For the Great Harvest in Delafield, WI, it started with Jon Rasmussen’s determination to “regain his voice” and break free from corporate constraints. Jon wasn’t unhappy with his job. He was just frustrated at the levels of approval he needed to implement his ideas to serve his customers and grow his employees.
Here is what Jon told us when he first applied to open a Great Harvest bakery franchise:
I am looking for a change of career for multiple reasons but mostly because I no longer fit in corporate America where you manage by checklist and everything must be done the same from coast to coast. I understand the need for compliance to maintain the brand of any national, big box retail company. I want to regain my voice and be able to adjust to the needs of my business and customer. I need to own my own small business where I can carry out my business plan. This is what drew me into my career and what is drawing me to another.
About a year later, Jon opened the doors to his own bakery. He now has about 18 months under his belt and I was curious to learn more about his strong and healthy bakery. Here is what I discovered in our 5 Questions interview:
1. What have you found to be the key “ingredients” to a healthy business?
I think there are 2 main keys: find the right location and the right employees.
It all starts with location. I knew I needed to find a visible spot in a good community. I looked at a lot of demographic comparisons. I used the Great Harvest bakeries I was familiar with in Neenah, Minneapolis and Minnetonka as role models. After we starting focusing on this area of Delafield, I realized there used to be a bakery in this same location, before the original building was torn down. I even remember standing in line at that bakery years ago. I was able to talk to the owners of that business and they gave me some really valuable insights. I also looked at my potential neighbors – bicycle store, fitness store, library, elementary school, children’s museum – all a good fit for me. This is a new development, designed after an old New England village. We have retail on the ground floor and residential apartments above us.
Hiring is key. Employees are a reflection on me as the business owner. Service is so important. We bake phenomenal products, but if that bread is served by someone who doesn’t care, we have just taken the taste right out of it. It’s helpful to be able to read people well. When I’m hiring, I ask myself: Would I like working with this person? Do I enjoy being with them? What have they been involved with? I hired a high school student who was an Eagle Scout because that showed his determination. Two of my employees actually live in the complex and one even lives directly above the bakery.
2. Do you feel you have achieved a healthy work-life balance with the bakery?
Yes, because I’ve been able to delegate and trust my employees. Once hired, each individual owns a project. They make mistakes and learn from it. Of course, no one wants to fail, but its’ OK, because that’s when they really learn it. For example, my baker does predictions, another person is in charge of inventory, and another employee helps train customer service.
If I need to leave the bakery, it’s in good hands. I don’t feel like I’m tied to my business and can never leave. Now I’m going to work at 8:30 or 9 am and I work until we close. My early morning production team knows what they are doing. We open at 6 am. Until 7 am, my 2 bakers are running the bakery completely on their own. They bake products and serve customers.
All of my employees are trained to work directly with customers. It’s really important to me that we never ever tell the customer our bread tastes good, because “good” has no flavor! We use descriptive words to communicate all the unique characteristics of our different products.
Mondays and Tuesdays are my day off, but I often stop by the bakery too and I do office stuff.
3. What are the challenges of operating a small business?
I can’t overemphasize how much fun I’m having. And it’s a lot of work. My previous career was in retail, so I worked a lot of hours before as well. This is about the same amount of hours, but I have control. I have the ability to make a decision and put it into action instead of going through levels of management and waiting. I have never been more stressed, but it’s a different stress. Stress might not be the word -- it's more that the business is always on my mind. I’m always thinking about the business and how I can improve it. I try new things, and if it works, fantastic. If not, I learn from it and try something else.
I have people who tell me they love to bake and have dreamed of opening a bakery, but I tell them it’s not about baking – it’s about running a business.
4. What’s most rewarding for you personally?
I’m a “front of house” guy. My customers are also my neighbors, since I live 4 minutes from the bakery. I really enjoy all the conversations. Meeting new people and knowing them by name. I can see their car pull up and check that I have High 5 fiber. I’m entertaining my friends and neighbors in the bakery. It was important to me that the bakery feel like a home too. I have big brass chandeliers from Marshall Fields and my breadboard is an antique that had been sitting in my basement for 15 years.
5. What is your “How I found Great Harvest” story?
I grew up 6 blocks from the Minneapolis Great Harvest on Upton Ave. Then when I lived in Neeenah, WI, I would stop on my way to work for coffee and sweets at Great Harvest. I’d watch the fun, and hear the music and enjoy the fresh bread aroma. I didn’t realize Great Harvest was a franchise because was every bakery is different. They all seemed like a mom and pop shop.
The decision point for me was “What do I want to do for the 2nd half of my work life?” I didn’t jump into this lightly. First started contemplating around 2003, but then I did research and due diligence until the time was right.
Jon Rasmussen, Great Harvest Delafield, WI