By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
When she was in fifth grade, Franny Martin’s father gave her an item he had clipped from a magazine. “Quitters Never Win and Winners Never Quit,” it read.
That philosophy stayed with Martin during a nearly 30-year career in corporate marketing, where she worked for some of the biggest names in business, including Ray Kroc of McDonald’s and Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza. It also helped her launch Cookies on Call (www.cookiesoncall.com) in 2002, when she was nearly 56.
Martin decided to start her online cookie business when her father, a business owner himself, became seriously ill. “When I went to see him, I asked myself: ‘If this was my last day on Earth, is this what I would want to be doing?’” she said. Having made up her mind to go out on her own, Martin moved quickly. Over a span of three days, she came up with the concept for her company and registered it as a DBA (Doing Business As).
She began the company out of her own kitchen in Michigan, with friends and neighbors as her first customers. A turning point occurred when a food inspector suggested to Martin that she explore using a satellite kitchen. That led to an arrangement with a local elementary school to use its kitchen facilities, enabling Martin’s business to grow. After three years, she left the school and opened her own, commercial-grade kitchen
“Luck has an awful lot to do with success,” Martin said. “I was fortunate to meet the right people, at the right time, who gave me the right advice.”
Today, the company produces an average of 5,000 cookies each week and offers 42 varieties of cookies that it ships all over the world (the top seller: chocolate chunk). Cookies on Call also has a brick-and-mortar retail store in Douglas, Michigan, where it offers such items as homemade soup, muffins and “abbreviated breakfasts” in addition to its cookies.
“Luck has an awful lot to do with success. I was fortunate to meet the right people, at the right time, who gave me the right advice.” — Franny Martin, Cookies on Call
This month, Cookies on Call received an order for 16,000 cookies – its largest ever. Annual revenue, which has increased each year since the business opened, rose 33% in 2010, in part because of a new coffee line and a more diversified menu at the Douglas store.
In addition to luck, a commitment to providing the best product quality and customer service possible is a major reason behind Cookies on Call’s success, said Martin. As part of her startup research, she did product and delivery testing through a network that included contacts from her corporate life as well as her husband’s co-workers. “I would send a dozen cookies to each of their homes with a long questionnaire that included questions about the delivery,” she said. “Based upon that information, I was able to determine which carrier I wanted to use.”
While the company’s core product “will always be cookies,” said Martin, she would like to grow her soup business, expand wholesale operations and add more corporate accounts. She also wants to implement an employee profit-sharing program at some point.
Martin thinks it’s important for aspiring business owners to avoid “yes men” and seek candid feedback, rather than what they want to hear. “Most entrepreneurs have a kernel of an idea, but they need to surround themselves with honest people who can tell them the truth and lead them forward,” she said.
When midlife entrepreneurs do what they love, the money will follow, said Martin. Choosing, and rewarding, people who are loyal and will do the best job also is critical, she added.
Martin, who will be 65 this year, believes Cookies on Call would have been successful if she had founded it in her 20s – but her measure of success would have been different. “What I would have done,” she said, “is built the company and sold it.”
Having started the company in her 50s, Cookies on Call “is part of me,” said Martin. “Life experience makes all the difference.”