Kevin O'Reilly | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin O'Reilly

Background:  

Satin Fine Foods, Inc. is a leading rolled fondant manufacturer, distributing to more than 60 countries worldwide. Satin Fine Foods developed Satin Ice products to satisfy the demands of the world’s best cake artists. Satin Ice is the host of Americas Cake Fair in Orlando, Oct. 13-15, 2017.

The Mistake:

Taking my eye off the ball when it comes to personal contact with customers.

My background is in the baking industry. I grew up in Dublin, Ireland – we had a family baking business. And after obtaining my bachelor's degree in food science, I came to New York and I was selling specialty ingredients. As I saw a need for rolled fondant, I actually developed our satinized product from scratch and launched it into the market in 2001 as Satin Fine Foods.

Like most new businesses, we were four people and it was all about manufacturing this product and getting out there and developing sales for the product. My typical customers were distributors for bakeries and food service, as well as what we call cake supply shops, plus supermarkets and in-store bakeries.

When I started, we were in 2,500 square feet, and over a period of 10 years we grew that space to be 10,000 square feet and were working around the clock in shifts. In 2011, I knew we were so busy that it was time for a move. I purchased and basically went in and renovated this building so it was ready for food production, and also equipping it.

Over a period of a year or two, I was growing the business and bringing people in, putting together the mechanical production, warehouse, quality control, marketing, R&D, as well as bringing in sales people. And I began to delegate parts of the business to other professional employees within our business. I felt that maybe I could step away from my sales role. And I was really daft in that area with taking my eye off the ball when it came to that personal communication that I had [built] with my customers over that 10- or 11-year period.

Probably about two years in, I started to see it resulting in slower growth coming from our key customers. It was never detrimental, so we never lost customers or business, but you could see some opportunities were really slowing down. And the growth wasn’t there that we would have expected.

Face-to-face contact with customers is really important.

The Lesson:

After that realization, I looked back over time: We were this company that started very small, had this tremendous growth period, and relocated to this great facility. But you cannot afford to take your eye off the ball.

I'd built the company out of scratch, with me out there in the field, me picking up the phone and talking to customers. That personal communication that I had with clients, you realize how valuable that is. And even though we have a professional sales team, and they’re the ones that nurture the day-to-day customer contact that we have, I realized it was still very important to me that I remained in some capacity in sales. Because, really, customer relationships for me are everything, and that was really the lesson that I learned.

That [also] involves going out there and getting heavily involved in certain trade shows and company meetings – because face-to-face contact with customers is really important. And it led me to establish our Americas Cake Fair in 2015. It was really established to pull together cake artists, the business, within our industry under one roof.

While we live in a world where social media and emails are very important, vital tools, it can never replace the value of the face-to-face connection with your customers. And the Americas Cake Fair provides this place for us all to come together with existing customers as well as new potential customers.

Follow Americas Cake Fair on Twitter at @CakeFair.

Photo courtesy of Kevin O'Reilly

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