Sweet Rewards

Baking and creating cookie bouquets has blossomed into a fun business for this franchisee.

By Devlin Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Phyllis Pittman's days used to be a lot longer and quite a bit more hectic. When she first became a Cookie Bouquet franchisee in rural Denton, Texas, nearly 13 years ago, Pittman spent 12 or more hours a day in her store six days a week. "I was pretty much doing a lot of stuff myself, because I only had two employees at the time," says Pittman, 45. "I was doing marketing, handing out catalogs and samples and just trying to get the process down to an art."

Today with a staff of six, including part-time employees and a full-time assistant manager/head decorator, Pittman seems to have mastered that process. This morning, she opens up the shop at about 8, and turns on the ovens, getting ready to bake the cookies that'll be put into arrangements. Because her fiscal quarter and month ended last night, she runs reports.

The first employee comes in around 8:30 and gets right to work decorating cookies and making arrangements. Pittman is answering phones to take orders and help customers who come into the shop, either placing orders or picking up cookies to go.

Cookie Bouquet specializes in creating arrangements made from specially shaped and decorated white sugar or cinnamon brown sugar cookies, ranging in price from $6.25 for a cookie on a stick to $74 for a 12-cookie bouquet. With each arrangement, Pittman sends out a catalog featuring the different designs available. "If any one of our over 130 arrangements shown in the catalog doesn't fit [a customer's] need, we can create a custom basket for them," Pittman says. Undecorated gourmet cookies are also sold in flavors like chocolate chip and peanut butter.

A second employee comes in at 11 and moves between working the phone, manning the front counter and decorating cookies. At 11:30, Pittman handles an urgent call. "A customer thought he had placed an order here, but he placed it in San Antonio and had to have it out by 1," she says. "I threw something together as fast as I could off the same-day service tray and ran it across town."

Though the franchise uses a delivery service and sometimes ships arrangements via UPS, there are times when Pittman has to run deliveries herself. "I have a huge rural territory, probably a 50-mile radius, and my delivery service won't go out into the rural areas," she says. Pittman makes the most of these runs, dropping off catalogs and cookies at various businesses along the way to attract customers. She also makes many hospital deliveries herself. "I love walking into the hospital. When we give [the arrangement] to [patients], there's just an immediate smile," Pittman says. "This is a happy product; it's a fun thing to do."

Pittman, a former office manager, learned about Cookie Bouquet when her father received one of the company's arrangements. She wanted to work for herself and felt this was the right opportunity for herself and a great service for her neighborhood. "It was something new and different and very creative," she says. "We felt if we didn't do it, it was only a matter of time before someone would [offer it] in the Denton area."

In addition to baking and decorating cookies for orders, Pittman's store also maintains a stock of decorated and gourmet cookies either for rush orders or walk-in customers. "We try to keep 12 to 15 things ready to go at all times, but that gets depleted as the day goes on," Pittman says.

Larger orders, often from businesses and organizations needing dozens of cookie arrangements, are usually placed in months in advance. Pittman is on the board of directors with the chamber of commerce, a position that yields many such orders. "That really puts me in the door with a lot of things going on, like quarterly breakfast centerpieces or Christmas parties," she says.

Cookie Bouquet is a seasonal business, and the summer is one of Pittman's slower times. "We use downtime to clean, to be sure there's plenty of sticks in the baskets, tissue paper cut, ribbon ready to go, because when business hits, it hits," Pittman says. "We will be very quiet for the month of July and once school starts back up, we're going to be going gangbusters all the way through November. Then November's totally dead and then here we go for December. It's very up and down--there are hills and valleys."

In the slower, non-holiday times, Cookie Bouquet is generally making birthday, congratulation and get well arrangements. "And we always have clients who [need an arrangement] to say they're sorry," Pittman says.

During the school year, Pittman is available for customers until 3, when she leaves to pick up her daughter. Today, though, she's staying until 6 and will make a few stops on the way home. "I live about 15 miles north of the shop, and if there are any deliveries going in my direction at the end of my day, I take those with me," she says. "My flexible hours allow us to take orders for same-day delivery, even after the delivery service has picked up."

Thirteen years into the business, Pittman's responsibilities have changed quite a bit. Though she's happy she no longer has to work 12-hour days, Pittman can't imagine having anything less than a hands-on role in her business. "This isn't the kind of business you're going to be able to turn over and let somebody else run for you," she says. "People walk in the door and expect to see and talk to me. People want to feel they're getting that personalized service from the owner of the company."

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