The Way the Cookie Crumbles

It may be the way the cookie crumbles on Madison Avenue, but in Hong Kong it’s the way the egg rolls. ~Robert Orben

Last month, I told you about my attempts to win back an old account that resulted in a friendly office wager: If I could win the business by March 1, my Office Assistant, Shelly, promised to make me cookies; if I lost, I’d have to bake her cookies. As you, our faithful Thought for the Weekend readers suggested, I even had a bouquet of cookies delivered to the company I’ve been romancing in Texas. Alas, the cookie still crumbled. They’ve pushed back their decision making until next month, meaning that I would be baking cookies for the very first time.

It became a family affair, as I enlisted the help of my wife and my daughters. No “slice and bake” for us; we did the whole thing from scratch. Here’s my daughter measuring flour for the dough. Although I was quite proud of my first batch of homemade cookies, let’s face it: cookie dough always tastes better than the actual cookies.

As the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies filled our house, I couldn’t help but think of the world’s most famous cookie baker, Mrs. Fields:

Debbi Fields was a housewife who, despite the nay-saying of family, husband, friends and bankers, opened her first chocolate chip cookie store in 1977 with a loan that had a 21% interest rate (the only loan she could get!). Her husband bet that she wouldn’t sell $50 worth of cookies the first day. Hours passed in the shop with no sales, so Debbi took to the streets offering samples to the passers-by and even the passengers on city buses. By the end of the day, Mrs. Fields had rang-up $75 in sales.

That $75 eventually grew into a cookie-making empire. In its heyday, the company grossed over $300 million from 1000 stores in 9 countries, employing more than 5,000 people. Ask Debbie Fields the secret to her success, and she’ll tell you it’s “minding your p’s and q’s”: “It’s the passion. It’s the pursuit of perfection. It’s the perseverance. And, of course, it all leads to quality.”

My favorite story about her business journey centers around sales and the importance of relationships. When she was just starting out, Mrs. Fields called a chocolate manufacturing giant and asked the sales rep if he could deliver 25 pounds of chocolate for her to sample. “25 pounds of chocolate is too small for our trucks to deliver…”, began the rep. Deflated after calling a number of chocolate suppliers, Debbi thought she was getting another door slammed in her face. Instead the sales rep continued, “…but it’s not too small for the trunk of my car. Where are you?”

By going the extra mile to help for one of the “little guys”, that sales rep struck gold. Twenty-seven years later, Debbi Fields remained loyal to the only chocolate sales rep who would help her out in the beginning. Mrs. Fields became his biggest account, ordering in excess of 25 million pounds of chocolate a year.

Act like a smart cookie this weekend,