Live Chat with Jackie Huebbe - CookieCon 2020 Instructor

Hi, Jackie! It's wonderful to have you here today to talk about your journey to owning a brick-and-mortar bakery and your upcoming adventure at CookieCon. Thanks for taking time out of your weekend to chat with us!
Welcome to everyone joining us as well! Thanks for being here! Please remember that this chat is YOUR chat. I am only here to moderate it, not to ask questions - so please start teeing up your questions for Jackie!

Also, remember that Jackie's bio and other background material can be found under the "i" icon at the top of this chat room; that info is great fuel for questions!
I hear Jackie also has a HUGE announcement for us today . . .
. . . which she reveal sometime during the chat! Woo hoo!
BUT . . . before we jump into your questions, I have a few housekeeping notes.

First, questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Jackie reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat.

That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through.
Second, please ask just one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
Good Morning Julia and Jackie and all
super excited, i love an announcement!
Hi, Bev and Sweet Sue!
Okay, to break the ice, I'm going to post a few of Jackie's cookie photos so you can get a better sense of what she creates and sells. You can also learn more about her work and business on her site here: https://www.sugarbotsweetshop.com
First, some pretty engagement cookies by Jackie . . .
Now, for those scrumptious donut cookies in her chat cover image . . .
And, last some Halloween and Valentine's cookies . . .
That Valentine's set I mentioned . . .
JACKIE: What a small world! I read somewhere (I think on your site) that, in 2012, you first shared storefront space in Webster Groves, Missouri, which is where I live! Where exactly was that storefront - street, please ?

You also wrote that, in 2014, you expanded by buying The Very Best Cookies, a Webster Groves bakery that was founded in 1988. I must have had my head in the sand at that time, because I don't remember that bakery. Where was it and did it specialize in decorated cookies or make all sorts of baked goods?
Good Morning Everyone!
Hi, Shana!
We're going through advance questions now . . .
Start teeing up yours now and we'll get to them in a bit!
JULIA: Thanks so much for having me! I'm so excited for CookieCon, and I can't wait to see what questions folks have for me!

I did indeed start in Webster Groves! We were at 130 West Lockwood right by the Hair Saloon for Men! It was a great space to start, but we outgrew it in the blink of an eye!

The Very Best Cookies (TVBC) was who we partnered with at the start. They purchased the business from the founder thinking it would be a cash cow, and quickly realized that while it brought in a lot of revenue, it also brought a ton of manual labor. They didn't come from a food service background and weren't aware of the smarter ways of doing business, so they were quickly running things into the ground and just wanted out.

TVBC was founded in 1988 and was originally at 122 (I think?) W. Lockwood, and when I partnered and bought it it was at 130 W. Lockwood. They only offered drop cookies, nothing fun or fancy.
Giving you all some time to read the long posts . . .
JACKIE: How did the name for your business, SugarBot Sweet Shop, originate? What does it mean, and what factors did you consider when naming your business?
JULIA: SugarBot started as a nickname for me. I've collected robots for as long as I can remember, and always loved weird little things, so eventually my car started to reflect that with bumper stickers and little dashboard dancing figures. My coworkers started to take note, and started jokingly calling me "SugarBot" - when it came time for me to start my business, I struggled with what to call it, and was reminded by my coworkers that they had already named my business!

I felt it was unique, memorable, and had some great imagery that could be attached. I did some research to make sure nothing else was tied to that name, and decided to take it from there!
LOL - It's funny how names originate. Very cute, and I love the backstory.
JACKIE: If I'm not mistaken, SugarBot Sweet Shop is a full-service bakery, making more than just decorated cookies. Why did you decide to go that route vs. focusing only on decorated cookies?
JULIA: We are indeed a full-service bakery! We do everything from drop cookies, decorated cookies, cakes, pie squares, brownies, marshmallows, candies (caramels, truffles, pops), and beyond!

I decided to go that route because decorated sugar cookies are so crazy labor intensive that I didn't see a way for me to be open daily with the flow of people and be able to produce enough to meet the demand. Also, because each sugar cookie is so labor intensive, I knew that they weren't exactly an everyday snack - I still have to explain to folks daily about the work that goes into them, how long they take, and why we really suggest them only for special occasions. They're the most expensive price point per serving of everything in the shop (we charge anywhere from $4-12/cookie).
BTW, I heard someone raving about your marshmallows on Instagram yesterday!
Your comments raise an interesting point about business diversification, which leads me to the next question.
Jackie, how did you decide to get into baking, more specifically, decorated sugar cookies
Sorry we got a little out of order
We did! I'm new at this chatting thing, obviously! The baking question is a great one! The short answer is that it's what I've wanted to do as long as I can remember. The longer answer is that my maternal grandma got me hooked on making Jello creations from as soon as I could stir in the powder. From there, I got more and more crafty with the things I made. Both my younger sister and I both loved baking when we were in middle school - she always took more to fondant and making things pretty even though she didn't care how it tasted. I was the exact opposite, and now we laugh about how I do both while she puts M&Ms on cakes. She rocks motherhood better than I ever could, and I rock (or try real hard to!) the bakery lifestyle.
Jackie answered Bev's question above before the question. But I will post the answer again. One sec
Sorry I'm a little late
her marshmallows are so yummy!
JACKIE: Do you think it's possible for a brick-and-mortar bakery to survive and thrive long term with a focus solely on decorated cookies? Why or why not?
Good to see you, Terri! So many familiar faces in here!
Sorry, got off track. Back on with the diversification question.
Here's the answer . . .
JULIA: While I do think that there are ways for stores to exist with just sugar cookies, I think that it requires a much larger, very talented team with a very experienced manager or owner at the helm. I'd guess that the location would have to be in a very wealthy area to support the price points you have to charge, and having a large flow of tourists would certainly help.

A shop like Jill of Funky Cookie Studio was a great example of a shop that existed with sugar cookies as the gem - though she shared the storefront with someone that did cakes, and had a very specific target market. Other than her, I struggle to come up with anyone I'm aware of that exists on sugar cookies alone and is making a great living and not killing themselves over it - I believe there has to be more than just sugar cookies if you're not willing to share space or get creative with how you tackle the process (aka having tons of very talented employees).
I believe Jill also sells other non-cookie products.
I certainly don't know of any cookie-only shops here in St. Louis either.
My folks had the chance to visit Jill's shop for me before it closed - I'm so bummed I missed that chance!
Jackie got some questions in advance on Instagram, so we're going to turn to those now.
Oh yeah, that would have been fun.
An Instagram question was from @AJILLYBUG who asked, "What did you find the most challenging when getting started?"

This one is twofold (are you sensing a theme? ) The most challenging thing about cookies specifically was getting the consistency of the icing down. It's really really hard to get a feel for something you've never held in its correct form, and although YouTube was helpful, it was no match for my first time at CookieCon taking hands-on classes!

From the business side, the hardest part of getting started was probably a 50/50 split between making sure that I had all my ducks in a row from the legal and governmental standpoint and finding a space that worked for my business. I was lucky enough when I relocated the shop from Webster Groves to St. Charles to have an absolutely AMAZING health inspector and building inspector who both were really willing to help answer any questions I had and provide a why to every what. They were indispensable, and they both still stop into the shop to get things to this day!
That's awesome - I was overwhelmed with all the red tape involved in opening my cake shop in St. Louis. It was rough.
There is so much to learn!
One last advance Instagram question, and then we're turning to you all online for the rest of the questions!
Another great question from @AJILLYBUG on Instagram was, "What are some things you wish you had known earlier in your baking life/career?"

This answer could fill an encyclopedia! I'm going to try really hard to be concise here and narrow it down to the three biggest things I wish I'd known before:

1. Done is better than perfect. So long as you are filling the bakery case and you have things to sell, people will generally be really happy you're there!

2. YOU NEED HELP. I mean this one - it probably should have been #1. But seriously - if you plan to operate as a profitable business making a salary parallel to a "real job" - you absolutely cannot do it alone. Wonder Woman is a comic book character. HIRE EMPLOYEES!

3. Learn to say no! This one lines up really closely with the employees one - you can't be everything to everyone, and you'll kill yourself trying. Know how long your workload takes you, and stick to the hours you actually want (and are physically able!) to work! "No." is also a complete sentence!
Any questions from those online? Please fire 'em up!
While they type, one more Q from me . . .
Talk more about hiring. That was my single biggest issue when I had my shop - high employee turnover. How do you find and cultivate loyal staff . . .
. . . in an industry that's notorious for high turnover.
JULIA: This is SO TOUGH. It's still something that I struggle with...
Jackie is typing live now, people, so answers may take a little longer to come . . .
I think that the biggest thing for us was trying to grow a positive work environment that allows people to have a reliable job AND a reliable personal life. There are so few places in the food industry that offer health insurance and competitive wages, so that was my first task...
I found that I'd get someone fully trained after about a year, and that would be just the time they'd be looking for the next job. There's a very transient mentality in the foodservice business.
Insurance and competitive wages are indeed key.
People getting those benefits that they won't get elsewhere certainly helps. Because they can't just go anywhere and find that.
True.
Another great thing is that we have spent the last few years growing so much, that many folks have the chance to learn something they wouldn't otherwise learn. Right now for us, that's making ice cream at our soda fountain.
So you've got two locations, right? How do you split your time between them and manage the both on a daily basis?
the = them
Next question is from Bev after this one is answered.
We do! I'm at the bakery 95% of the time, because that has the kitchen where I produce customs out of. I'm transitioning into doing more paperwork at the soda shop that I'm more present there, but it's hard when all my resources are here.
How much of an increase have you seen in your business from decorated sugar cookies?
As far as managing goes...
it's tough! But communication is key. And having cameras helps, haha
Ooops, sorry, please finish your thought, then scroll up to Bev's question.
Bev asked: How much of an increase have you seen in your business from decorated sugar cookies?
BEV: We do a TON in sugar cookies! These last two years at Christmas has been the most noticeable increase, because bigger corporations that we do holiday gifts for have caught on to them. I also started teaching classes after realizing what a huge difference in person classes make to folks that are just starting their cookie journey. Classes alone have almost been enough to float the whole business in this last year! And it's been amazing to meet folks that share my passion and watch them learn so much!
Interesting about the classes.
What made you want to buy the soda fountain shop?
TERRY: When I first relocated to St. Charles, people had mentioned there was a soda fountain here, and I was so excited to see it. My grandpa was a pharmacist and had a soda fountain in Hermann, MO where I grew up...
When I got there to see it, it was NOT a real soda fountain at all, and it completely broke my heart. I thought so much about how much better I could make it if it was mine...
I've got to get out to St. Charles to see your shops. Why is it that it seems so far away when it is only about 20 minutes?!
About a year later, I was talking to a customer about how we'd outgrown our space and wished I had another kitchen. And she mentioned the shop was for sale! We talked to the owner, and it was a disaster. He ended up selling it to someone that wasn't equipped to run a business like that, and within a year it was back on the market - and that time the timing was perfect for us, and we went for it! ...
BTW, everyone, St. Charles is THE most quaint historic village. I imagine it's a great locale for a shop because it draw more tourist traffic here than just about any other spot except for The Arch.
it draw = it draws
It needed so much work - the health department had closed it, and it was gross to say the least. But Mark (my husband) and I put in so much time and blood/sweat/tears and finally got it to where it should be. I absolutely love it now.
And yes, Julia - 20 minutes is a lifetime in St. Louis time sometimes!
Such work . . .
Do you have mail order side to your bakery? For any of your bakery staples? #marshmallows ?
BEV: I do! We ship all over the continental US. The bulk of that shipping happens in November and December, but we ship all year long.

The marshmallows are the most popular that ship all year! I've never tried to ship to Canada, know anyone there that could be my tester?
So how involved is your husband in the business?
Mine helped on weekend deliveries back when I had my cake shop, but quickly grew tired of it . . . I can barely get him to look at one of my cookies now.
JULIA: Mark has a full time job as a civil engineer, so I try and ask him for as little as possible. As our team has grown, that's gotten easier, but as we grow before adding staff, that gets harder to do sometimes...
I ask, though, because SO much blood, sweat and tears goes into a shop - more than people realize - and having a supportive spouse is so key.
Earlier you mentioned the corporations have caught on to the sugar cookies. How, if you did, get your first corporate account or attract that type of bigger business?
Right now he's making the ice cream for Little O's, and he does our payroll. He also fixes things when they break, replasters walls, and begrudgingly watches the bakery on Saturday mornings while I chat.
Terry - I see your question; it's up next.
I was going to ask you who was wo(manning) the shop today!
Not sure if you saw Shanna's questions posted above . . .
Here it is again: Earlier you mentioned the corporations have caught on to the sugar cookies. How, if you did, get your first corporate account or attract that type of bigger business?
SHANA: We have a ton of corporate clients right now, and I don't remember who came first or how, but I will say that most of the folks that have become bigger customers have done so in one of two ways.

The first is that they walked into the shop or at a market and purchased something for themselves. And typically the 2nd is that they were gifted something through their work by another corporate client of ours. That is how we started doing regular cookies for Amazon, Bayer, and Wells Fargo! You never know who will get something you made!
I think in your bio you stated your family did not support a job in food services. How do they feel now?
Proud, I hope!
TERRY: I did! My dad has always been super supportive of everything I've tried to do. He knows I'm just as stubborn as he is, and there's no talking me out of it. BUT he is still a dad, and he doesn't want to see me get hurt or have major losses.

My mom is a bit of a worrier, and she has never been one to take chances. She also talks more than my dad, so she can wear him down a bit.

Now that it's all said and done, they're both really happy with my choices, and not just because they get leftover treats at all the holiday gatherings...
We get so many folks that come in because they say they met my parents!
That's great!
Jill from FCS actually even CALLED ME after she met them!
Do you have further expansion plans in the works?
It was the nicest thing and completely made my month.
JULIA: Expansion is a GREAT question!
Bev - your question is next after the one about expansion plans.
Yeeeesssss, Jackie?? Is it time for the reveal?
I've got a few things coming up in the next year that are still in the "unsure" phase of things, but I'm always looking for ways to have steady and consistent growth...
And one of those ways is the exciting news I wanted to talk about today!
Drum roll, please . . . .
And . . . the curtain is drawing back . . .
This will take a sec to type! Bear with me!
Oh, that's unfair . . . the suspense is killer . . .
Sitting on the edge of my seat
Since founding SugarBot Sweet Shop in 2012, one of my biggest frustrations has been trying to take a mass market planner, and bend it to function for the specialized needs of scheduling, planning, and producing for a full service bakery. The end result of this yearly task had always been a combination of an additional notebook, sticky notes, extra scraps of paper, and an all around headache for myself and my team. The headache only grew as I began teaching regular classes, and expanded to a second storefront.

After talking the issue through with my favorite colleagues, I set on a path to create something better. Several years, and hundreds of conversations later, our flagship product: the Productive Cookie Planner was born.

AND I AM SO EXCITED THAT I CAN TALK ABOUT IT TODAY!
Can I share a few images, Julia?
Go for it.
Please share!
Just use the "Add Image" button under the comment box.
Here is the cover and binding!
So cool!
There are a bunch of features that make it completely different than any planner I have ever seen or used - and I have spent days in isles of office supply stores trying to compare features! Folks can read all about them on the site, which is www.productivecookie.com but I'll show and list just a few here...
Can you show us some of the insides and the particular features that make it helpful to those selling cookies?
Ha! You read my mind!
It has 4 years of overview for dates...
Nice!
Has 18 glorious months of monthly/weekly planning...
I love this!! Are these available now?
Has a ton of space for the days that people actually have events, and minimal space on days that people don't....
BEV: They are in pre-production right now, and will be shipping or be hand delivered to CookieCon next month!!! They can be ordered now on the site, and I'm offering a presale discount for folks that order it ahead of schedule.
I love the long time horizon on it.
This is so cool, even for us hobby bakers
It will be $50 after the sale, but is $40 right now!
What about areas for shopping lists or other lists?
I worked really hard to find a printer to work with that could give it all the features it needed to have, and keep it super reasonable so that everyone could have one if they wanted it.
JULIA: Great question about the list! I was just getting ready to mention my FAVORITE part of this planner!
Let's hear about it then! I have another question about it too.
Each week has a side bar that's perforated for you to compile what's needed to produce for the week when you write it in - no more going back and re-reading all your correspondence and doing twice the work! AND the planner keeps it where it belongs until you're ready to tear it away!
I hope that everyone finds it to be really useful - it's been so amazing to hold it and have it be a real thing.
Nice! Now are you printing locally - or working with someone outside of the area? And what's the cost?
It's being printed locally, less than a mile from my shop actually by a small, family owned print shop.
The cost during the pre-sale is $40/planner. When the sale is over, it will be $50.
The pre-sale is going to be offered for a limited time, and I'm not sure just yet what my end date will be, but for sure it will be back to regular price by CookieCon.
Well, congrats! I hope it does really well for you; it looks like a great tool for almost anyone. I can't tell you how many spiral-bound notebooks I go through in a month!
So many!!!
Awesome. I'm going to turn now to some questions about classes and other things in the queue, okay?
Will it be available on your site?
TERRY: Yes! It's available now, if you head to: https://www.productivecookie.c...ctive-cookie-planner You can see all the details.
Ok, back to Bev's question about classes, which I'm interested in too . . .
How far ahead do you plan for cookie classes?
Also, what type of classes do you typically run? Are they for beginners? kids? all skill levels?
BEV: In an ideal world, I have all the sets ready about 3 months before the class starts. The first part of the year is tricky because I'm recovering from Christmas, so those usually are up just before the class launches.
I have rough themes for all my classes for 2020 right now, and I'm working on cutters and final design elements.
Do you always make new themes and sets for each class? Why not repurpose from time to time?
JULIA: My biggest class following is the adult classes. They're somewhere between beginner and intermediate levels. I started doing what I call "Bigs & Littles" classes last October, and they've been great! So I added a few more of those this year as well. Anyone can walk into a class and have cookies they love at the end, even if they've never held a piping bag before class.
After my question about class themes, our last one will be from Terry, which is a good one to end on.
So, "bigs and littles" are adults coming in with their kids?
JULIA: My classes are always new themes - I have people that take my class every single month, and I want to keep them constantly excited and learning, and expanding their skills. The kid sets will likely get repurposed eventually, but I love getting creative with it all!
Great, thanks - onto Terry's question and then we'll wrap up!
JULIA: Exactly - I'm not brave enough for kids only classes - the ratio is up to 2 kids per adult.
Oh, no way - I think adults need to supervise their own kids!
How instrumental has CookieCon been to you?
Terry, in what way? In terms of growing her business? her personally? or all of the above?
All of the above
TERRY: CookieCon has been AMAZING for me. I have learned so much, and met so many great people. Even though it is more of a hobby-based conference right now, it has helped me see the holes in my own business and learn how I can help myself and others. Which is why I'm so excited to teach next month, and to share the planner and the other things I have coming up.
In terms of personally...
One of these years i hope to get to attend
Being an entrepreneur can be really rough sometimes. I'm in my own head a ton, and Mark only cares to hear about every little thing so much. There are a few folks that I've met in past CookieCons that I talk to daily - they are my sounding boards, and I am theirs. Even though we're all thousands of miles apart, it's amazing how much they've impacted my life.
I lied . . . One more question: Are there other conferences you go to that are more geared to the bakery owner?
You absolutely should, Terry. It's the best!
I hear you about being in your head a lot . . .
It's rough to work solo . . .
JULIA: haha, no worries! There are several that I really love attending. The two biggest ones that have impacted me professionally are the Artisan Bakery Expo, which will be in it's 2nd year this year. It's added onto the Artisan Pizza Expo and is in Las Vegas in March, I believe (I have the link to it on the Productive Cookie site under additional resources)
I'll be going again this year, and can't wait.
Though, Terry, I will say there is SO much going on in the cookie world these days and many great shows are expanding their cookie offerings . . .
The 2nd is IBIE, which only happens every 3 years, also in Vegas. It's the biggest conference I've ever attended, and the business classes there are absolutely amazing. (Same with Artisan, actually)
So even if you can't get to CookieCon, there is no shortage of cookie things to do. So many online and in-person classes too.
Both of those shows are geared much more towards people with storefronts or people looking to have storefronts in the next 3-6 months post show, and I would absolutely recommend them for anyone in that position.
But, that being said, I can't wait to get to CookieCon too. Sadly, I will be vending as Jackie is speaking there, so I hope someone records the session for me!
ABSOLUTELY about other options if CookieCon timing doesn't work out. There are so many events popping up, and I'm hoping organizers will submit those to me so that I can keep them on the calendar at the new site as well.
Jackie, Thank you SO much for sharing with us on a busy shop-Saturday!
Thank you so much for having me! This was so much fun!
It absolutely gave my speed-typing skills a run for their money!
I wish you great success with your new planner and at CookieCon, and in all you're doing. What an impressive array of things you're juggling!
I hope to see so many of you at CC! Please come say hi!!!!
I know - my keyboard is sluggish today - and trailing my typing by several keystrokes.
So I apologize for my typing delays - some were beyond my control!
thank you Jackie and Julia!
No worries! I had a few things to figure out here too!
Thank you, Bev and EVERYONE on the chat today. I really appreciate the questions and to learn from everyone this way! Have a great weekend!
Thank you
Thank you so much for this chat Jackie and Julia!
Have a great week, everyone!
Signing off now. Happy Saturday, and thanks again, Jackie!!
This chat has ended.
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