Google Sugar Dot Cookies: Interview with Clough'D 9 on Cookies as Business

Friday, July 3, 2015

Interview with Clough'D 9 on Cookies as Business

 Cookiepreneur Interview with Amy from Clough'D 9 Cookies

I'm so excited for the first cookiepreneur interview!  I'll be asking them about running a cookie business.  It will be great to hear about a variety businesses.  They may all be in the cookie biz but just like decorating a single design, there are many ways to do it.

My friend Amy is with us today talking about the business side of decorated cookies!  She and I met in 2012 when we traveled together to the first Cookie Con.  I loved hanging out with her!  I've learned so much from her since then and even more through this interview. You're going to love her insight on the business of cookies......

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How long have you been in business?   Is it part-time or full-time?
Officially, I’ve been in business for over two years.  I left my teaching career to do cookies full-time. 

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?
When I started with cookies, Maryland didn’t have a Cottage Law on the books.  My husband and I were already doing a lot of research about how I could legally do cookies.  Maryland passed the Cottage Law while we were still trying to figure things out.  Unfortunately, Maryland’s Cottage Law, as it was originally written, was quite restrictive (could bake in-home, but only selling at public events and farmer’s markets, no online selling, no shipping).  We knew that I needed to be working in a commercial kitchen to be able to sell person to person.  Commercial kitchen space was not available to me locally, and my husband was not keen on my spending nighttime hours in a kitchen away from home.  So we built a kitchen!

If you use a commercial kitchen, please tell us about it.
My husband and I built a free-standing commercial kitchen in our backyard.  We were only the second individuals in our county to have done this, so there was a definite learning curve for us and our local health and zoning departments.  The kitchen is a 16’x16’ building that meets the commercial kitchen codes set forth by the state of Maryland.  Fortunately, I was permitted to forgo the hood and grease traps since I only do cookies and had no need for that equipment.  But I had to invest in the NSF refrigerator, NSF convection oven, Kitchen-Aid, stainless steel tables, three sinks (three-basin dishwashing sink, hand sink, and mop sink)- all the things you would see in a regular commercial kitchen.  My commute to work is a mere 35 feet. 

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 love having my cookie space separate from my family space.  Before the cookie kitchen was finished, I was juggling baking in my home kitchen.  It was hard!  The hardest part might have been the kids running past me as I was trying to pipe straight lines.     

Do you ship cookies?  If so, please tell us about that.
I ship cookies via USPS Priority Mail.  It makes me nervous every time I ship because I am so afraid of the cookies ending up in crumbs when they reach the client.  As I tell my customers, I just hope that the postal carriers handle my packages with as much care and love as I put into making them.  I have had the best shipping success with standing individually packaged cookies upright in rows inside a bakery box cushioned with bubble wrap and tissue paper.  This bakery box is placed inside a shipping box with additional cushioning materials.  I print my postage from home via the USPS website and it is less expensive.  

Does your business include anything else other than taking custom decorated cookie orders?
I only do custom cookies.  Frankly, I don’t have time for anything else!

What is your most enjoyable business task?
My most enjoyable business task is when the customer gives me free reign over the design and I get to be as creative as I want.  I also really like coming up with tutorials for my blog.  I am always trying something new!

Does anyone help you with your cookie business or are you a one-woman-show?
I am a one-woman show.  Sometimes, I am able to bribe my children to wash dishes (with a cookie of course!).  Due to the current laws in my county, my home-based business can only be one employee- me.  Truthfully, I don’t make enough money to be able to pay a helper. 

If you could delegate one task, what would it be?
Managing invoices and receipts.  I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. 

Best tip for those starting their cookie business?
* Time management is huge.  Don’t take on a big order until you know you can handle it.
* Don’t think that you have to buy all the latest cookie gadgets.  Become a master at the techniques at your disposal before investing in others.  Re-use cutters, and make do with what you have.  Remember that your goal is to make money. 

How did you get the word out about your business in the beginning?  How do you do it now?
I have been extremely lucky in that my first customers were other teachers in my school.  Word of mouth is very powerful!  I use Facebook and Instagram to highlight recent work, and my blog to showcase tutorials and my husband’s thoughts as the Cookie Widower.

Have you raised your prices since beginning?
Yes, to offset the cost of ingredients, building loan, and insurance.  

Any tips for efficiency – in making dough, decorating, shipping, invoicing….anything!
* If you use a KopyKake or Pico Projector, save your sketches!  It’s a pain to have to re-sketch or re-print the same design.  File them!
* Learn how many cookies you can get out of one batch of dough.  It’s so frustrating to be cutting out shapes and run out of dough.    
* Come up with an organizing scheme for keeping track of orders and stick with it.  I use iCal on all my electronic devices to keep track of dates and details of orders.

Do you have minimums on number of cookies per order, number of designs, number of icing colors?
My minimum is typically one dozen, but sometimes I will do a 6-piece set if I know I will already have dough and icing ready.  For one dozen, I typically do 3-4 designs.  I am not concerned with the number of icing colors because my personal tastes are usually the cause of having multiple colors.  I would much rather have more icing bags to wash than not be completely satisfied with the order.  

 What are your cookie dreams?  If you could, would you hire employees, buy a larger mixer, move into a larger space, etc?
I have zero intentions of going bigger.  I love my little set-up, and it works for my family. 

 Anything else you’d like to add?
* Pricing is the one part of my cookie business that I struggle with every day.  I know my prices are cheap compared to many other cookiers online.  The area in which is I live is very rural and my prices reflect what my community can tolerate.  I know I can get more money on shipped orders, but that involves packaging, going to the post office, paypal payments and fees, etc.  It’s a lot of hassle.  There’s something to be said for meeting someone locally and getting paid, cash in hand.  If I raise my prices too much, I risk alienating my local client base and will be forced to rely on shipped orders more.  I don’t want to do that.    
* Don’t be discouraged by all the fancy-schmancy cookie designs that you see online.  As a business, your goal is to be able to fulfill the customer’s requests.  Chances are, they are not asking for a 7” abstract cookie design that takes 12 hours to create for their child’s birthday.  Be true to your design and your style.  With that said, use down-time to stretch your creative legs.  Got a bit of extra dough?  Make an extra cookie to put aside for later.  When those creative bugs bite, you’ll have some cookies to play with.   
* Learn the proper etiquette of the cookie world.  Ask the cookier before replicating their original designs.  In my opinion, you don’t need to ask if the cookier did a tutorial on the design.  In all cases, do the whole “inspired by…” and tag the original cookier.  It’s just nice, and it’s the right thing to do!
* I realize that holidays are prime cookie time.  However, if you take on too many cookie orders, you will be absolutely miserable when the holiday actually comes.  It’s not worth making someone else’s holiday special at the cost of your own family’s holiday. 

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Thank you so much Amy!

You can find Amy on her website, instagram, and on facebook.

Please answer my poll on the left sidebar. I'm curious!

Read more.......
Posts on "Cookiepreneur Interviews"
Posts on "Cookies as Business".
Posts on " Poking Around the Kitchen".
Posts on "Commercial Kitchen"

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