Best choices: Leslie Logemann, founder (and baker) of Ms. American Pie Company in Brevard, made one of the toughest decisions a business owner can — close down and focus on another endeavor.
The act of starting a business is an optimistic one. No one dreams of putting blood, sweat and tears into an enterprise, then shutting it down months later. In fact, our culture has ingrained in us a drive to keep moving forward at any cost. But as Leslie Logemann of Brevard can tell you, sometimes the smartest move is to walk away from a business idea that just isn’t feasible — a tough task that’s made easier when you do it early on and with eyes wide open.
About a year ago, Logemann, looking for a way to make a few extra bucks, decided to turn a lifelong baking hobby into a business. She started the Ms. American Pie Company, selling her organic, handmade pies at the Transylvania Tailgate Market. Her business was certified as a retail bakery by the North Carolin Department of Agriculture, and she worked out of a friend’s commercial kitchen on nights and weekends with her husband’s help, all the while working full time as a freelance graphic designer.
Logemann’s pies were popular. She had many repeat customers, and some local restaurants were interested in wholesale purchases. When the holidays rolled around, she was slammed with orders. But as Logemann tracked her income and expenses, she noticed something disturbing: She wasn’t making much money. So Logemann took Mountain BizWorks’ “Foundations” business planning course to find out why.
Bill Johnson, the class facilitator, suggested that she might have a volume issue and showed her how to run the numbers. “I must have gone through 10 scenarios for how to make the business more profitable,” explains Logemann. “But the only ways to make more than $8 per hour were to open a storefront that was also a restaurant, or to do manufacturing and distribution.”
Neither of those options appealed to her. “I knew that if I expanded, it would take the fun out of selling something that’s handmade with love,” she says. Logemann also knew that if she didn’t expand, her business wouldn’t earn enough to support her.
“Making pies was fun and personally rewarding, but a business has to be financially rewarding,” she says. “Unfortunately, compliments don’t pay the bills.”
By the last class session, Logemann had made up her mind. After her classmates had presented their business plans, Logemann stood up and announced that she had decided to close her business. “It felt a little bit like failure, but it was also a relief,” she recalls. “The best thing about it was that it felt like I had been armed with all the knowledge I could have to make the best decision I possibly could.”
It also turns out that she wasn’t alone; Johnson told her that he knew three other students with food-based business ideas who had recently come to the same conclusion. “That made me feel less alone,” says Logemann.
Her loyal customers took the news in stride. Logemann sent each of them a note explaining her decision and mentioning that she would always consider 2012 her “year of pie.”
“Initially, a tiny part of me felt like I had let down my clients; they were always so appreciative, and pie makes people happy. But I think they’ll probably live," she says, laughing. "It’s just pie!”
Now, a couple of months after the end of the class, Logemann has no regrets. “I feel amazing relief. I don’t second-guess my decision for a minute because I know I did everything I could to make it work,” she says. “I also have a lot more personal time. Come this summer, I’ll have more weekends to go camping.”
Logemann is also taking what she learned in the class and applying it to her graphic-design business, logemannDESIGN. “I’ve started looking a little more at my bottom line, working more efficiently and being more selective about clients.” She’s even considering combining her two passions into one project, by designing a cookbook of the many recipes she’s created over the years.
“I’ll always bake for friends and family,” she says. “Now I can just practice ‘random acts of pieness.’”
Leslie Logemann can be found online at www.logemanndesign.com.
To learn more about upcoming Foundations business planning courses at Mountain BizWorks, visit www.mountainbizworks.org or call 253-2834.
Anna Raddatz is development and communications coordinator at Mountain BizWorks.