By KATIE VanBRACKLE
Sometimes we need a little nudge to follow our dreams. Maybe we have a good idea for a small business, but in the midst of our daily routine, our dreams take a back seat. Or perhaps we lack the self-confidence to plunge into the unknown.
Heidi Nel of Johns Creek was no different. Friends told her constantly that her homemade cookies were amazing and that she should sell them, but Nel was a busy stay-at-home mom raising three children. Where would she find the time to start a business?
So the idea was shelved until 2001, when the economic downturn resulted in a loss of family income. As Nel says, “out of desperation comes inspiration.” She began rethinking the idea of her own cookie company.
Nel’s first step was to educate herself. She talked to anyone she could find in the industry and signed up for a six-week business course at Georgia State University.
“It was a crash course on business start-ups,” she recalled. “One week each of marketing, legal issues, bookkeeping, trademarking, etc. There was so much to learn and I was starting at square one.”
Nel’s husband Andre convinced her that she didn’t need a storefront as long as she had a strong Internet presence. He used his marketing skills to design a company logo and website, and soon Heidi’s Heavenly Cookies was born.
Nel started small with four basic cookie choices such as oatmeal raisin and toffee chocolate chip. The baking and shipping were done in the family basement.
Her first customers were friends, then friends of friends who were hooked after a single “sinfully delicious” bite.
Heidi’s Heavenly Cookies stepped onto the national stage when a friend of a friend, who happened to be a producer for NBC’s “The Today Show,” placed Nel’s cookies in the hands of Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford.
Soon after, Nel’s cookies were featured on “Good Morning America” and “Rachel Ray” as well as in Southern Living magazine and People magazine’s Style Watch. Orders started pouring in from all over the country.
Ten years later, Nel still doesn’t need to advertise. The cookies are so good, they sell themselves.
Packaged in stylish boxes and bows that can be customized, Heidi’s Heavenly Cookies make popular corporate gifts, wedding favors or simply indulgent treats.
Nel believes the keys to her success are quality, consistency and good customer service. She uses only the best baking ingredients and never cuts corners.
“Some people think butter is butter, but it’s not,” she said. “Even the type of flour can make a huge taste difference.”
Nel now sells 12 types of delicious cookies as well as gluten-free English toffee candy.
Her personal favorites? The Sea Salt Caramel Bars and Coconut Macaroons dipped in dark chocolate.
“In the beginning, we were very excited to have 10 orders in a single day,” recalled Nel. “Today, we can ship up to 1,200 boxes in one afternoon.”
Having outgrown the family basement, the operation is now housed in a 5,400-square-foot bakery on Curie Drive in Alpharetta where complimentary samples and special deals are offered to local walk-in customers.
Nel employs eight full-time staff members and is proud to hire fellow mothers and grandmothers.
“Sometimes older women have a hard time finding work after spending years at home raising their children,” said Nel. “But I find they are the best employees of all with a great work ethic and positive attitude.”
Nel, who turned 55 this year, started the business in her early 40s when her youngest child was still 3 years old. She hopes that her success will show other women that it is in fact possible to pursue their dream.
She offers consulting services to those who need help in building a grassroots business, believing that women should support and encourage each other.
It’s her way of giving others that gentle nudge.
355 Curie Drive, Alpharetta