When Costco Calls, Decide Real Quick if You're Truly Prepared to Answer :-)
If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that my greatest challenge was getting the cookies from my house to the local farmers market. Not long after that, the schlepping took on a whole new meaning as I had to bake into the wee hours of the night (the only time I could get at the shared commercial kitchen space I was renting), then trudge through LA morning traffic to the four different malls at which I had kiosks. Once I built my first bakery (a pretty little place, my "little bakery that could", in West LA, I was finally able to start laying some groundwork for the future.
Thanks to the people at some great local grocery stores, markets and specialty stores, who were willing to give my then new product (Jackie's Cookie Babies, a little "crispity, crunchity" version of our original large, soft, oven-fresh cookies) a try, it quickly became clear that my plan to sell a lot of cookies to a lot of people in a lot of places, was coming together.
With some diligent and strategic door pounding (and a handful of gracious grocery buyers who opened their doors to see what this little girl with the little cookies actually wanted), suddenly I was not just in individual, local mom and pop stores, but now I was in regional supermarket chains. This was a huge test and a real gut check. No longer was I behind a kiosk, personally selling my product. No longer were the customers hyperlocal, extended friends and family from my neighborhood. Now, complete strangers from 50, 150 and even as much as 500 miles away were buying Jackie's Cookie Babies. And they weren't just buying them once. They were coming back for more! The replenishment orders came. Not once or twice. But over and over again. It was wild, and exciting, and surreal, and crazy - really crazy! That was my green light to go after what I really wanted which was to share Jackie's Cookie Babies with everyone. Truly, everyone! If you were to look at our marketing plan, it begins with a simple phrase, "Every pantry in America". And nothing against being in every pantry in the world, but I figured there were enough homes, kitchens, and pantries here in the US to give us something to do for a while.
So now the question was just how do we get to "every pantry in America"? Where does everyone shop? How do they shop? Obviously, online sales are increasing and I'll cover that in a future post. For the moment, people are still getting out there and shopping for groceries in brick-and-mortar stores. That's when we took a look at the country, which is kinda big when you're thinking about getting cookies into everyones home, office, car, etc, and broke it down to sections. Seemed like a good idea to start close to home, here in Los Angeles. And so we did. California, a bit of Arizona, Nevada - those were our targets. So where was everyone shopping? Gelson's, Bristol Farms, Pavilions, Vons, and more. Check, check, check. We were checking our boxes. Things were cooking. Literally. Making 1,000, 2,000 or even 5,000 pounds of cookies at a time for supermarkets was keeping us pretty busy. Or so we thought.
After laying the groundwork for over a year, Costco was finally ready to share Jackie's Cookie Babies with their many customers who buy lots and lots of stuff. Fortunately Costco is broken up into a number of regional offices throughout the United States. Even more fortunately, our first foray into Costco would be pretty close to home, with the Bay Area regional office handling about 55 stores in Northern California and Nevada. We were ready. Actually, on second thought, we weren't exactly ready. We were ready except for the fact that we had a few things to do like adding a new x-ray machine to our production line, spend about three arduous months prepping for a Costco specific food safety audit, create a whole new "jumbo" tube to hold about 4-5 times the amount of cookies owe usually put into a tube, and buy and create an all new pallet structure and configuration. But other than that, we were ready. Oh, wait. There was one more little thing. The cookies. The initial order called for us to produce about 35,000 pounds of cookies. Thirty-five-thousand! I got out a napkin and pen and quickly figured out that 35,000 pounds wasn't going to happen. At least not as fast as they wanted it. Time for the call I didn't want to make.
"Um, hello, Costco? Yes, this is Rachel from Jackie's Cookie Connection. Yes, hi. Oh, I'm great thanks. Yes, yes we did see that purchase order. Yes, yes it was great, thank you. Very exciting. But uh, just one question. Would you mind if we could actually send you a little less. How much less? Well, maybe about, uh, somewhere in the neighborhood of uh, (mumbling) half? Yes, about half of that order. We could do that. Yes, oh you would? That would be great, thank you!"
Yes, that was pretty much how it went down. Essentially I asked Costco if they wouldn't mind sending me only half the money they wanted to pay. Now there's a call you don't want to make too often.
Fortunately there is a happy ending. Costco was really great and helped us get up to what we now refer to internally as "Costco ready". It's several months later, and we've delivered that order and the replenishment order. And we now have a bunch more Costco orders, bringing us into both the NorCal and SoCal (Los Angeles) regions. And what's that slightly overworked and overwhelmed smile on my face? It's the smile I have on my lips that comes at the end of the phrase, "every pantry in America".