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Cookie business founder discusses entrepreneurial success

Published: 2014-02-13

Cheryl Krueger

The journey from a single storefront selling cookies to a worldwide gourmet food and gift company was the focus of a behind-the-scenes discussion with Cheryl & Co. founder Cheryl Krueger.

The takeaways for Fisher College of Business students, including aspiring entrepreneurs: there are no substitutes for hard work, determination and exceptional customer service.

“No matter how difficult it gets at times, you always have to make sure you’re taking care of the customer,” said Krueger, who served as president of Cheryl & Co. from 1981 through 2009 before launching and leading KRUEGER+CO Consulting, Inc. “If you don’t, somebody else certainly will.”

She described instilling and maintaining a culture of customer focus among employees and providing personal touches, including handwritten notes to customers from the CEO -- even as her company expanded from retail stores to include catalog sales, business gift services, wholesaling, Internet sales and more. When Cheryl & Co. was sold in 2005, the company’s customer retention rate was 87 percent.

“It’s very expensive to get a customer, so there’s no overkill when it comes to taking care of a customer,” said Krueger, whose visit was part of the Graduate Leadership Development Executive Speaker Series designed to engage students with business leaders from a wide range of fields and industries.

Born and raised in Ohio, Krueger started her career in the corporate world, including positions as vice president of the women’s clothing line at Chaus in New York and merchandise manager at Limited Brands in Ohio, where she was responsible for $100 million in sales. But for a “quintessential entrepreneur” like Krueger, the desire to start her own business was too strong to ignore.

“I was the type who was more interested in seeing how the whole thing works,” said Krueger, who serves as a member of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees as well as the Bob Evans Farms Board of Directors and the World Presidents’ Organization. “I was willing to learn how things worked for a long time and eventually I wanted more responsibility and that bigger picture view.”

That passion for building a business, and understanding the accompanying risks, was key, she told students. Innovations -- such as being the first to individually wrap cookies and create holiday shapes, or using centralized distribution when few food companies did -- were vital, but didn’t guarantee success.

“The creativity and ingenuity are part of it, but the other part is determination,” Krueger said.