When the bakery telephoned the Berliners and said, "You're too big for us," that wasn't good news. "I panicked," says Andy. "I spent the first 15 days scrambling, looking for another bakery, and the last 15 days realizing we were going to have to make the pot pies ourselves-realizing that nobody would put the time and care into it that we would."
So Andy hired five employees, moved the business out of the barn and rented some space. "Our freezer was a freezing truck at the loading dock. We would mix the raw materials and freeze things in there," says Andy.
But that didn't solve their problems overnight. "There was always the right way, and the way you can afford," says Andy. "There were a lot of discouraging moments, because we were working so hard, and things were going well, yet it was hard to make payroll and buy new equipment."
"We always had to buy funky equipment," adds Rachel, who designed the packaging while taking care of Amy.
So how will you be able to fight the urge to give up? Or freak out? "Be realistic," advises Andy. "Forget the fact that maybe [you] don't have enough money right now. Are things going well? Do people like the product? Are the profit margins there? Do you feel in your heart that things are going the right way? Don't worry about the things going on in the moment."
In theory, if you sell a product people want, you should eventually see the light of day. That's how it happened for the Berliners. In 1988, they had three employees, and by 1989, there were 24. By 1991, they were doing business in Canada and had hired seven more employees. They were selling 15 different products by 1994. In 1995, they watched their staff double from 87 to 175. Not surprisingly, they went global, and revenue kept rushing in.
Don't Forget Who You're Serving
Obviously, the business is yours, and individually, not every customer is right. But listen to them en masse. "We really try to please the customer," says Rachel, "and we really try to see what people want in foods, what their palates are, what their needs are. So instead of just thinking what we like to eat, we ask ourselves, 'What would most people like?'"
For instance, Amy's Kitchen sells a macaroni and soy-cheese dish. "Now I personally don't like it," admits Andy, "and I don't think Rachel does either, but for people who can't eat dairy, it's a lifesaver. They love it."
Stay True to Your Mission
Today, Amy's Kitchen employs a staff of 650 and has 75 products in stores around the globe. They're in freezers-like the Grilled Cheese Toaster Pops-and on shelves, like the Puttanesca Pasta Sauce. And this year-as duly noted-their company is going to rake in $100 million in retail sales.
"I think part of our success is that we personally care about making a good product, and who's getting it," says Rachel. "The motivation isn't to make money; it's to fill a need and take care of people."
And if you can do all that, you'll grow fast, and you'll go fast. In your new Lamborghini Diablo.
Geoff Williams is a freelance writer in Cincinnati. He drives a '93 Ford Probe.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.