Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Debbie Anderson, founder and owner of Victorian House Scones, LLC., located in Lafayette, IN, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are wholesale manufacturers of hand-crafted baking mixes--scone, biscuit, muffin, pancake, and shortbread cookies. We began, as you might guess from our name, with scone mixes. Ultimately we branched out a bit more, but the heart and foundation of the business are still our scone mixes.
We sell both to small businesses such as bed and breakfast inns, coffee shops, tea businesses, and gourmet shops as well as online to individuals. Some businesses choose to 'private label' our mixes and sell them. Others bake the scones and serve/sell scones to their customers!
Tell us about yourself
I had been introduced to scones by a neighbor while I was in graduate school, but foolishly when I left that city, I never requested her recipe. If I had, that might have been the end of the story, as I would simply have made scones for the occasional weekend breakfast and never done anything further. Since I did not ask for her recipe, I began a quest for the perfect scone--and over the years, I baked many different recipes and fed most of them to the squirrels and birds. I finally found 'THE' perfect recipe, and the rest, as they say, is history. I baked scones for several years for a local coffee shop--changing up flavors and getting creative when I was out of particular ingredients. Ultimately I opted to stop baking the scones and try to take the recipes to a mixed format--wondering if anyone would ever want to buy the mix and make them themselves. That was 2002, and the origin of our business.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I am amazed that with as little as I knew when I started the business that it grew and flourished. I knew I had good recipes--and figured out how to make a 'mix' (put the ingredients into a bag, not a bowl). BUT I had no formal business training. I never wrote a business plan. I had never worked in the food industry (I was a biologist by education and degrees).
I did explain to a co-worker in Biology one day that I had been a consumer my entire life, and to run a business and sell a product was simply a reversal of that paradigm. If I had a plan at all, in the beginning, it was to treat the customer the way I wanted to be treated as a customer.
That is still the foundation of how we choose to do business. I was working full time when I began Victorian House Scones, so I wasn't going to rent space for the business that would sit empty all day. But I knew I absolutely needed a licensed kitchen. I knocked on doors and made phone calls until I found someone willing to let me use their kitchen after hours and who would give me a corner to store my supplies. I called and asked questions of the Health Department and the Department of Weights and Measures. I talked to the state and registered the business. If I didn't know the answer, I found someone who could point me in the right direction and kept asking questions until I understood what I needed to know.
I had fronted myself a small sum of money to get up and running. I told myself that if by the time it was spent, I hadn't made any money at all--I'd put away the idea of a scone mix business and move on. Nearly 12 years later, we converted a small building on our property to our manufacturing facility. We still do everything ourselves, from mix manufacture to the boxing and shipping of an order.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The number of hats you must wear when you are a small business--and the amount of time it takes. From the actual production of the mixes, packing and shipping orders maintaining the website, doing the book-keeping, responding to customers' questions--there is always something to do that pulls at my time and attention.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be flexible and see what opportunities present themselves as your business grows. I was sure when we started that these would be sold as 'fundraisers.' (never happened). Early on, we got pointed towards a bed and breakfast owner--which led to another, and then yet another.
- Listen to your customers. I had not intended to offer the option to private label our mixes and resisted that for several years. We wanted to build OUR brand and not someone else's brand. We finally did take the plunge into offering Private Label, and it has been a very good business decision.
- Keep asking questions--particularly as you set up your business. See what resources your state offers. Get in touch with SCORE and ask for a mentor. Run your plans past someone wiser than you--but also not as emotionally involved in the business as yourself, so that you can be sure your decisions are wise ones. Meet with your advisor or business partner regularly in the beginning, even if they are your spouse or best friend--make time to get a cup of coffee (and scone?) and talk only about the business and decisions that must be made.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Always plan for the worst-case scenario. If you can handle that, then everything else is relatively easy! Know what your maximum monetary risk is (how much money can you lose if this doesn't work and goes totally sideways?) and don't risk any more than that. Make sure you have followed to the best of your abilities all the rules and regulations. If you are a food business, talk to the health department first (easier to ask advice than try to beg forgiveness). Talk to an accountant to set up your records properly--and then do that. Don't lie and cheat (sounds obvious, but the point of a business is to be a good, solid, respected business in your community. You can't be that way if you cheat on your taxes and such). And remember that ideas and inspiration come in many forms from many different people and voices--so listen to what your friends and customers say--and then make your own decision.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.