Pounding Cake Into a Business

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The Art of the Pivot – Knowing When to Make a Move

As we approach the end of 2012, it’s a good time to reflect on the good, the bad and the opportunity. ComfortCake will enter its 12th year in February 2013. 12 years!! We started out in 2001 producing pound cakes made from a recipe that my grandmother helped me to perfect.

Why pound cake? Well, pound cake is my favorite dessert, but I had grown tired of buying it. After trying recipes out, I thought I had mine down, but sought my grandmother’s blessing to be sure it passed the true test. She took a taste and said, “Baby, that’s fine, but if you want it to really taste good, you have to do THIS!” So I did just that. Perfected the recipe and kept my job, but wrote the first business plan in 1999. By the end of 2000, it was time to make a decision. Time to do things differently…to pivot…to make a move.

Should I stay in corporate America as senior VP of Marketing for Soft Sheen or jump off the deep end, quit and start ComfortCake?

Had to pray on that one! As a single mother with two kids to put through college with a very nice paying job, a lot was at stake. So I prayed and God talked to me. He said loud and clear to “Take My Hand and do ComfortCake. ” Said it twice.

So, I made my move! Quit my job, sold my home (couldn’t get a bank loan) and launched The ComfortCake Company, makers of “Pound Cake so Good it Feels Like a Hug” in February, 2001.

Fast forward to 2010. ComfortCake® has been sold on United Airlines, in Walgreen’s, 7-11, Jewel, Dominick’s, Walmart and in the Chicago Public Schools our biggest customer, since 2002. But winds of change were in the air. Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move” campaign, and less desserts were on school lunch menus. To keep the company moving forward with our largest customer, we had to look for other opportunities; we had to pivot– to make a move.

Knowing when to pivot is about evolving, doing what it takes to meet the needs of your customers in order to keep things moving. My customer asked me to develop a whole-wheat pizza crust, and needed it by a certain date. We said, “If you want us to do that; we will.” So we worked hard on creating a tasty crust, got samples done and delivered on time. Got the business in a tough process, and launched a new division, The ComfortCake Kitchen Division. And now, Chicago school children are enjoying a delicious whole-wheat pizza on a crust developed by an African-American woman entrepreneur!

Do we still make pound cake? Absolutely! But will we be willing to pivot to do things differently if it meets the needs of our customers and the mission of our company? Always.

What about you? A New Year is coming. Is it time for you to move into a new direction? Is it time for you to PIVOT and do something new? According toINC. Magazine, here are three steps you can take as you seek to pivot your business:

1. Talk to your customers. What do they need now or do they see needing in the future? Ask for what I call an “exploratory” meeting or phone call so your customer knows you’re not selling, but serving.

2. Study the numbers. Are sales trending up or down for a particular product, category or industry? Technology is causing big shifts in all kinds of ways, as are consumer preferences. Keep aware of what’s hot and what’s not.

3. Be flexible. Don’t be so married to one way of doing things; you may miss a big opportunity! We started selling slices to CPS in 2002; pivoted to frozen batter in 2006; and now sell pizza crusts and Oatmeal Apple Bars in 2012. We’d be out of business if we insisted that CPS only take sliced pound cake!

So, go ahead…PIVOT! Don’t let fear hold you back. Make a move and keep your eyes on the prize. If we remember that Faith makes things possible – not easy, we will all move forward if we put one foot in front of the other and change direction when we need to in order to grow.

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