Butterbing Cookie Sandwiches founder Simone Clark’s business journey began in her Fitzroy home-kitchen with ingredients from her local IGA supermarket, a few bowls and a standard kitchen mixer back in 2013.
She would bake an assortment of slices and biscuits and then walk them down to her first customers, the local cafes.
Neighbourhood friends could also sample her treats from an “honesty fridge” on her front porch.
“It started off as an esky, then we updated to a little bar fridge,” Clark told SmartCompany.
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“Our neighbours would come usually after dinner and put $3 in an envelope and slide it under my door.”
After a few months of inventing sweet-tooth delights, Clark created a brownie-cookie sandwich filled with buttercream, which she called “brownie kisses” and they became an instant hit.
“It quickly took over everything,” she says.
“I decided to stop making other products and focused [on this].”
The unexpected popularity saw Clark baking up to 16 hours a day with a home oven that could only fit six cookies at a time. She would then deliver the cookies herself on a new bicycle she was able to purchase.
As demand spiked, Clark had to move the business out of her home and into a commercial kitchen.
She managed to find one on Gumtree with a caterer looking to share their commercial kitchen to keep up with rent payments. Today, she drives more than 100 kilometres a day to get to and from Butterbing’s commercial kitchen.
“I still operate the same way, I push our capacity as far as we can go before putting money in any upgrade,” she says.
“If I was given a $100,000 to start I probably would’ve made some silly decisions.”
Instead, Clark’s first major purchase was a $2000 kitchen mixer.
“I just had to keep making more cookies and working long hours,” she says.
Today, Butterbing generates $75,000 a month in sales with the production of 9000 cookies a week.
“At the end of the day, it’s a cookie but you add on top of that the branding, marketing and level of service – that’s what makes our company,” Clark says.
Turning a recipe into a reputable brand
Because she can’t patent or trademark her cookie recipe, Clark has invested heavily in building a strong, recognisable and reputable brand so Butterbing remains her customer’s first choice for sandwich cookies.
“We locked down the name so that’s what we’re known for,” she says.
Butterbing stocks more than 100 cafes around Melbourne and will be launching a new website soon to push out more online sales.
The business has been completely bootstrapped with every new purchase carefully considered by Clark.
With a focus on producing a premium product with quality ingredients that aligns with the brand’s core values, Clark says she is slowly expanding the business across the eastern seaboard and neighbouring states.
“It’s trying to find people we trust with distribution to ensure our brand is represented properly,” she says.
Butterbing is also tapping into event catering and looking at breaking into Asia next year.
“Our research shows there is a lot of potential for us there,” Clark says.
Working through tough challenges everyday
“Each phase of the business has different types of challenges,” Clark says.
“At the beginning, it was me trying to stay awake.”
Butterbing is currently expanding its team and as a growing business, Clark says it’s critical employees understand where the money comes from and what every dollar spent means for them.
“The first [employees] have had the advantage of seeing us at the every beginning, they’ve seen the struggles, they’ve seen how hard we’ve worked to get to this stage,” she says.
“It’s really hard to get people who have an empathetic nature so when they come in they really care about their work and how they affect the brand.”
Clark now dedicates a full day to hiring so she can spend time with candidates to see whether they’ll fit well with the team and business.
“We adamantly call references, you can learn a lot from them,” she says.
Good decision-making is another major challenge Clark is learning on the go.
“When a problem comes to me I’ll just fix it but more and more are coming and the consequences are getting bigger and bigger,” she says.
As Butterbing is looking for a new kitchen, Clark says she may be soon be signing on to a three-year lease at $80,000 a year.
“I’ve got eight employees depending on me and if I don’t do it well and for some reason the business fails, I’ve also got this long lease to deal with,” she says.
But this hefty responsibility only makes Clark more focused and driven.
“Now I’m well and truly invested and I’ve got to keep on going,” she says.