By Guest Author Erika Valdez
Brownie lovers, this is for you! Our food entrepreneur series continues with the story of Mark Ballard and Tom Finney, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, an award-winning company that has redefined the “cozy, American classic brownie into a truly luxury dessert indulgence, gifting, and special occasion experience.”
So what influenced Ballard and Finney to leave corporate America and instead take a chance at a new business opportunity?. The pair had a similar childhood and education: they were both born to entrepreneurial families and both obtained a master’s degree. Once working in their fields (sales and marketing for Finney and specialty retailing for Ballard), they realized what their true calling was and decided to put together a plan for a new business opportunity. “We set out to create something unique—better than it had ever been done before. A unique upscale brownie gift business. Seventeen decadent flavors. Exciting, efficient, innovative brownie extension products: brownie trifles, brownie truffles, brownie biscotti, brownie cheesecakes, brownie cakes, brownie ice creams, and brownie bark” they said.
The endeavor was funded through personal investments from about 10 years of hard work. Ballard and Finney tell me that all of their funding to create the product packaging, online store systems, and furnishings came from their savings. It was extremely important for them to have the freedom and flexibility to create the vision they had set in the beginning. Taking direction from investors was not an option for these two entrepreneurs.
Ballard and Finney have always been extremely involved in the decision-making and day-to-day activities of Sugardaddy’s. At present, Finney focuses on baking, production, inventory, and finances while Ballard deals with strategy, systems and operational architecture, marketing, and the online store. It is crucial for them to continue with product development and to listen and learn from their customers.
Customers are attracted and retained through strategic marketing. The founders have greatly benefited from appearing in diverse shows, editorial features, search engines such as Google, and customer referrals—consequently increasing sales and profitability. The company’s revenue has increased every year since Sugardaddy’s foundation in 2005 and first full year in 2006. With over $2.2 million in revenue year to date, projections for 2010 are extremely positive.
Sugardaddy’s business model was developed from a carefully structured plan. Ballard and Finney spent three years developing and perfecting Sugardaddy’s brownie and blondie products, their packaging, branding, marketing, operations, and talent needs, and tried to do all this from the customer’s perspective. In 2005, the company was launched online, through the phone lines and a small factory store was opened. From then here on, Sugardaddy’s has continued to capture customers, turning it into a fast-growing business. Among its milestones, Sugardaddy’s partnered with The Ellen DeGeneres Show for three years, appeared on The Rachael Ray Show, won a Throwdown challenge with Bobby Flay, executive chef and owner of Mesa Grill, all of which were excellent sources of marketing for the business. Sugardaddy’s is currently partnering with NeimanMarcus.com, Horchow.com, and Saks.com.
These two entrepreneurs have been able to take a familiar product and make it unusual and exclusive, and in doing so they have been able to create new market space. So what has made their business grow and reach its current position? “First and foremost, developing and creating daily—a unique concept with a great consistent product. We are the one and only luxe brownie and blondie company!” they said. Sugardaddy’s plans to continue expanding through retail stores and by franchising the Sugardaddy’s concept nationally. There is already a franchise model in the works for 2010, along with additional partnerships in the future.
The company is doing well during these hard economic times, so I asked Ballard and Finney them for their advice to those who are considering to follow an entrepreneurial dream. The pair believe that “it takes intense time to plan what you want to do, where you’ll do it, and how you’ll do it. Secondly, you have to have an angle as to what will make your product(s), service(s), technology, or tool(s) differentiated from the competition. Thirdly, you have to have the funding that will you make your dream a reality. Finally, you have to have the passion and stamina to make it work ?even when you don’t feel like it. You have to advocate your business and seize every opportunity to promote your business. Success is, after all, where opportunity and preparation meet… and, each day is a new game.”
Visit Sugardaddy’s.com for great holiday gift ideas.
This segment is a part in the series : Food Entrepreneurs