Norma Rae?

It seems the blog post that I wrote about Ecolab’s requirement that we purchase $75 a month of chemicals a month whether we need them or not has caught the attention of Ecolab’s corporate headquarters.  And today, Ecolab sent a district manager to PJP Buttonwood to discuss all things related to dishwashers, chemicals, and my righteous indignation.

The district manager brought authorization to waive our past three months of unpaid chemical fee charges.  At an average of $75 a month for minimum chemical purchases, we currently owe $225 (plus our $99.37 a month lease fee).  We hadn’t paid the $225 because we didn’t need any chemicals and we weren’t aware that we were mandated to purchase the chemicals or pay the $75 a month regardless.  You can read the entire story here:  http://pjpies.com/2014/10/15/big-mistake-big-huge/.

So, the district manager was super happy to announce that he could make the $225 go away and then we would pay the $75 a month from here on out.  And he even brought a catalogue of the entire line of Ecolab cleaning products to highlight the many, many, many options to purchase to meet the $75 a month requirement.  And here is the honest truth…the entire situation completely irritates me, but that said, there isn’t much we can do about it except pay the stupid $174.37 a month until the one year contract ends in March.  So I was willing to move on…

UNTIL.

Until the district manager said something along the lines of “so we are good now and there won’t be anymore blogging or Tweeting about this, right?”  AND HE WAS SERIOUS.

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What followed next can only be described as a pointless conversation that went in a vicious circle with no end.  Whomever came up with the phrase “let’s just agree to disagree” must have had my conversation today with the Ecolab district manager in mind.  As much as he was righteously indignant that the forgiveness of the $225 should end the dispute, I was righteously indignant that the entire concept of charging a customer $75 a month for chemicals they don’t need is insane.  (I might have said it was “dumb” in the heat of the moment.  I still stand by that comment.)

So, Ecolab corporate, if you are reading this, here are my pertinent thoughts:

Don’t charge me $75 a month for chemicals I don’t want or need.  I don’t care if you make an “awesome floor cleaner” or an “amazing product that soaks grease off pans” or if your employee’s wife refuses to clean her granite with anything but your lemon scented granite cleaner.  That is all awesome information, if I needed some cleaning supplies.  On two different occasions, your employees have told me the company doesn’t make any money on the actual lease of the machine.  That isn’t my problem.  If you set the price at $99 a month and offer free shipping and that causes you to take a loss, then you should probably rework that business model instead of relying on your line of chemical products to pick up the slack.  According to your 2013 annual report, your company made over $13 million in net sales, so I’m guessing something is working for you.

Everyone today from your company was very concerned that I acknowledge the forgiveness of the $225 past debt from our dispute, so I hereby say thank you for allowing us to wipe the slate clean.  As we move forward, I’ll buy the chemicals each month until our contract is over and you can cash the check.  But I won’t like it, agree with it, or support it…or even pretend that I do.  Because under the protections of the First Amendment, I don’t have to.  That is how this free-speech, free-market, net $13 million in sales democratic system works.

And all that said, that my original blog post gave you pause and motivated you to send a district manager our way?  Well, I AM HONORED, INDEED.  Maybe I should change our name from Peggy Jean’s to Norma Rae’s…

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What I Know…

I write a lot here about what I don’t know…and probably because that list is exceptionally longer than any other list I could write.  So for a change, in no particular order, is a list of things we know to be true at PJP Buttonwood…

  1. We are perpetually out of something at PJP Buttonwood at any given time.  I’m telling you now that we are getting ready to enter the great “Ummm…We Have No 9-inch Pie Boxes” Crisis of 2014 in a day or so unless some sort of Amazon Fulfillment Center miracle happens in the next 12 hours.
  2. We legitimately would like to purchase a golf cart at PJP Buttonwood to use in our twice daily trips to Hyvee.  Jeanne launched into an entire soliloquy today about how she would chain it up to the fire hydrant behind PJP Buttonwood when we weren’t using it.  And also how she would decorate it and build coffee cup holders for our morning trips to Caribou.  And I don’t know why, but all I could think about was PeeWee Herman and  his bike…giphy-3
  3. All that said, working with your mother helps you to know her on an entirely different level and for that opportunity, I am most grateful.
  4. If you need the Sysco truck to show up at 8 am with a 30 pound box of gooseberries, said Sysco truck will likely show up at 2 pm.
  5. If you pay $99.37 a month for a sketchy dishwasher, Jeanne will just most likely wash all the dishes by hand regardless.  She has a dishwasher in her house that has been used twice.  By me.
  6. Opening 10 pound cans with a manual can opener purchased at Wal-Mart can literally make you break a sweat.  We basically have forearms of The Incredible Hulk at this point.
  7. Using the shop-vac makes me oddly happy.  It is like vacuuming plus.
  8. Paying someone else to wash our aprons is without question the best $27.00 we spend a week.  Until I think about the apron I have on and who had it before me and then I basically make my brain implode with all the what-ifs.
  9. If someone official calls to let us know that they will be inspecting our grease trap soon, answering “uhhhhhh….ok” will make the person on the other end of the line laugh.  And then likely tag our file with note that likely says:  “Completely Clueless”.
  10. Laughing until you actually cry while at your job is really the best thing ever.  And I’m a lucky girl.

Friend Me?

We are at the point in the fall semester that we have MU journalism students flocking to PJP Buttonwood to practice interviews, videos, photography, and on occasion, a convergence of all three mediums.  It isn’t terribly uncommon for us to have three or four students a week hanging out with us during the day and quizzing us from a list of tediously prepared questions while recording our responses on their iPhones.  We are pretty used to telling our story and answering the most common questions, but sometimes a student will surprise us with a totally unexpected question.  Last week, one asked me:  “What is the most unexpected part of opening your business?”  And here is the honest truth…I had no idea how many new friends we would make at PJP Buttonwood.

Here are some of the stories of the kindness we’ve been shown at PJP and evidence that we are perhaps the very luckiest girls in the world…

  1. We receive countless number of kind comments directly on the blog and on Facebook about the content of the blog…even when I share our shortcomings, our failures, our mishaps, and our self-doubt.  Some mornings, we read over those comments together and are completely humbled by the support.  And amped up for another day to tackle World Pie Domination because of your support.  #WPD
  2. Not long ago, a blog reader (and long-term friend) mailed us a gift card to Starbucks so that we would get something in the mail besides bills.  I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I am nice enough to ever do that for someone…or to actually deserve it in the first place.  And probably no on both counts, but she saw past all that and sent a small ray of sunshine to accompany our daily stack of bills.  And while we appreciate the gift card immensely, that she thought of us at all made us feel all the joy of a piping hot milk chocolate mocha on a nippy fall morning.  Now I’m looking for someone to send me a note that says “DOWN WITH ECOLAB” so that I can feel continually justified in my righteous dishwasher-related indignation.
  3. We know things about our customers…their sick mothers, their newly adopted children, their travel plans, their home improvement plans, their favorite pies, their feelings about coffee, their feelings about wine…that make our friendships mutual.  A lot of our customers have friended my personal Facebook page and it makes me so happy.  It is like a little note that says “hey, I don’t just like pie, I like you too…and now I’m willing to look at a lot of random posts about your dog to prove it.”  I bet they would friend Jeanne too, but they know us well enough to know that Jeanne doesn’t really Facebook.
  4. Last Friday during our DAY OF EPIC FAILURE, a good customer knew that I had to whip up a mocha frappuccino costume for my nine-year-old daughter by 4pm (and if you are thinking, “huh, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in that household”, you would be totally correct.)  The customer actually offered to go and get the supplies that I needed while I stayed at PJP and tried to keep the pie production flowing.  If I hadn’t been so busy scratching my anxiety-induced hives, I probably would have cried from all the kindness.
  5. Today, a customer stopped by with a gift for Jeanne and I.  She likened us to “pie-rates” given our rogue-sail-the-seven-seas approach to running our business.  And like all legit pirates (or pie-rates), we needed eye patches.  So she just made us some…complete with lattice.  I know, right?FullSizeRender-7

And so look, obviously this post doesn’t begin to touch on the hundreds of acts of kindness we’ve been shown.  Nothing escapes us and each warm wish for our business, each spark of a new friendship, each kind act, each moment taken to read the blog, each time you tell a friend about our pies, and each time you let us be a part of your life…well, all those things make our hearts almost burst with gratitude.

We could never say it enough, but thank you.  Thank you for being a part of this with us.  World Pie Domination starts here…

#pieandbooze #recap

So, last Thursday evening, we hosted 13 fun-loving people for a night of pie and booze at PJP Buttonwood.  We taught our guests to make their own PJP baby apple pie from scratch.  Our friend Van from Dogmaster Distillery (http://www.dogmasterdistillery.com) shared bartending skills galore and then whipped up the most delicious cocktail EV-AH.  It was an epic amount of fun and by the end of this post, you’ll unquestionably want to attend our next event.  Unless you don’t like pie or booze, and then this is probably the wrong blog for you anyway.

We set up each person with a rolling pin, a mixing bowl, a spatula, a ball of dough, a container of peeled apples, and a baby pie tin.  Each table shared a large bowl of flour and sugar and smaller containers of nutmeg and cinnamon.

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Jeanne launched into her feelings about pie dough and rolling techniques and quickly everyone was flouring their table space and rolling their dough like long-term experts.

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Before long, each person had rolled and mixed and stirred and fluted and we had trays of baby pies ready for the oven.

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While the pies baked, we got to the part of the evening that I had been anticipating all week…cocktail hour.  Van brought all of his supplies (including real bar glasses, which may have stolen my heart forever).  He started his part of the evening by giving us each a shot of vodka made from his still at his St. James Street location…(this completely made me re-think our intro at these sorts of events…perhaps we need more of a hook).

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Van taught us all to make a Cloud 9 cocktail…which is a creamy, coffee, holy-crap-it-is-really-freaking-delicious sort of drink.  I’ll leave the secrets of this cocktail to Van and my 13 new #pieandbooze friends, but I can’t help but add that he garnishes the glass with chocolate sauce…which is basically just the glitter of the cocktail world, in that it makes everything instantly better.

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And then we each got to practice our new skills by whipping up our own drink.

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Jeanne and I exercised extreme restraint by making and drinking one cocktail each, though we secretly wanted three.  Or five.

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We took copious notes on the preparation of this drink and Jeanne has asked me no less than 11 times since Thursday if I know what I did with our notes and when do I plan to whip up a batch to keep in our refrigerator.  And in the best news ever, Dogmaster Distillery will offer their vodka for sale in the next few weeks.  Is it wrong that I asked Van to Tweet me when it was ready?

 

No Answers.

If you looked up “epic failure” on Friday afternoon, you likely would have seen these faces staring back at you…(except with flour smudged on us).

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Friday, from start to finish, didn’t work well at PJP Buttonwood.  For starters, we had an insane amount of orders, including 150 tarts due by 10:30 am.  Add in a dose of being tired from the #pieandbooze event the previous night and a shot of Homecoming weekend festivities and you have the making of a perfect storm of pie failure.

As a rule, we stock PJP Buttonwood with 12-15 different kinds of pie each day.  Because we spent most of the very early morning on Friday working on tarts and breaking into a terror sweat as we approached the 10:30 am deadline for tart pickup, the actual storefront had very little inventory as we opened our doors.  And look, that has happened to us before but then we focus for a good solid hour or two on baking for the store and we start a momentum to fill inventory before it gets too busy.  But not last Friday.  We opened our doors and within minutes, our front was flooded with would-be pie purchasers anxious to buy our pie…and us all without pie.  We were baking furiously, but that means nothing to someone who stopped by to buy a 9-inch Chocolate Bourbon Pecan and learns that they are in the oven for at least another 30 minutes.

And the day didn’t change much from there.  We were two people baking without stopping, often times selling pies that hadn’t even gone into the oven quite yet.  We also were flooded with new customers and instead of getting the super fun and super cute and super delicious PJP experience, they got a short supply of pie, a really messy kitchen, and us on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  BEST. DAY. EVER.  Not.

I really didn’t answer text messages all day, which completely out of character for me.  I didn’t have time to look at my phone, much less type out responses while covered in egg yolk and panic.  When I finally had a shower and two glasses of wine at 8pm that night, I responded to the texts from Inner Circle people with a variation on “Sorry I didn’t respond yet…worst day ever at PJP.  So busy and kept running out of pie.  Feel so stressed.”  Each person responded with a variation on “Hey, selling out is great…isn’t that what you want?”

And they are right, right?  Isn’t the goal of a from-scratch bakery to sell out of everything every day?  And yet, we consciously decide to bake all day to avoid that one customer walking out the door in disappointment at 5:25 pm because we didn’t have a baby blueberry pie left for purchase.  It is better to have extra product and sell it for 50% off the next day than to run out of product at 2pm on a beautiful fall Friday afternoon and then bake furiously whilst offering unending apologies.  Yes?  No?  Bueller?

How do we learn to bake more and sell more?  Or how do we learn to relax the expectations we place on PJP Buttonwood?  Where is the sweet spot of just enough pie for everyone that wants one?  Does the information we need for those decisions come from data?  Or from intuition?  I have no answers.

 

Talk To Me…

Jeanne and I will often stop what we are doing during the day and say “well, talk to me” to each other…even though we’ve been talking about everything and nothing with each other for most of the day.  It is sort of this interesting phenomena we’ve developed with each other of having a lot of chatter but very limited time for meaningful conversation.  Here is a glimpse of the topics covered in conversation today…

  1. Butter is $4.28 a pound at Hyvee this week.  That is almost $1.50 more a pound than just a few weeks ago.  And unless we are suffering from some sort of national butter shortage that I didn’t get the memo about, I would suggest that the butter manufacturers are creating a national butter collusion.  And it needs to stop.
  2. Every person that shows up at PJP Buttonwood with a Doormail coupon for $5 off two nine-inch PJP pies is subject to intense and directed psychological profiling by Jeanne.  She demands to know how the person feels about Doormail and if the person knew about PJP Buttonwood prior to Doormail and if the coupon was incentive to visit the store.  I would guess she knows more about the psychology behind Doormail than the people who make Doormail.
  3. We keep making Brown Butter Chess pie and selling out of Brown Butter Chess pie.  If you aren’t familiar, chess pie is an exceptionally basic pie recipe made from readily available ingredients, like butter, sugar, and eggs.  In the brown butter variation on chess pie, you heat the butter until it almost burns…creating this insanely warm and nutty flavor.  Two people today said it has become their most favorite pie ever.
  4. I’m sorta in love with Angus and Julia Stone…listen to them on Spotify and you will be as well.
  5. We are offering 10% off all Thanksgiving pie orders through next Friday, October 31st.  Our goal is to bake 2,000 pies in the three days prior to Thanksgiving.  As of right now, we have about 100 orders.  I have no idea if that is on target to our goals, off target to our goals, or who really cares because 2,000 is an insane amount of pie.  We both do better with a goal in mind and so we picked 2,000 pies.  And that is how that happened.
  6. I just saw that Small Business Saturday is planned for November 29th, which is the Saturday immediately following our 2,000 pie extravaganza.  We would like to plan something fun, but we will probably still be laying on the floor and recovering.  Here is a better idea…support small business and shop local every day.
  7. Jeanne is a little bit obsessed with the King’s Daughters Festival.  I could tell her that we have  two interviews and a photo shoot tomorrow and she would say to me “and we are doing the King’s Daughters festival next month and we don’t have a plan!”.  I could tell her that we have a lot of orders for Saturday morning and she would say to me “and we are doing the King’s Daughters festival next month and we don’t have a plan!”.  I could tell her that my arm was hanging off my body by a tendon and she would say “and we are doing the King’s Daughters festival next month and we don’t have a plan!”.   For someone who loves the last minute, taking PJP on the road is giving her all the feelings.
  8. Jeanne has an entire theory that Twitter is just some massive pyramid scheme.  Once she explained it all to me, she actually made sense.  She also convinced me for a short time in 1987 that Elvis was still alive, so take it for whatever it is worth.
  9. Coffee is coming to PJP.  It will be basic coffee because I can’t have the knowledge of how to make a mocha or I would likely just bleed non-fat milk and chocolate syrup.  I’ll tell you now  that I put about six Splendas in my basic coffee, so keep your judgment to yourself.  PJP will be a judgment-free coffee zone.  You are welcome.
  10. Our Ecolab guy reported back to our food broker person that he didn’t think we liked him very much.  He may have outrageous demands for the purchasing of unneeded chemicals, but he is perceptive.  So there is that.

If you are interested in hanging out with us tomorrow night and eating pie, drinking cocktails, and discussing any of the above items, we do still have five tickets left for our #pieandbooze event starting at 7 pm.  You’ll learn to bake your very own apple pie and make the paired cocktail from Dogmaster Distillery.  And Jeanne will probably remind you that we are doing the King’s Daughters festival next month.  And that we don’t have a plan.

World Pie Domination

I feel like I’m finally recovering from an insanely busy PJP weekend…and it is 10:01 on Tuesday night.  On Saturday, we supplied 300 tarts for a wedding AND 177 nine-inch pies for the Rock Bridge Elementary Chicken BBQ.  And as you might have seen on Facebook, Jeanne and I made 56 cherry pies before the sun even rose over Columbia on Saturday morning.

After we delivered the last of the pies to Rock Bridge Elementary, Team PJP went to lunch together and over margaritas, chips, and salsa, Behind-The-Scenes-Tech Guru Jason commented that we should endeavor to make every weekend as busy as that particular day.  Specifically, we should work for the opportunity to fill exceptionally large orders, like 177 pies for one account, on a weekly basis.

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As we pass the six-month mark of PJP V. 2.0, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week thinking about our growth.  How do we maintain a fully stocked retail location, yet pursue the lucrative large accounts that expose our product to a mass market?  In short, how do we grow, yet maintain our product…and our sanity?  In short, how exactly does one achieve World Pie Domination?

I found myself pondering all these thoughts late on Sunday night and I actually decided to go down the Google rabbit hole because short of going to lay on Stan Kroenke’s couch and asking him to impart all his wisdom upon me, I wasn’t sure who to seek out with all the thoughts on my mind.  (Plus, Silent Stan would probably just suggest charging triple net rent and buying a sports team in my spare time.)  And look, here is the only sound advice in this blog post tonight…do not Google “how to grow a small business” unless you want links to magazine articles that seem to all impart the same advice OR have your Facebook feed flooded with ads for subprime lenders to small businesses.  Most Entrepreneur.com articles were either poorly written or authored by someone with a stake in the game, like a commercial loan officer or someone who made millions after appearing on Shark Tank.

With no obvious help from the Internet, I decided to change my approach and simply just lay still and think about how to grow PJP.  Sure, we could likely add more wholesale accounts, but we would need a delivery truck and a driver (that isn’t me) to get the product there.  We can’t really afford a truck until we have more revenue, and that is why we need more wholesale accounts in the first place.  And we can’t achieve World Pie Domination if it is all happening in Columbia (though, I do fully support Operation:  Columbia Pie Domination).  We need to spread our exposure to different markets in new ways.  Which brings me back to needing a truck and a driver annnnnnndddddd…I’m making myself crazy.

And so is this how it works for the average business owner?  Do we all feel pressure and drive to succeed and grow…but very rarely ever feel like we have a direct path to do so?  I kept thinking that I would arrive at some state of nirvana with all my data and Tweets and Facebook statuses and emails and texts and in a perfect storm, I would have all the answers and well then, everything would be easy.  As easy as pie.  (Pun fully intended).

But didn’t John Lennon say that the more we see, the less we know?  Or maybe it was The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I should probably check Google…