Susan Nolte had an idea, but was it a viable business? That’s the question that brought her to the Entrepreneurial Center. With guidance from the business coaches, Susan developed a business plan, learned about marketing strategies and gained an appreciation for cash flow management as she refined her business concept in a series of classes designed for those just starting (or thinking of starting) a business.
Susan talked about the classroom experience and what that did for the launch of her business. “I loved learning from the visiting instructors, because I felt that I got an inside look at the major focus areas of a business from people who were actually practicing in their areas. Although my business idea changed considerably after the class was over, I used everything I learned in class to refine my business concept.” Originally, Susan wanted to bake and deliver delicious, wholesome cookies that had healthier ingredients than those traditionally found in stores at the time. Over time, the concept evolved into a healthy cookie mix, which allowed her to take advantage of broader consumer appeal, wider geographic reach and a longer product shelf-life.
Her first big challenge was to identify the right manufacturer for the three product offerings she developed. They are: Triple Chocolate Chip Oatmeal, dairy-free and egg-free Rich and Chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip, and Hearty and Wholesome Oatmeal Cranberry cookie mixes. Her ingredients are packaged individually which is a unique feature from how most baking mixes are put together. This allows bakers to “Make a Good Cookie,” meaning, customize the recipe to their taste, and achieve homemade results with healthier ingredients.
About 6 months after taking the Entrepreneurial Center class, Susan was in production, with consumer sales generated through networking contacts and low-cost high impact public relations activities that leveraged relationships she had built over time. By attending her first big national trade show in September of 2009, Susan was introduced to an up-and-coming unique, “healthier-product ” on-line marketplace that catered to her particular target audience. Also at that trade show, she was able to secure her first big retail account, a national home furnishings store. This helped her continue to build some steady cash flow while pursuing regional distribution in Whole Foods and some other strategic distribution outlets that would bolster the brand’s credibility and link May Cookie Company with a healthier lifestyle.
Susan did take advantage of an SBA loan to help her get started, and now the three May Cookie Co. mixes are available in over 100 retail stores throughout the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West Coast.
Thinking back on all her sales pitches to accounts over the past two years, Susan explained a lesson that really solidified for her about a year ago: “There have been a lot of ‘ups and downs’ but one major learning has been to know your customer and really stick to your mission. You have to be willing not to try to please everyone. That’s a hard lesson because you want to sell to everyone. For example, I decided not to pursue most ‘mainstream’ supermarkets, at least for now, because they’re not quite the right way to hit my target audience in a financially feasible way.”
Why Be An Entrepreneur?
“It’s very motivating to work for yourself,” Susan explains. “You can see the tangible result of your own efforts; everything I work for is directly related back to me. While there are still many challenges, I love being in charge of my own destiny!”