What is your business? Big Ted's American Cookies has one mission in life — ‘to bring great American cookies to Ireland’.
We make cookies the way my granny taught me when I was four-years-old — lots of really good stuff (butter, brown sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, etc) and cooked just right so they turn out slightly crunchy on the edges, but soft and chewy through the middle. They go fantastically with a good rich cup of coffee/latte/capuccino.
We sell cookies at farmers’ and speciality markets and supply about 100 cafes — mostly in Belfast, but spread throughout Northern Ireland.
Originally I baked the cookies in my home kitchen. But in 2009 volume outgrew my kitchen, so I now work with Ditty’s Bakery in Castledawson to make the cookies. Where I could mix a batch of 75 cookies, we can now mix a batch of 500 in their big commercial mixer. I could bake 16 cookies at a time — we can bake 650 at a time in their big ovens.
What interesting projects do you have on the go?
We started a drive in November to export our cookies to Dublin — and have seven cafes onboard already.
We're planning several events in Dublin in January to get the name out.
When did you set the company up?
In 2006 I got a franchise selling sandwiches, drinks and cookies.
As soon as I tried the cookie I realised I had a new mission in life.
What were the biggest challenges?
Acceptance of a new product in the market. Cafe owners were not used to a big soft and chewy cookie.
But by the time I approached cafes, I had been selling cookies at markets for nine months so I had some credibility. The best thing was giving the cafes cookies to try. Either they, or their staff, or their kids, loved the cookies. But now the biggest challenge is the current economic market, which is very hard on cookies. To overcome the downturn, I’ve brought on new cafes over the past year. A year ago I was supplying 40 cafes. Now it is over 100.
How will you develop the company?
Exporting to Ireland, then Scotland and England.
How do you market your business?
The cookies sell themselves when we take them to cafes. We even throw cookies into the crowd at Belfast Giants games and other events to create a bit of excitement around cookies and the brand. We also use farmers’ markets.
How do you use the internet?
We will launch on Facebook in January and then revamp our website to sell cookies online.
Has cashflow been an issue?
We have an active programme with our customers to control receivables, which has improved cash flow this year.
How do you control costs?
Raw ingredient costs have increased substantially over the past year, but we have been unable to raise our cookie prices in this economic environment. We have partnered with customers to work more efficiently to lower costs.
How do you innovate?
We are always thinking of new cookies to develop. For Christmas we brought out a mince pie cookie and a Christmas tree cookie. We’re also working on a mocha-java cookie, an orange chocolate chip cookie and even a bacon and maple syrup cookie.
How do you keep yourself and your staff motivated?
We set targets and work hard to meet them. We then celebrate our achievements.
We have a fun, positive environment here at Big Ted’s.
There are only two of us, myself and Bettina Gigante, our business development manager, and we work very well together.
Which entrepreneur do you most admire?
I met Sir Richard Branson seven years ago and had lunch with him and his wife.
He’s an extremely charismatic person.
What is your favourite gadget?
I’m very excited about getting our company on Facebook to communicate directly with our ‘fans’ about what we’re doing and then get them involved in the development of the company.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
To make and sell cookies.
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