database of co-packing facilities. While it may not be all inclusive, it is a good start. Call them at 212.482.6440 and ask for the Member Resources Manager. When I first explored this option three years ago that position was held by Heather Paul (

We think co-packing will be the best way for us to grow since we don't have large amounts of capital on hand with which to build our own automated packaging facility. The biggest hurdle to going down the co-packing road is that we will have to commit to making roughly 30,000 pounds of dough a month whereas we are only making about 4,000 pounds a month right now. How will we bridge that gap? I think, although I haven't really had a chance to analyze this yet, that we will have to get to the point where we are making and selling at least 20,000 pounds a month ourselves before we can make the leap to co-packing with confidence that we can move the product fast enough.

So we are faced with the potential problem of how we quadruple production capacity in our shop before we make the leap to co-packing. I don't have the answer now. It's what I will be chewing on right after I finish chewing on my Thanksgiving dinner.

I will do my best to post in December, if I don't, you will know why.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

So Why Do it?

A follower recently mentioned in an email to me that my blog may discourage some people from choosing to go down this entrepreneurial path. That's certainly not been my intention. It got me thinking though. Information from someone who has already gone through something that is brand new to us can seem a little daunting, maybe a lot daunting, maybe even negative or downright discouraging. So why would anyone in their right mind do it?

I had the experience myself this week of feeling a little discouraged by the experience and wisdom offered by some peers in the industry. I honestly don't think they intended to be discouraging. One had been in the specialty food industry for more than 25 years and is very successful by anyone's standards. But he had weathered a lot of ups and downs in those 25 years, and shared what he wished he had done differently. He shared what he had learned with the hope, I believe, of helping our road be a little less full of pot holes.

But here's the thing...

Sure, business is business. And the specialty food business is a business and there are rules in business and defined ways to measure success, blahdy blahdy blah. What's your gross margin? What's your multiple for valuation? What's your product velocity? No one goes into this intending to be blind to all that, but we ought not to go into it blind to the less tangible measures of success either.

I'm reading Eckhart Tolle these days. His message is to live in the moment, don't judge it, don't label it, don't resist it. Just let it be what it is while being present for whatever that is. It doesn't mean you can't have fun planning for the next moment, as long as you don't expect your happiness to arrive at some future point, because it will never arrive. You will always just be in the present moment. This idea has been a great comfort to me. It's also transformed how I think about success.

How you measure your success should ultimately be up to you. Even before reading Eckhart Tolle I had decided that my idea of success in life is to enjoy myself. And for the most part, I do. I want to get up when it's my day to open the shop. I look forward to learning the next thing I need to learn, and to creating and planning and to making people feel good with our cookies. People are in a good mood when they leave our shop. That sort of thing goes a very long way.

Whether we end up putting our kids through college with this business, or selling it, or going broke, I know one thing, that we are enjoying the ride, and that's enough.