Tuesday, December 13, 2016

reflections on running a bakery [almost] one year in

My, oh my, what a year.

I've been feeling all sorts of nostalgic lately as we come up on the one year anniversary of opening the bakery. When I moved to Ohio six short years ago, I never imagined my life would look anything like it does now. I've gone from full-time teacher to "runs a business from home" on the side for fun to "runs a business full-time from home while caring for an infant" to opening a brick-and-mortar bakery (and the toddler now attends daycare). 

The progression has been steady and natural, and it is so fascinating to see how God has worked it all out. There were things and situations I didn't understand why or how in the moment... but as years have passed I can see what He was doing in those moments.

I opened the Sara's Sweets storefront almost one year ago, December 15 to be exact. I had previously been running the business from home, and selling cupcakes at a retail location 2 days a week along with regular order pick-ups and catering orders. We literally moved everything from the house to the new bakery on a Sunday, and opened for business that Tuesday. (Who needs to take time to train or practice with the new equipment?!)

I had been super smart (or so I thought) and wrote a fancy business plan with sales projections - however we were immediately doing triple what I had predicted. While that is GREAT and PHENOMENAL for business, it was a disaster on the management side of things! (Remember - I have a degree in math, NO business experience whatsoever.)

Like a customer said, it was like a train that was riding off into the distance and we were barely hanging on to the very edge of the caboose. Nothing was within my control. I couldn't keep product stocked, I didn't have any sort of inventory system (out of butter, AGAIN??!), we didn't even have a phone line. (Imagine setting a cell phone in the center of the shop and using that like a legit business phone system.)

The entire first month, I came home to sleep my 2 hours a night and thought that I had ruined my life. Quite literally, I wanted to give the whole thing up. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't seeing my family, and all I did was live, eat, and breathe cupcakes. And cleaning. And shopping for supplies. The ultimate breakdown occurred in the Meijer parking lot at 3am - I had gotten the entire grocery cart full only to realize I didn't have my wallet. :'(

As time went on, things slowly got better. I hired some great employees, many who are still there to this day keeping our little bakery running smoothly. I had a really hard time adjusting though. My business had grown to be so much more of a responsibility. A lot of things were out of my control. Not only was I responsible to myself, but I had all these people (employees AND customers) who were looking to me everyday with their own questions, needs, concerns, and lives outside of the bakery. I never asked for that, I never wanted that.

It wasn't until I had a shift in my mindset that I began to truly embrace it. Instead of wondering how I would get through each day of pressing responsibilities, I began to ask myself, "How can YOU help someone else today? What can YOU do, Sara, to affect their life in a positive way?" It might be something as simple as writing a stupid joke or funny quote on the whiteboard, or taking out the trash, or buying a case of Pepsi. Truly getting to know my people, and building relationships with them. Once I began to embrace the new role, I really began to see how God could work through this little bakery. Even if it just means more people with meaningful friendships and relationships - it's worth it. If it's providing a safe and happy workplace - it's worth it. If it's giving members of the Lima community a small little escape in their day - it's worth it. The cupcakes are just the icing on the cake. :-P

Lots of growing pains this first year... we've grown from 2 to 15 employees, we've expanded our hours of operation from 32/week to 47/week, we've grown our product line. Lots of headaches (and BLESSINGS!) along the way. Would I do it all again??! In a heartbeat! (But I am SO SO SO SO SO glad I never have to do it again from the ground up. Ohhhhh my. I wish I could go back and tell last December me that I would sleep again, eventually.)

It is truly such a TEAM effort. Without each & every employee doing their specific role, we would NOT be able to operate and run as smoothly as we do now on a daily basis. I am SO thankful for each & every one of my girls and the way they rock out their jobs. 

That being said - here's a few of my favorite snapshots from our first year!

Ben jumped in and helped SO SO much those first few months. I would have never survived without him. So thankful for his willingness to dive in - even when it means taking out the trash in the freezing cold and doing dishes for hours on end.

James used to eat breakfast at the bakery everyday - look at that little squishy baby!

Fun for St. Paddy's Day!

For the first several months, every Saturday afternoon I would crash with James on the couch. I was just SO dang tired.

Frosting cupcakes before an awards gala - because you still have to get the work done....

In August, Shirley's Gourmet Popcorn Company opened next door. We have NEIGHBORS! And James loooooves their popcorn.

In October, we got to run a workshop at a local high school career fair with 1000+ students. What a day!

Our ugly Christmas sweaters, complete with a cupcake and all!

And finally, our Christmas party! A fun time getting creative outside of the baking realm.

And my FAVORITE quote right now - I love my monkeys and I wouldn't change it for the world.

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