"SERVE DESSERT FIRST!"
“I always knew I would own my own business,” says Juli Hardin, a Cedar Rapids native and owner/CEO of Jules Bakery, Armar Plaza, Cedar Rapids.
“I had the desire, and I couldn’t wait to apply my own business theories.”
But making her dreams come true took some time. Like many of us, Juli began her career working for others. After graduating from Cedar Rapids Washington High School, she worked for ten years in retail management and bookkeeping before she had the chance to take her next step—earning her college degree in business at Mount Mercy. “After graduating from college I accepted an internship at the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce and never left,” she says.
At the Chamber, Juli learned about business and SCORE—the nation's counselors to small business—that would later help her start her business. In eight years on the job at the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Juli Hardin had a chance to see businesses succeed and fail, to learn why, and to listen to and work with some of the best business minds in the community. She absorbed all that she could.
Juli Hardin’s individual outlook and determination are the keys to her success.
While enjoying her work with the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Juli’s yearning to become her own boss grew greater each year. “I had worked for others my entire career,” she says. “I had developed some theories about managing businesses and wanted to try them out. Since they were driven a bit by my own perspectives as a working woman, I did not see them being tested until I could get out there to test them myself.”
As Juli grew more and more impatient to get started with her own business, she faced one major obstacle. She still wasn’t clear what kind of business she wanted.
“I considered doing a number of things including home-based businesses which were sort of attractive. But, I had to be honest with myself. I like being around people. Working out of the home, I realized, was just not me.”
But it took a kick in the pants from one of her colleagues to really set Juli in the right direction.
“I had always liked baking things for the office. One day I brought some of my new creations into work for people to try and someone asked the obvious question, 'Why don't you open your own bakery?'”
Suddenly Juli knew exactly what she wanted to do.
Getting ready, getting started
Even once Juli focused on a business that seemed tailored to her strengths, it would take three more years to get the business up and operating. Why? Juli was smart enough—and patient enough—to do her homework. She took the time to learn more, do her research, and make her plans. This is another attribute of the most successful entrepreneurs.
Juli also set specific goals for herself. She felt she needed six signature products before she could open her business. She attended the Kirkwood Community College Small Business Development Center's (SBDC) “Fast Track” program—a program she recommends as well worth it. “It forces one to focus and think through the process and a plan.” And, she considered buying a local baking shop that was looking to sell for about a year. “Fortunately,” she says, “that deal did not work out, and I had to start from scratch.” This allowed her to begin fresh and find the best solutions for her business.
In late 2001, with the help of a small business loan, Juli finally fulfilled a dream as she opened the doors to Jules Bakery.
Following through on her vision, the shop is an upscale, high quality gourmet pastry and cake shop, operated entirely by women. Juli describes it with the French term, “patisserie.” She caters to customer’s life events, like graduations, weddings, and other celebrations; and her staff turns out an impressive array of unique sweets. “I do all bridal cake decorating myself,” says Juli,” because I love doing it.”
Surprises and Lessons Learned
As Juli thinks back to her greatest challenges, “learning the business of baking,” is her first thought. Apparently, baking at home and baking as a business with commercial ingredients are two completely different things. “I cannot tell you how many garbage cans of failures we threw out before we got things right.” Being patient while learning is a struggle.
As was the capital to operate, and the vagaries of the weather and the marketplace. “This winter must have put a lot of folks out of business,” she says.
As to lessons learned, Juli has strong feelings:
Research your business thoroughly.
Have a business plan and ask as many people as possible to review it. “When you think you have had enough people review it, find more. And, never have family or friends review it!”
Be sure to use SCORE and other resources like the Kirkwood Small Business Development Center.
“When I think about SCORE, I think of gratitude,” she says. “These people offered me a fountain of information. Their patient assistance and referrals helped me enormously. I had very useful conversations with and got good input from Jack Haney, my SCORE contact.”
And so it goes
“I have no second thoughts,” says Juli. “I am living my dream and I am happy.”
Juli attributes her success to a number of things. Maintaining the highest quality of product is one Juli's strongest principles. She applies a “flat” team management style and believes that mutual trust between employer and employee combined with team and individual goals are important ingredients to her success. She also gives particular praise to her two managers, Mandy the master of operations and baking, and Stacey, the “baking scientist” who perfects all the recipes.
Then there is Juli's super secret “butter cream frosting.” It’s a 30-year-old secret she guards very carefully. “This frosting is incredibly good,” she says proudly. It is also a flavorful competitive advantage, one can’t help but notice.
One thing is certain. It doesn't get any sweeter than Juli’s business and her level of success, though she aspires to do even more. The worries about getting the business going and keeping it going when she started it in late-2001, a particularly challenging time, are now gone. All is well.
Trying Jules Bakery out ...
In need of a brownie, a beautifully decorated cookie, or even a wedding or graduation cake? Feel free to stop by Juli's place or visit her on the web at: