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Peggy Jean's Pies / Alist Nation

We are doing a series on Women Owned Businesses

Each issue will highlight 5 women owned businesses. We will give you an exclusive interview with each of these inspiriting women and help you connect with their businesses. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are and support local businesses that are owned and run by women.

Alist Nation Feb / March 2021

Interview: Rebecca Miller, Peggy Jean's Pies

Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood.

I was raised by a single mom, which in the early 1980s was a complete anomaly in our community. I remember very much wanting my mom to be chosen as a classroom room mom for all of our holiday parties, but she was generally eschewed by the "regular" stay-at-home moms on the selection committee because she worked and we had no relationship with my dad at all. That was a really rough time in my life for me - I so desperately wanted to be just like all the other girls in my class who had siblings and dads and big houses and all the things that I related to being secure and loved at the time. In retrospect, I see so many of the qualities that have made me successful came from NOT having those things that I so desperately believed I needed when I was in elementary school. I was secure and loved so much at the time, but I just couldn't see it because I couldn't put it into tangible items. As an adult, I realize that a lot of the grit and self-independence that comes easily to me actually comes from my unique childhood. And I have the perspective to see how hard it was for my mom to raise me alone, to feel judgment from her peers, to live well below the poverty line because courts didn't enforce child support payment at the time, and to work so much to keep us housed and fed. It really takes an exceptionally strong woman to raise a child in those circumstances and still make her sole goal to raise a successful and achieving woman. There was so much that wasn't easy for us in the 1980s and early 1990s, but there was so much reward from it. Isn't that the same for all relationships though? To this day, my mom and I are very different people and we can tussle around, but it doesn't change the enduring love and admiration we have for each other. And now, I've been married 21 years and have an 18 year old son and a 15 year old daughter who will never know childhood struggle or financial instability like I did. But I'm likely a stronger wife and mother because I have perspectives on things that come from who I am and how I was raised.

When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?

I practiced law in Missouri for over 12 years and I was pretty miserable. I'm a person that enjoys a lot of creative freedom and I've always subscribed to the notion that asking people to work at a desk from 8 am to 5 pm doesn't ensure productivity and that we could look at a model that lets us work anywhere and at any time as long as we meet our goals. My mom had actually owned a pie shop from 1994 until 2004 with her best friend, Peggy. Peg passed away in 2005 and their pie shop closed down. 10 years passed, but people would still see my mom out and about and ask her if they could pay her to make a Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie in her kitchen because they missed it so much. In the fall of 2013, my mom said to me "well...why don't we open the pie shop again together?"

Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do? Well, as soon as she said that, what I saw in my head was Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail" (even the haircut!). It sounded twee and adorable - I would be a lawyer/pie baker and it would be so easy and I wouldn't be tied to a desk and I could be creative and it would be AHHHH-MMMAZING. That is actually what went through my head. In retrospect of course, that was terribly oversimplified and a woeful underestimation of the workload coming our way. It was a pretty charming way to look at it though!

After you made the decisions, what steps did you take?

We looked at a commercial storefront and decided the price didn't make us want to throw up. We knew we needed money, but it was very important to us that we do this together and not with our husbands signing every document. Not that we didn't love them or value their opinion, but this adventure was going to be ours and ours alone. We knew if we went to a bank for a loan, the bank would want collateral and since we owned nothing as individuals, then they would want our husbands to sign. So we had to get creative.

How did you fund this project? We created a $10,000 Kickstarter and that funded, thankfully. My father-in-law purchased our baking equipment and let us pay him back on a 5 year note. Other than that, we worked 90 hours a week and if we didn't have the cash for what we needed, we just didn't get it. We didn't even have an exterior sign until eight months after opening. We spent no money on staffing and we worked harder than I've ever worked on anything in my life.

How long did it take to become profitable? By year four, we started to see some solid profit. In year five, we moved to a larger storefront and that changed the game on our profit and loss. We became more efficient, served more customers, and overall just operated at a higher level than those earlier years. It's like all the pieces of the puzzles started to fit together. FINALLY.

What were the hardest hurdles? Gaaaaahhhhhh...there were so many. Because I had practiced law and because mom had owned a storefront before, we went into the venture with a bit of hubris. We assumed those skills sets we each brought to the experience would basically allow us to just be amazing every day all day. Oh goodness. It was so hard. Honestly, the hardest hurdle was learning to work together - we are VERY different people in the way we think about things. Mom is a very big picture and I am very process driven, so we argued a fair amount. I quit my job, so my husband and I adjusted to a huge income loss and my long work hours. At one point, even my dog gave me the side-eye when I got home late one night. And behind all the personal stuff, it is an uphill battle to grow a business, so if I wasn't working...I was thinking about work. There were so many times we could have easily tanked and thrown in the towel. Our tenacity saved us and our commitment to loving each other no matter how hard it got...that's what saved us.

What advise do you wish someone would have given you? A lot of people said it was going to be hard, but I didn't believe them. I should have! I also think it would have helped me to know that growing a successful business would take all of my skill sets and the requirement that I learn a lot of new things. I needed to be proficient in so many areas - from taking out the trash to running payroll to ordering supplies to building our social media presence and I wasn't prepared for it. I suppose it is similar to having babies. Everyone tells you how much work it is, but you can't fathom it until it happens to you. But likewise, you can never imagine the love and reward that comes in being successful in the business you built until it actually happens to you.

Did you have a mentor? I did not. I come from a long line of strong women, so I really just kept my head down and wrapped my arms around this place and hung on for dear life during the hardest days. I knew I couldn't give up and I had my best friend, my husband, my kids, and friends always wanting the best for us and that made a difference.

At any point did you want to give up? Hmmm. More than once, honestly! Here's the thing about a bakery - the physical demands are insane. I wasn't used to working 90 hours on my feet. And once I was finished baking, I would have a mountain of work waiting for me in my office. I was so in my business that I couldn't focus on my business. Coming out of about the third year or so, I really felt worn down.

Do you feel it was more difficult because you are a women? HECK YES. Without question! And I hate to say that in 2021 and I hate to say as the mom of a teenage daughter, but...sadly so. For example, on the build out of our store expansion, our bank that we used exclusively for five years refused to grant us a $50,000 loan secured with our baking equipment unless our husbands signed because that just "made them feel better". I actually got up and walked out of the meeting because I can't recall any experience where my very successful husband was denied a loan because they would "feel better" if his wife signed. Goodness. We closed our account and moved to a local bank that was happy to give us an unsecured construction loan without husband involvement based solely on our sales records and growth since our opening. That story still makes me fired up! And of course on all the rest, it's what you would expect. If my husband works in here on a Saturday, everyone assumes he is the boss. A customer once mistook our dishwasher as the owner of the business because he was the only male standing in here. Sigh.

How long did it take to become profitable?

It took a couple of years to become profitable. Investing in starting a small business, especially one that requires inventory, is expensive. This is a part of the reason it’s hard to start a business. Profits don’t come for quite some time. And when they do eventually come, you want to reinvest them into other growth initiatives so it’s a never ending cycle.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

World Pie Domination. Seriously though, we should be on track to have our first $1M year in our store front and will open a second location this year. And if we can have a solid year in store two, we will go to a new market with store three, etc. So in five years, I hope for 10 storefronts and for our pie crust and pot pie to be available in large grocery stores. But whatever happens, I just want to be the same person I am now writing this - the one that loves her store and her family and her customers and the one that knows all success comes from hard work.


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