The Roots of This Family Business Reach Back to the Original Popcorn Machine
Cornfields, Inc. is a family owned and operated healthy snack manufacturer and producer of the G.H. Cretors and Hi I’m Skinny brands. Claire Cretors is the president of the company and her mom Phyllis is the CEO. Her husband, J.B. Weiler, is the executive V.P. of sales. Annie Bailey is Claire’s sister and the Midwest sales manager, and Annie’s husband, Jeff Bailey, is the IT director. The family business’ roots go as far back as Claire’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Cretors, who invented the popcorn machine in 1885.
Overcoming tragedy to build legacy.
George Henry Cretors, Claire's father, founded the family business in 1991. He was the great-grandson of Charles Cretors. When George Henry passed away in 2004, Phyllis came out of retirement to lead the business, and Claire left her job at a DC-based consulting firm to join the Company. Claire explains, "Our family was faced with the loss of my father and I didn’t hesitate for a moment to come home and help. I was motivated to not only sustain but build upon my father’s legacy."
Claire began by learning about all aspects of the business, including manufacturing and finance. A few years later, she took over as president and helped spearhead the launch of G.H. Cretors (named after her dad), the company’s first direct-to-consumer brand. The energy of her team and employees helped her grow into the position.
Learning to adapt.
One of the myths associated with family businesses is that founders and the leaders who follow are resistant to change. Claire is not resistant to change, and being able to adapt is one of the keys to her success. She says, "Given the changing competitive landscape, dynamic retail environment, and ever-evolving consumer base, we need to try to anticipate these changes and be flexible, nimble, and open-minded in our approach."
Adapting to change has helped Claire grow her family business and she is not afraid to go against the status quo.
Balancing business with family.
One of the difficulties of running a family business is setting boundaries and spending quality time with your family. "Work can be difficult to 'shut off'. Most professionals make home a work-free zone. We don’t have that luxury," she explains. Claire and J.B. face struggles that are similar to most working couples who have a family, except they also spend time with other family members at the office. Before J.B. joined the family business, he and Claire spent months discussing and evaluating the pros and cons. They had honest conversations and recommend that other couples do the same.
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"Despite our demanding roles and the inevitable craziness that ensues as a result, J.B. and I really try to prioritize time as a family. We make it a point to eat dinner together every night with our children and talk to them about their day or have them taste-taste some new products we’re considering launching."
After the kids go to bed, they're able to do more work. Claire explained that it hasn't been easy, but being able to support each other through the tough patches has been rewarding.
Family business makes a difference.
Claire explained that her industry is engaged and interested in the fact that that the company is a family business, and it drives sales. Sharing their business as a family business helps customers to feel as though they are also a part of the family. Running a family business also makes a difference in their community. They support many local charities and the local “movie in the park nights,” where they supply the popcorn.
Clarie and J.B. are developing the family business mindset in their children, who are still very young. They are proof that it is possible to incorporate young children in the family business, in a healthy way. Their children are taste testers and are always ready to give honest and unadulterated feedback. Claire says, "I can assure you that almost everything that we have launched is 'kid-approved!'"
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