Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Susan Axelrod again features a female entrepreneur and her lessons learned about building a business and leading successful teams.
I started my bakery business, Love and Quiches Gourmet, in my home kitchen in 1973, purely by accident; from just one quiche. I was a clueless suburban housewife with no preparation whatsoever for business ownership. My only qualification was my passion for everything connected to food. I was a very good cook and was cajoled into starting the business by a carpool friend, an equally great cook.
We had no plan, we simply started. We made up some quiches, took them to a few local businesses, and before we knew it we had one customer, then two, and then ten. Adding desserts soon followed. By the end of the first year we were servicing about thirty restaurants, and took the giant step of incorporating and moving into our first tiny storefront where we hired one or two employees, and continued to grow.
We were the Keystone Kops Quiche Factory; two steps back for every step forward. My partner cried uncle shortly after so I bought her out and quickly realized this little business had a will and a pull of its own. I wanted to stick around though, to see how the movie ended. That was forty years ago.
I hired an accountant, and started asking a lot of questions of my customers, my suppliers, my newfound mentor, my peers, my competitors (who didn’t know I was watching), … and I learned from my mistakes, a vastly underestimated learning tool. And this was all before the dawn of the computer age. At the time, I was a one-man band; baker, buyer, salesman, porter and delivery guy.
Across the decades, we grew in concentric circles; Metro New York, Metro Tri-State, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, across the Continent, then across the globe. There were as many obstacles thrown in our path along the way as there were victories. There was brutal competition, key customer loss, key employee loss, location moves and so on. But many obstacles were beyond our control; commodity spikes, 9/11 after which the economy came to a dead halt, the Great Recession among them.
When looking back at it all, one thing stands out. It is after 9/11 that the business had its “Aha” moment and we reinvented ourselves and our business model; with Just-In-Time and Lean Manufacturing methods.
But, by far, our greatest achievement was the rebuilding of our organization from the bottom up— with strong high performance teams, and equally strong directors and middle management.
Our employees are our greatest asset and are valued insiders, each skilled in their particular area. We built it slowly through a combination of promoting from within and bringing in outside talent when needed. They are a passionate group— we have the right people on the bus, and in the right seats.
At Love & Quiches Gourmet we have eight teams- Operations, Quality Assurance and Food Safety, Engineering, Purchasing and Logistics, Research and Development, HR, Administration, and Sales and Marketing. These teams are all cogs in a wheel with its members highly dependent upon the other; keenly aware that one weak link can bring it all to a grinding halt. Some companies promote healthy competition… I think teamwork is healthier. And even more importantly, mutual respect and tolerance during conflict resolution (there will always be differing points of view; after all, this is a business and not a love affair).
We communicate with daily huddles, weekly management and executive meetings, team building, ongoing training, and more. We do not talk down to our employees; we need them. Communication is crucial to keeping us focused and all on the same page. By inviting input across the board, the ideas keep coming.
As a private company, there are fewer layers in our decision making which helps us compete with the giants. We are known for our flexibility and receptiveness to new ideas. From the top we set strategic direction, but our teams provide the “meat and potatoes” that bring the results. All 250 of us have “skin in the game”.
I have chronicled my forty year journey in my recently published business memoir, “With Love and Quiches: A Long Island Housewife’s Surprising Journey from the Kitchen to the Boardroom” where I emphasize organizational development in chapters devoted to our transition to lean and mean, next leveling, and company culture, all told from the Love and Quiches Gourmet experience.
We have come a long way, and it has been a great ride. I take pride that it was my product that put quiche on the map, now served on menus all over the world. And it was my devoted, hardworking and experienced team that got us there.
About the Author: Susan Axelrod and the word “pioneer” go together like cake and frosting! As the Chairwoman and Founder of Love & Quiches Gourmet, Susan’s journey has paved the way for women entrepreneurs. She started her business with no formal training, only a passion for food. Coupled with her energy and tenacity, Susan was able to take her small business, worldwide. Today, these desserts and quiches are found in restaurants and retailers around the globe. Susan chronicles her experiences in her blog, Susan’s Sweet Talk and her book, With Love & Quiches: A Long Island Housewife’s Surprising Journey from Kitchen to Boardroom.