From Pharmaceutical Sales Representative to Cookie Baker
In December 2015, Jonny Womack was in midst of a career change – having just returned to school to become a registered nurse after working as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Over the years, he had earned a reputation for bringing unique homemade cookies during his sales visits.
“Right around Christmas, I had three different doctors’ offices call me in one week to see if I was still making cookies,” said Womack. “I told them yes, but when I asked the first office how many they would need, they said 30 dozen. I, of course, said yes. But in the back of my mind, I had no idea how I was going to do this. But I knew I could.”
Jonny and Hannah, his wife and business partner, borrowed every KitchenAid mixer they could get their hands on and baked for hours out of their home. The scents of their Banana Puddin’, Maple Bacon Bourbon, Jalapeno Corn and Peanut Butter Banana cookies wafted across their house as they baked around the clock to fill the orders by deadline.
The next month, they took a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, which allowed them a nine-hour car ride of conversation. Womack knew his heart wasn’t in nursing school and his passion was cookies. The Christmas orders confirmed they had something special, and it was time to get into the cookie business.
Securing the Space
They started small, borrowing some family money and using savings and credit cards to purchase and build out a food truck – a space they worked for the next year and a half. This was the first home of Jonny Boy Cookies.
They soon realized they needed a larger permanent home for their business. They settled on a location that allowed for the additional square footage and retail space on The Blue Mile in Statesboro – a highly sought after retail area that connects Georgia Southern University to the downtown area along a historic corridor. After two years of working in the space, they knew they wanted to purchase.
“That’s when we met Valerie. We hadn’t taken out any loans at that point – we just had two or three credit cards that were close to being maxed out. We had a line of credit that we used as a loan. We were the poster children of what not to do to finance a business,” Hannah Womack joked.
“It was part of a shopping center with other properties being leased, which made the deal more complex,” said Valerie McElveen, area director of the UGA SBDC at Georgia Southern University. “Getting the financing was the biggest hurdle.”
Together, they worked many hours on a business plan, financial projections and the accounting of the business. They applied for and received a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, allowing them to purchase and improve their current space while also eliminating the high-interest credit card debt.
COVID Leads to Challenges and Successes
The partnership with SBDC continued as the COVID pandemic began just one month after purchasing their store. “2020 was a turning point for us, and for a lot of businesses in general, because we were forced to pivot. I met with Valerie and she helped us through both rounds of PPP loans and we were able to keep all of our employees during the pandemic, and eventually hire even more. We amped up online sales. We added delivery options,” said Hannah.
This also inspired Jonny to initiate Food Truck Friday in the parking lot of their newly purchased store. This weekly gathering allowed food truck vendors to sell their products while providing a safe outdoor space for people to gather. “We wanted to be a pop of light in the darkness. Food is always a comfort thing,” said Jonny.
As their retail business slowed during the pandemic, the food truck business began to ramp up as outdoor eateries quickly gained popularity. They began taking their food truck to Starland Yard in Savannah – an outdoor food court with a variety of changing food trucks – to sell cookies to patrons eager to find a sense of normalcy. From 2020-2021, their sales grew by over $100,000, thanks in large part to the food truck. They continued their trips to Starland Yard in 2022, ramping them up from every weekend to three to four days weekly.
A Second Food Truck Yields Sweet Success
In the latter half of 2022, Jonny and Hannah realized they were missing events and pop-ups because the Jonny Boy Cookies food truck was tied up in Savannah. It was then that Jonny had the idea to purchase a second, smaller-scale food truck to cover these events. After consulting with the SBDC, they moved forward with outfitting a Ford Transit Van with a commercial kitchen, which resulted in an extra $30,000 of income in the last quarter of the year. “Their little food truck has only been operating for about four months and it has been one of the best business decisions they have made. It was a big win for them and a big win for SBDC as well,” said McElveen.
“By continuously working together with us, they have been able to have this growth,” said McElveen. “They have big ideas and turn to the SBDC as a resource to focus their efforts to set priorities for the best path forward. They are lifelong learners.”VALERIE MCELVEEN | AREA DIRECTOR, UGA SBDC AT GEORGIA SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY
For More Information: University of Georgia SBDC | (706) 542-2762
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