Back in my pre-bakery days, I was an expert on paper recycling. I worked for a large consulting and engineering firm specializing in the pulp and paper industry, and was often asked to speak at industry conferences.
One such conference in the late 1990's was held in Athens (Greece). The subject was Paper Recycling in Eastern Europe. I had just finished a comprehensive study on paper recycling trends in Eastern Europe in light of the pending admission to the European Union of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia.
The company I worked for designed and built the largest and most technically advanced paper making machines in the world, and the conference attendees were strictly divided between "bigger is better" and smaller "specialty or niche" producers. The conference room overlooked a small harbor on the Aegean, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Because of my company affiliation, I was automatically placed on the "bigger is better" side of the argument. I was the only female in attendance so I didn't get much of a chance to make a point one way or the other. The arguments were relentless and I was obviously on the unpopular side of the debate. When the conference officially ended on Friday afternoon, I assumed the jesting was over. I was wrong.
The local host of the conference, Mr. Zerites, was the owner of three small paper companies that made specialty tissue products in Greece, Bulgaria and Kuwait. About a month before the conference I received an email from the conference organizer inviting me (and the other speakers) to a boat ride with Mr. Zerites on Saturday, the day after the close of the conference. I was hesitant at first, mainly because I am not crazy about boats, get seasick, and did not necessarily want to spend my only free day in Athens with a bunch of engineers. But it was the right thing to do from a business perspective.On Saturday morning, Mr. Zerites picked me (and about ten of my colleagues) up. His "boat" was a 300-foot luxury yacht with a crew of six. He had decided that ten guests was too many for the boat, so about four were relegated to the "smaller" 100-foot cruiser. But Mr. Zerites made sure I was on "his" boat, the big one.
We spent the entire day island hopping, starting at Hydra. At each port he was sure to point out how much effort it took to stop, moor and unload the "big" boat. At every stop, the passengers from the smaller boat were sitting under an umbrella at the bar with their second drink by the time we arrived. You see, they could simply pull up to a slip, tie the boat up, and jump off. We had to wait for the harbor master to tow us in, which took much longer.
He probably didn't think I was paying attention that day, but I think of him every time someone asks me why we don't expand to a larger space, or get into the wholesale business and market our cakes and cookies to grocery stores.
You see, I like being able to use my ovens to bake what ever I like. I like being able to open the bakery by myself should everyone call in sick. I like being flexible enough to make a cake on the fly, or try a new cookie recipe. If we were a larger bakery, we never would have the flexibility to create the Nick Saban Straw Hat Cookie. When you are large, little "experiments" take more planning and effort. We would not have experimented with making peppermint and eggnog gelato "just because". Or even changed our baguette baking day to Friday. When you are small, you have the ability to (borrowing a phrase from Alex the Lion in the movie Madagascar) "keep it fresh!"
Thank you Mr. Zerites.
Lesson learned: Stay flexible and keep your options open so you can react quickly to changes and new opportunities in the marketplace.