Some assignments really are sweeter than others. Case in point, I recently visited the Fresh Beginning's cookie factory in Valdosta GA, for a personal tour with one of Fresh Beginning’s first employees. I was eager to learn firsthand how a small cookie idea grew to one of the most popular Automotive CRM and third-party call centers in the US... oh, and to sample the goods as well.

“I’m so excited to share our story,” were the first words I heard from Debbie Tubbs Director of Operations.

As she walked us to the entrance of the bakery, the former Disney employee’s warm smile and twinkling eyes seemed to be the perfect fit for her next statement.

“Let’s go see where the magic happens.”Brian Miller Eating a Cookie

We began the tour by watching first hand, as skilled bakers carefully worked cookie dough by hand in a method perfected with decades of prideful practice. Racks of cookies were moving in and out of commercial ovens that warmed and toasted each batch to perfection.

As we walked past the massive ovens, Debbie’s eyes lit up and her pace quickened. She stopped next to a six-foot-high rack, containing hundreds of cookies that had just been pulled from the oven.

“We don’t normally do this,” she said with a childish grin.

Looking side to side first she asked in a whisper, “Would you like to try one fresh out of the oven?”

Debbie was hired over a quarter century ago by the founders of Fresh Beginnings, Judy and Hugh Hathcock. The happy couple had grown the business as far as they could from the front seat of their family car.

“It all began with Judy and Hugh selling their cookies, as customer appreciation gifts to dealers in the Georgia and surrounding states,” she began. “Cookies were shipped to the dealership’s customers after the sale, to improve CSI scores. This was long before the internet.”

Debbie sighed, reflecting on a simpler time. “You see, relationships back then were made face to face. Judy and Hugh would place a tin of their cookies on the sun-soaked dash of their car, to warm up them up on the long drives from dealer to dealer. When the lid came off at the sales tower, the smell of fresh baked cookies would fill the showroom!” With a wink she confessed, “The smell of those cookies, closed the deal every time.”Brian Miller interviewing Debbie Tubbs in the Fresh Beginning's cookie factory

Debbie had been hired to become Fresh Beginning’s Business Development Manager. Her first order of business was to have the company’s first computer installed in her office. She shortly instituted standers for orders to improve efficiency. Her past work experience, naturally lend her to the desire for a very personal and emotional experience with each order. This resulted in Fresh Beginning’s signature tins, that today include an endless selection of colors and styles. Dealership’s logos and even photos, can be added. Thanks to an amazing in-house art team a custom heat transfer system, each of the thousands of tins shipped each month is a personalized work of art.

Evolution by Accident

Starting and owning several small businesses myself, I have seen first-hand how products and services evolve in ways no one could have predicted. It’s often a combination of customer demands and changes in technology that drive these entrapanurial twists and turns. This was no different for Fresh Beginnings.Examples of Fresh Beginning's cookie tins

“We had dealers who wanted us to call the customer to make sure they got their cookies,” Debbie explained. “So, what started out as a courtesy turned into a service. We were soon calling hundreds of customers a day, and providing valuable feedback to dealers. It didn’t take long to realize that we needed a way to manage all of this data, so we hired a firm in Florida to build us a tool.”

With a smirk she continued, “It didn’t take long of us to become that little firm’s biggest customer. One day Hugh decided he wanted that team full time, so he bought the company, and eLead was born.”

The combination of the three services, cookies, CRM and call center, continued to grow and flourish. For over a decade. Fresh Beginning’s ovens could be found at every major automotive convention, and those soft delicious chocolate chip cookies became a favorite stop for dealers on the many a convention floor. At the same time eLead was growing into one of the largest CRM’s in the industry.

From Cookies to Cookies

Today thousands of customers are greeted with the joyful voice of a person in a call center just feet away from one of the happiest bakeries you’ll ever seen. These calls are often made possible thanks to the eLead CRM. An in today’s high-tech world, some of those call scripts are aided by data from the perspective customer’s visit to the dealer’s web site, data we call “cookies.” That pleasant voice on the phone will begin the process of a sales. A sale that will often be celebrated by a real cookie, completing an amazing cycle.

Looking at the end result, one cannot fully comprehend how this all came to be, within understanding all the steps along the way. I have only touched a few of hundreds of thousands of steps it took. It all started with a simple idea. A fundamentally good idea that evolved with changing technology and improved by listening to market demands.

I may have gone to Valdosta, GA, looking to learn about cookies, but I came away with another reminder of how important a platform like Fortellis is to our industry. Today, fundamentally good ideas abound. Ideas that can and should grow to amazing things with the help of each other. The thousands of steps Fresh Beginnings and eLead took over their 30-year journey to the top, can happen today, in a matter of months with right tools and community support. What’s your great idea? Bring it to Fortellis! I look forward to watching your idea grew into something as sweet as Fresh Beginnings!

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Authored on Thu, 08/15/2019 - 16:08