Google Sugar Dot Cookies: Interview with Sammie B's Sweets on Cookies as Business

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Interview with Sammie B's Sweets on Cookies as Business

  Cookiepreneur Interview with Sam from Sammie B's Sweets

She's got some great advice for us - those new to the cookie business and those not so new!

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How long have you been in business?   Is it part-time or full-time?
I got my official business license in April of 2012, and I do this part time. I have 3 kids with very different schedules, so it's important to me to be able to work around their schedules and have the flexibility of staying at home with my kids as needed.

Tell us about the Health Department laws in your area?  Do you have to use a commercial kitchen or is there a Cottage Food law? 
TN has a cottage food law, but the requirements vary by county, so you need to check with the local health department for specifics. Fortunately my county is pretty laid back! Here are some examples of the rules:
    - I am only allowed to make foods that do not require refrigeration. 
    - I am not allowed to prepare any other foods in the kitchen at the same time as a commercial order.
    - No pets are allowed in the dwelling.
    - I do not have to have an inspection, but my product labeling must reflect that. I have to have every packaged and labeled item say in a large font, "This product was made in a private home not inspected." If I want to be able to remove this from my labeling, I must have a health department inspection the same as a restaurant would have, and they have the same requirements for the most part. 

If you use your home kitchen, please tell us about that.  What did you need to do to get it approved?  How do you manage your kitchen when it involves both business and family? 
I'm in a unique position, as I actually have a secondary residential kitchen in a separate location. It is in the same county, so the same cottage food law requirements apply as it would in my own home. My brother had built a private studio apartment with a full kitchen, but has since married and built a new home on the same property. As his kitchen was sitting unused, he offered it to me for my business purposes. It's great, because it gives me a separate place to do my work without complicating family meal times and space. However, I can also take my children with me as needed, and they can play in the living room and have their own area away from my cookie work. The kitchen gets no other use other than my cookies and teaching classes. It's perfect for me!

Do you ship cookies?  If so, please tell us about that. 
I only ship when requested, but as most of my business is word of mouth, it is local. My shipping orders are typically customers that have since moved, or friends and family out of state. I do not use etsy, or anything of the sort. As far as how my packaging goes, it depends entirely upon the order. When I know the cookies are for a party and need to be plattered, I typically heat seal each cookie in individual bags, then attach those to firm cardboard. I then wrap each sheet of cardboard in bubble wrap, and then package them in a box for shipping. For these orders, I do not upcharge, I simply charge exactly what USPS charges me. When I know it is a gift, the cookies are layered between bubble wrap in a nice cookie box with a window, and then the entire box is tied with a ribbon and label. That gets wrapped in bubble wrap and fit into a flat rate box. I typically charge $5 for gift packaging.

Does your business include anything else other than taking custom decorated cookie orders?
I actually teach cookie classes every other month. I have done both beginner decorating classes and advanced techniques. 
My beginner's class is a lot of fun! We go over EVERYTHING. We mix dough, roll and cut cookies, and bake a tray in class. We make our royal icing from beginning to end, including coloring, and I share lots of tips and tricks that make it easier! I've learned what streamlines the whole process through the years of trial and error, so I love teaching people the easiest way to do things. We take a break and enjoy some light refreshments, and then everyone gets a dozen cookies to decorate and take home. We go over the very basics - outlining and flooding- to begin with. We move on to creative texture by piping in sections, and then we have fun with wet-on-wet designs. It's about a 3 hour class, and we always have a good time.
For the advanced class, I prepped the cookies and flooded bases where needed. We went over airbrushing, stenciling, the wood paneled look, hand-painting, using luster dusts, and so much more! It was all about the details and textures. 

What is your most enjoyable business task? 
I love the design side of cookie decorating! While my favorite part is always seeing a customer's reaction to a custom order, the most enjoyable part is coming up with something designed exactly for them. Most of my orders are unique, and centered around someone's personality. I've been fortunate that with most of my business coming from word of mouth and internet recommendations that many people come to me knowing design is my strong suit. I don't do many character cookies or have people bring me specific designs. They usually approach me with a color scheme and details about the person, and let me come up with whatever I want (pending their approval, of course). :)

Does anyone help you with your cookie business or are you a one-woman-show? 
I am a one woman show (with the support of my husband). I would love to have someone help one day when I go full time, but for now, this business is my creative getaway. With 3 kids 6 & under, it is a way to have a much needed creative outlet and help support my family at the same time!

If you could delegate one task, what would it be? 
Washing those dishes, yo! I only have one mixing bowl for my Kitchenaid mixer, so I have to constantly wash in between each stage of cookieing!

Best tip for those starting their cookie business? 
Practice, practice, practice! And check your legalities on the front end. Some places aren't as strict, but I know people personally who have been fined for not following the legal processes in their area. It's more trouble that its worth. Also, do NOT underprice your product. You shouldn't charge less simply because you're new! Your time and your product are valuable. It's much easier to lower your prices if needed than it is to raise them.

How did you get the word out about your business in the beginning?  How do you do it now? 
As I am a small business, I rely completely on Facebook and word of mouth. Since this is a part time venture for me until I can go full time when my kids are older, I don't HAVE to have any orders. I am fortunate that my customers are loyal and supportive, and help spread the word. 

Have you raised your prices since beginning? 
I have, but not in a public format. I'd say 95% of my orders are quoted since they are all custom. I have a base price guide that I let people see to give them a rough idea of what price range they will end up in, but I do not have a specific cookie price. I value my time more than I did a few years ago when my schedule was less hectic, and my quoted prices do reflect that change. 
I will say that I am okay losing a customer if my price is too high. I've done quite a bit of market research, and I do not want to market myself as a budget cookie decorator. I work hard to provide custom products full of thought and precision, and my customer base and pricing reflect that. I always treat each potential client professionally and respectfully, but I won't lower my prices just to get an order.

Any tips for efficiency – in making dough, decorating, shipping, invoicing….anything! 
Planning helps! If you have a complicated design, dissect each step in the design before you begin. Make sure you know if you have a base color that needs to dry before the next step, and have your colors ready to go.
Also, regarding royal icing consistency, I ALWAYS start with a piping consistency in my entire batch of icing. I scoop out about a cup (or more if needed), and put that into a sealed ziploc bag. Then I thin the rest of the icing down to flood consistency. That way I'm not thinning each color, and I always have a piping consistency ready to go! I'd much rather blend one color twice than thin every single color I have down.

Do you have minimums on number of cookies per order, number of designs, number of icing colors?
I have a minimum $50 order. There are no minimums on anything design or quantity related, but the more designs, the higher the price.

What are your cookie dreams?  If you could, would you hire employees, buy a larger mixer, move into a larger space, etc? 
I'd love to have a full time business some day and build a separate cookie kitchen on my own property. I hope that when all of my kids are in school 5 days a week, that I will be able to support my family financially more.

Anything else you’d like to add?
When it comes to business, follow your instinct! If you feel you can't properly complete an order to a customer's satisfaction, or that you're too booked, don't be afraid to say no. And be honest! I have told people why specific suggested designs didn't work, or that I wasn't able to accommodate certain days or certain prices. Sometimes people get upset, but most of the time, they appreciate being treated respectfully and understand that you're the professional. I would far rather someone tell me they couldn't do something the way I wanted and suggest an alternative than to take my money and provide me with a disappointing product. Your attitude and honestly will help make loyal customers.

Also, it doesn't hurt to have a good relationship with competing cookiers. When I was pregnant and dealing with some issues, it was invaluable to have a cookie friend in town that I could recommend to take care of my clients when I was unable. We constantly are sending each other orders and clients, and we both help whenever we can. She has saved me many times, and I do what I can to help her whenever she needs it! 

Happy cookie-ing, y'all! 
Dotty, thanks so much for letting me answer these! I hope it's helpful to some hopeful small business cookie folk.
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That was great!  So much great information there!  Thanks Sam!

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