Tales of how 3 manufacturers managed to thrive during the Great Recession
Tales of how 3 manufacturers managed to thrive during the Great Recession By Melissa Powell Seattle Times business reporter
One manufacturer began operations during the low point of the Great Recession. Another reopened during it. And a third invested more money and hired more employees. These may seem unusual during a period of tight credit and economic uncertainty. But all three businesses — milkmakers, Cosmo Specialty Fibers and Cashmere Molding — made it work. And all three now sell their products nationally or internationally. These businesses have one thing in common — innovation. Here are their stories.
Milkmakers - The way the cookie crumbled
Seattle native Emily Kane was looking for ways to increase her breast-milk supply after giving birth in 2006. She started experimenting with different lactation remedies and found a cookie recipe that worked. "It's not something a lot of people are doing," says Kane. "But I went out and got the ingredients, and I really found that they were working for me."
Three years and hundreds of batches later, Kane has a business — milkmakers — offering two types of cookies. She quit her financial-recruitment job and decided to "risk it all" because the company was hit hard by the recession. Kane's chocolate-chip oatmeal and raisin-oatmeal cookies gained popularity through word-of-mouth from other new mothers with the same problem. Even her husband was eating them.
The three main ingredients — oats, flaxseed and Brewer's yeast — are super health foods for anyone, not just nursing mothers, Kane said. In 2010, Kane created a website, where a pack of 30 cookies sells for $44, and moved the baking out of her home to Little Rae's Bakery in South Seattle. Little Rae's bakes its own products and products for small businesses like milkmakers. The bakery takes up seven units in a converted storage facility. Little Rae's Bakery can bake 600 cookies at one time in its closet-sized ovens — something Kane couldn't do in her home kitchen. "She gives me the recipe, instructions and specifications, and we make it happen," bakery owner James Morse says. That allows her to produce more. From 2010 to 2011, milkmakers experienced a sales growth of 590 percent, Kane said. She now has 12 employees and has been testing the retail market.
In September, milkmakers cookies will be available in several baby and maternity boutiques and some specialty groceries across the country. Kane said she is working with a rep to find retailers because the scope of the work is quite large. Many stores have also approached her with interest, she said. Betsy Trapani, of Issaquah, knows Kane from college. After Trapani's son was born 11 months ago, Kane sent her a batch of cookies. She started eating two cookies a day, which helped her produce 6 months' worth of frozen milk as an emergency supply. She's still breast-feeding and now working three days a week. When the grandmothers baby-sit, she said, there is always enough fresh milk around. "It's actually a really easy solution," Trapani says.
Kane said that starting a business in a recession wasn't easy. She remembers how terrifying it was to write her first "big check" out of her personal savings to create the logo. "If I would have had funding and money in the beginning, I probably would have done things differently," Kane says. "I can't grow as fast as I want given the lack of funding. It just has not been easy for small businesses to get loans over the last couple of years." But she said that because of her unique idea and conservative business policies, she has been successful. The economic climate — what hurt most business owners — actually helped her, she said. "When you don't have all the money at your disposal, you problem solve, and you get creative, and you network and work with other small businesses, which helps turn the cycle and help the economy," she says. She's part of Brilliant Breastfeeding, a group of five mompreneur companies from across the nation that all serve the same audience — pregnant or nursing mothers. The companies heard about each other and banded together earlier this year to share costs on advertising and trade shows. "It's really just about being smart about marketing," Kane says. Read the rest here.