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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 4 months ago

Cookie entrepreneur focuses on customer service

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Cindy Unzicker makes and sells cookies with her side hustle, Bite Me Cookies by Cindy.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Executive: Cindy Unzicker, 60, investor relations and events manager for the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.

Side hustle: Bite Me Cookies by Cindy, a mobile cookie-selling operation that travels throughout Manatee County. Unzicker makes the cookies she sells fresh to order.

Passion project: After evaluating her retirement plan, Unzicker sought something to supplement her funds. “I always loved to bake, specifically cookies,” she says. When her children were growing up, she made platters of cookies for their teachers, which were a big hit. So she decided to turn her cookie passion into a business. 

‘When I’m making an order, I’m always thinking about how I can make the customer look good.’ — Cindy Unzicker, Bite Me Cookies by Cindy

Mobile marketing: Unzicker launched the business in 2015. “I started very small with a brochure and a lot of ambition,” she says. In 2018, she got a van, and now she sells her cookies from a window on the side of it. Unzicker drives the Bite Me Cookies van as her primary vehicle, and it attracts a lot of attention — and potential customers. Recently, a man spotted the van, rolled down his car window and asked Unzicker if she could bring cookies to his daughter’s party.

Got milk: Bite Me Cookies has gained customers primarily through word of mouth, referrals and its website. Unzicker sells at the farmers market in Lakewood Ranch, which has been good for sales and exposure. She recently partnered with Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City to sell milk and cookies at the market. People have contacted her about offering milk and cookies at a wedding, too. “There are so many opportunities,” she says.

Holiday hustle: Unzicker’s cookies are also a popular treat at client and employee appreciation events. The holiday season, when many companies give their clients gifts, is an especially busy time for Bite Me Cookies. Unzicker uses all of her vacation time to work on her side hustle. “I take three weeks off in December to bake around the clock.” During the holiday rush, Unzicker’s friends help by tying on ribbons and doing other tasks, so she can keep baking. Sometimes, her 81-year-old mother helps, too. This year, January was another good month for Bite Me Cookies. The business has grown larger each year, she says.

Kitchen considerations: Unzicker bakes out of her home, with a freezer in the living room and supplies in a spare bedroom. Her business is considered a cottage industry, preventing her from selling to restaurants, so her next step is finding a small commercial kitchen where she can operate. Having that workspace will allow her to be more efficient and enable her to mail cookies to customers. “That would open up so many doors for me as far as selling,” she says.

Expansion plan: Bite Me Cookies focuses on selling in Manatee County, though Unzicker would like to venture farther south and north. What’s stopping her is one of the main challenges side hustlers face: hours in a day. When Unzicker retires from the EDC, she plans to run Bite Me Cookies full time, and then she can expand.

Taste test: Unzicker sells the seven or eight flavors of her 6-inch signature cookies for $3 each and offers platters of cookies that range from $30 to $100. She regularly adds new items to the menu after getting feedback from her test sites, including the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. She’ll drop off a box of cookies and ask people to get back to her with comments. “If you get three or four people telling you the same thing, it must be so,” she says.

Customer-centric: There are clear differences between her side hustle and working for the EDC, but Unzicker has similarities, too. “I’ve learned customer service needs to be my No. 1 priority,” she says. “If you don’t have happy customers, you don’t have a business. Customer service goes hand-in-hand with both my jobs.” For Bite Me Cookies customers, Unzicker might add a key detail, such as using ribbon on the packaging that matches the company’s logo. “When I’m making an order, I’m always thinking about how I can make the customer look good,” she says. At the EDC, when she sells a sponsorship, she has the same customer service mindset, thinking, “How do I keep this company engaged and happy?”

Happy days: Managing her time well is crucial. “I’m extremely organized and motivated,” she says. “I always try to anticipate what’s coming next.” When her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDC day is over, she goes home, changes her clothes, puts her hair up and gets to work on Bite Me Cookies. “Being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, second only to parenting,” she says. Besides sales, there's another tasty payoff to her side hustle, in putting smiles on people’s faces. “Cookies make people happy,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to have two jobs I love.”

 

Click here to read more about regional professionals and their side hustles.

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