As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Keller. Jenny is the owner of the destination bakery Jenny Cookies Bake Shop in Washington and the author of JennyCookies.com, Eat More Dessert, and Cookie Class. From desserts to everyday entertaining, her style, designs and expertise have been seen in Country Living, Better Homes & Gardens, People, Us Weekly, Brides and More. When she’s not creating for JennyCookies.com, Jenny styles and creates content for brands such as Wilton, Pottery Barn Kids, Warner Bros, McCormick, JoAnn and more to connect consumers with their product. She is also known for her work with numerous celebrities such as Tori Spelling, Tiffani Thiessen, Lisa Rinna and many of ABC’s The Bachelor & Bachelorettes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thirteen years ago my husband came home with a cookbook that claimed to make the best sugar cookies. He thought it would be something fun for my daughter and I to do together (though Ally was 6 months old). I gave the book’s recipe a try and soon discovered they were not the greatest sugar cookie. After the failed attempt, I was determined to make the best sugar cookie ever!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One question I get asked often is how I began working with celebrities. A girlfriend of mine was headed to a Tori Spelling book signing in L.A. She insisted I bake a batch of cookies for her to bring to Tori. I thought it sounded crazy and told her I didn’t think Tori would ever eat cookies someone gifted her at a book signing. My friend was relentless until I gave in and sure enough, she was right, Tori loved the cookies. The next week I was on a plane from Seattle to LA to bake for one of Tori’s parties. The rest is history!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Very, VERY early on in my baking endeavors, a local hospital reached out and asked if I could make 1300 cookies for a celebration they were having. I was so flattered that the thought of me and couldn’t believe the volume of cookies. I remember doing the math in my head of what I’d make by baking all the cookies. When they asked about price, they inquired about a “discount” for the quantity of the order. I happily obliged not even thinking twice. I soon realized 1300 cookies, individually packaged, due on the same day as a party-of-one baker was not the time or place for a discount. I don’t know how I did them all, but I did, and I’ve never discounted my work again!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company has been built very uniquely through hard work and consistency. It was never a dream to have a cookie business, yet it’s grown and transpired into branches I never imagined it would. I have a brick and mortar storefront where people can come and enjoy treats or I have cookbooks, videos and a website where people can get my recipes, tips and techniques. I have found that other businesses are normally one or the other but not both. We have a committed, faithful audience on both social media and in person at our bake shop. I believe people can see the authenticity and effort we put into our shop and into what is posted online. It’s replicable, it’s organic and we genuinely want to make life better for others, whether it’s picking up a sugar cookie in the bake shop or learning a new cookie decorating tip they can create on their own.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
There is always a project around here! From cookbooks and home renovations to bakery expansions and brand partnerships, every day is different. I strive to inspire my audience not only in the kitchen, but in other areas of their lives. Having a project to share with my community is a story to follow and always a lesson to learn. I just finished my second baking book, Cookie Class which will hit the shelves this October. It’s based on my cookie class I’ve been teaching for the past 10 years, all wrapped up into a beautiful cookbook. I am excited that people will have an opportunity to learn my tips and tricks without having to make the trip all the way to Washington state!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
A thriving team is confident and willing to go the extra mile because their leader sets clear expectations and standards. Great leaders show gratitude and recognition and listen to the needs of their team. I believe in a hierarchy in the business place but also maintain a team attitude that no one’s job is lesser than anyone else. Each person on my team has a specific strength, different from their peers. We work to achieve success together, each having a part in the accomplishments and wins of our business.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
For me, growing an incredible team (AKA the COOKIE SQUAD) is one of my greatest accomplishments. It took a few years to create a culture in my bake shop, but having those clear expectations and standards have been monumental. Take the time to create a mission statement and be sure your team knows your “why”. When guidelines, goals and expectations are clearly communicated, it will be easy to identify who should be there and who should not!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This little business of mine was created in the kitchen of my first home, over 13 years ago, with a baby at my feet. I never intended on it being what it is today, but I can almost guarantee it wouldn’t be what it is without the push from my husband, Dan. He has encouraged, motivated and yes, sometimes pushed me to my limits to be all, do all, achieve all. He has watched me put in the hard work, long hours and late nights and offered endless amounts of support. I believe everyone needs a cheerleader and critic in their corner, to be real with and push, even when that’s the last thing we want! You’ll never regret going the extra mile or staying up that extra hour to accomplish your goal.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Bringing goodness into the world can be as simple as sharing a home baked cookie with someone who could use a smile. I believe that by sharing my creativity, talents and recipes openly, it has brought joy to countless people.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Not everyone is going to like you. There will always be haters, doubters and non-believers. Prove them wrong!! If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success.
This is tough accept but when you do, you will grow thicker skin, which is essential for a small business owner. I’ve had to realize that not everyone is going to like what you put out there. There will be someone who writes a negative yelp review about the bake shop or leaves a low score amazon book review. Be ok with it. We can’t be everything to everyone!
You will fail, and that is ok!
You will make a mistake, none of us are perfect. It’s how you respond to the mistake that matters. Can you look at it as a learning experience? Is there a way to remedy the mistake? Take your mistake or failure and turn it into a growth opportunity.
Do what you do best, hire out the rest
I used to have a hard time asking for help. I’d rather do it myself than delegate. Over the years I’ve learned that delegating is essential in the growth of a business. You cannot do it all!
It’s easy to say “Yes, I can do it!” “Yes, I can be there!” “Yes, we can make that work!” It’s important to have the strength to say no sometimes. What you say “no” to often defines your business more than what you say “yes” to.
Sit with winners, the conversations will be different.
When we are young we form relationships with people we go to school or work with. We hold onto these relationships because of security, comfort and history. Who we share our time with is a direct reflection of who we are. As a parent, I preach this often. “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” There is no difference if you are a kid or adult. Surround yourself with those who push, inspire and cheer you on. Find the winners.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Mental toughness. It’s one of the most important qualities successful people possess and something that seems rarely taught. I believe it applies to all ages, from young children to grown adults. Life is hard. There will be failures, disappointments, struggles and hardships. Teaching and strengthening our mental toughness propels us to keep going, stay determined and push through when the going gets tough, in both our personal life and in business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s not fancy or profound but it’s true!
When you have the attitude and mentality to achieve a goal, nothing will stop you from success. I can’t count how many times I’ve made magic happen because I had the drive to find a way.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to meet with Martha Stewart. I admire her talent, confidence, resilience and determination. I’d love the opportunity to ask her advice and learn from her.