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Eileen's Colossal Cookies Creates Solid Brand with Growth
Eileen Harman has come a long way since the days of making cookies in her home kitchen and delivering them dressed as the Cookie Monster. She has built a solid business in the cookie industry by strategically evaluating opportunities, bringing in good people to join her team and offering excellent customer service. Today, Eileen’s Cookies has 19 stores throughout the Midwest. Her plans for success were based on market demand, listening to her customers and her intuition about business.
After graduating from high school in Hastings, Nebraska in the early ‘70s, she attended Lincoln School of Commerce to receive an education and become a secretary. Her skills as a secretary have always been an asset to her in business. She said the man she worked for was a wonderful role-model for her on how good a boss can be. After getting married, she became active in real estate. When she started a family in 1977, she decided she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom to raise her two sons.
Harman wanted to learn more about decorating cakes for birthdays and other occasions, so she took a community education class on cake decorating at the high school. She found she loved the decorating part, but not necessarily the cake part of cake decorating.
She had seen decorated cookies during a trip to Omaha and decided to try it for herself. She began decorating 6-inch cookies and selling them at local convenience stores. She even ran ads in the newspaper to see what kind of interest there was. It didn’t take long for the decorated cookies to become popular. She began taking orders for larger decorated cookies for special occasions. As the demand increased for her decorated cookies, she realized this really could work as a business; she may have found a niche. At the time, there wasn’t anyone decorating and selling cookies commercially in her area.
From the Kitchen to the Storefront
It wasn’t long before Harman’s business grew beyond her kitchen at home and she hired her first employee. She knew she needed to find a retail location for her cookie operation. She found a home for her first cookie shop in downtown Hastings, in 1983. In her new shop, she dove into the cookie business full force. People began to realize that not only did these cookies look great, but they tasted good too.
Because of the demand, she started selling 3-inch cookies by the dozen in addition to the frosted and decorated cookies. Her business was growing, and Eileen’s Colossal Cookies was becoming a well-known business in Hastings and the surrounding communities.
Unlike many startup businesses, Harman was able to use her own resources and funding for her business. She broke even the first year, but has successfully turned a profit each year since. She attributes much of this to great employees, hard work, careful evaluation, being visible in the community, and the support of family and friends.
She also explained that having an attitude that focused on good customer service and quality was probably her biggest competitive advantage. She added two more employees and became incorporated in 1987.
That same year, with growing popularity, she decided to take a leap and expand her operation to include a cookie shop in Grand Island, 25 miles away, and then one in Kearney, 45 miles away, four years later.
Over 25 years later, Eileen’s Colossal Cookies is stronger and more successful than ever. In 1994, she was approached by a couple who lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but had ties to Kearney and was familiar with Eileen’s Cookies. They wanted to start an Eileen’s Colossal Cookie shop in Cheyenne.
Harman decided it felt right; it was the right time, the right place and the right people. Knowing she couldn’t have the kind of control she needed to run this business more than 370 miles away, she decided it was time to create a franchise. She contacted her lawyer who referred her to a franchise attorney.
With his assistance, the franchise option for Eileen’s Cookies was born. This segment of the business is now managed by her son, Tony Harman. They currently have franchise stores in Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas and most recently, Minnesota. Harman’s other son, Gabe Harman, is the manager of the Hastings store.
Eileen's Cookie System
They have a system for all functions of the business. Because of this, developing a franchise operation manual was a fairly straight forward process. All procedures and practices are documented and easy to effectively implement if followed correctly.
Eileen stresses that it is very important for a business owner to write their own manuals and to record their own flow of operations. They are the only ones who understand their business on the level it takes to communicate it to others. As the Director of Franchise Operations, Tony is proud of how the Eileen’s Cookie System is done based on his mom’s experience as the owner. This element of organization has made for a streamlined business model.
When a new franchise signs on, they are required to spend time training at the home store in Hastings. Then the franchise team consisting of Eileen, Tony, Gabe and Head Cookie Decorator, Val Brock assists on-location with their store opening for the first 11 days. The process has been so fine-tuned it is almost a science. Eileen kept great records and wrote down her experiences from the very beginning of her business which has helped in the planning and growth of Eileen’s Colossal Cookies.
Another benefit for Eileen’s Cookies has been a positive relationship with Cash-Wa Distributing, a centrally-located vendor. They require certain products for all of their locations and the family-owned distributor has been able to supply the stores and keep prices fair.
“It has been great dealing with (Cash-Wa). They know us. They are a family-owned company that started in Kearney, so when I call, I can talk to them and relate to them. They are good people,” Tony said.
When a person walks into an Eileen’s Cookies store, it is evident the operation is running according to plan. The cheery, upbeat atmosphere is contagious and it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving without a smile on their face. It is a place where people are happy from the sweet aromas of baking cookies to the excellent service and friendliness of the staff. Eileen instills and emphasizes the importance of customer service.
“The most important thing is to be good to your customers and employees. You must be friendly, treat them right and go out of your way. When someone asks for something special, you do it because that is a customer and they will be back.”
See Inside Eileen's Colossal Cookies' Flagship Store
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Eileen's Colossal Cookies Creates Solid Brand with Growth Eileen Harman has come a long way since the days of making cookies in her ho..