Fresh idea leads to fresh products
Ford Scholar and her husband bake their way to success
Catherine and Wes Caudle knew it wouldn’t be easy starting their own Bend-based business in the middle of a recession, with the region’s unemployment rate hovering above 14 percent. But their dream had always been to open a bakery, and they weren’t about to let the economy stop them.
Catherine Caudle, a Ford Scholar, graduated from University of Oregon’s Cascades Campus in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in social science. A year later, she began working for the Social Security office in Bend as a customer service representative. “I just love people, and this job is all about helping people,” says the 43-year-old.
It was a little scary, given the economic climate
But opening a bakery had always been in her plans. Wes Caudle’s family was in the baking industry when he was a child, and he had a lot of experience. It was Wes who noticed that a lot of the baked goods sold at convenience stores, such as doughnuts and muffins, came to the store frozen.
“We did a market analysis of the area and found a need for fresh products that don’t have preservatives,” Caudle says. And so, the idea for the Bend Bakery—offering always-fresh, never-frozen baked goods—was born.
The couple had two goals for the endeavor: to provide a job for Wes, a disabled vet who was underemployed; and to do their part to help the area’s economy.
One hire leads to another
“We thought a wholesale business would help the economy more efficiently than if we opened a retail bakery,” Caudle explains. “We hire our own employees, and maybe, if our product brings in more customers for the retailers, they can hire more people, too.”
A year ago last August, the Caudles began buying equipment as their finances allowed. By October 2009, they were looking for the right bakery site. They leased a catering kitchen at the beginning of May, secured approval from the state and opened three weeks later.
The bakery supplies retail clients with Danish pastries, bread, muffins, brownies, cookies, and a whole lot of made-from-scratch doughnuts, which account for 78 percent of sales. Customers include 7-Eleven and other convenience stores in Redmond and Bend as well as the Riverhouse Resort and Conference Center.
“It was a little scary, given the economic climate,” Caudle admits. “But business just seems to continually increase.” In its first week of operation, the bakery made $200; in its fifth, $1,700.
Although the bakery has only been operating a few months, business is steadily increasing. If it keeps up as projected, Caudle says the bakery is on track with its business plan, which calls for hiring two new employees before the end of the year.
ENTREPRENEURS KEY TO ECONOMIC RECOVERY
Many people are looking to entrepreneurs to rally the economy. A recent poll by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that more than 70 percent of participants said the health of the economy depends on the success of entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, only 26 percent said they would actually consider starting a business within the next five years.
“Two characteristics set successful entrepreneurs apart from other citizens: their ability to see opportunities that others don’t and their acumen in knowing when to take calculated risks to achieve their goals,” says Jack Schultz, author of Boomtown USA: The 7½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns (see book review).
Catherine and Wes Caudle maximized their chances of business success by thoroughly doing their homework. In Catherine’s case, that meant actually doing homework, as she worked her way through several U.S. Small Business Association online courses. The SBA website offers a wealth of free information for small business owners—ones just starting out and also those looking to expand. Beginning a year before they planned to open their bakery, Caudle took online SBA courses in finance and accounting, business planning and business management. She got a certificate in accounting, developed a business plan and did market research.
The couple considered pursuing an SBA loan, but decided to buy equipment piecemeal as their budget allowed. Once they found a catering kitchen to lease, they received certification from the state as a wholesale bakery and opened for business.
Door to door
The next step was to woo the clients. “Once we opened,” Caudle says, “our marketing plan was to go door to door with our target vendors and give them free product.” The reaction was good, particularly from the mini markets in the area, and the Caudles were on their way.
Caudle has some advice for those who want to open their own business but are waiting for the right time. “If you follow your dreams and if you are earnest about them, you will succeed,” she says. “You need to put your foot out and do it. If you do that, it will pay you back 100 percent.”