Believing in yourself and your product is critical to success, Sister Schubert Barnes told an audience of business students and others at Samford University Wednesday, April 11.
"If you believe in yourself and your product, nothing can stand in your way. If you know you have a wonderful product and have passion, you can do it," advised the founder of Sister Schubert's Homemade Rolls.
Barnes told how her company began in 1989, when baking for family and friends in her home kitchen in Troy, Ala., turned into a catering business and then into a national enterprise that last year had sales well over $100 million.
Her first clue of what was to come may have been when she baked 20 pans of Parker House style rolls from her paternal grandmother's recipe to sell at a church frozen food fair. The next year, food fair organizers requested 300 orders.
Through her hard work and persistence, the rolls were soon sold in small stores and then marketed in the Alabama-based Winn-Dixie grocery chain before taking off in other southern states. As orders grew, so did the need for additional production space. Bakeries are now located in the south Alabama towns of Luverne and Saraland, and in Horse Cave, Ky.
In 2000, she sold Sister Schubert's stock to Lancaster Colony, a specialty foods corporation based in Columbus, Ohio. Its broad marketing system distributes her products nationally in a wide range of grocery chains and through SisterSchuberts.com web site. Sister Schubert's, a subsidiary of the corporation's T. Marzetti Company, now bakes 500 million rolls annually.
"I've been told it is a Cinderella story, and I believe it," said Barnes, who said she felt comfortable selling to Lancaster Colony because of the corporation's reputation for buying family companies and letting the former owners continue in leadership roles.
Still in charge of research and development, Barnes signs off on all aspects of the product line, which now includes 12 varieties of rolls. She insists on the same high production standards and quality ingredients that she used in the beginning. While her husband and business partner, George Barnes, a former food broker, supervises the bakery operation, she travels as a company representative.
"People don't believe there really is a Sister Schubert," said Barnes, who has been called Sister since she was a newborn and an older sister couldn't pronounce her real name, Patricia. "Everybody from family to college professors has always called me Sister."
Several new products are in development, said Barnes, who recently spent time in France learning to bake different kinds of bread. One new offering, baguettes, requires a flour that is only available in France. Sister Schubert's, which uses only natural ingredients, she proudly notes, was green "before green was cool."
"Green is not a fad, but a good trend. I believe we need to clean up the things we eat," said Barnes, who lives in Andalusia, Ala.
In her Entrepreneurship Forum talk sponsored by Samford's Brock School of Business, she shared other thoughts on good business practices, such as that successful entrepreneurial leadership, as well as family leadership, requires a good attitude.
"Your attitude is the only thing you can control. If you have a good attitude, everything will go better. Instilling that attitude in people about you is important," said Barnes, who isn't hesitant to share her Christian faith with corporate employees and lecture audiences.
Her philanthropic spirit is evidenced by the founding of Barnes Family Foundation, which she serves as president. Among its philanthropies is a children's home in Ukraine, from which she and her husband adopted a son, Alex, now 10. The family also includes grown daughters, Charlotte, Chrissie, and Laura, and a son Evans, 15.
The audience of business students included Paul Wood, a junior economics major from Bowling Green, Ky. His hometown is about 30 miles from the 80-employee Sister Schubert bakery in Horse Cave, Ky., a town with a population of about 3,000.
"The bakery is a great addition to the state, and helps the economy of that small town," said Wood, who is considering pursuing a master's degree in agricultural economics.
He said he is impressed with Barnes' commitment to quality. "She never comprised her quality ingredients when she moved to large scale production," said Wood, who also likes that she reaches to other countries for the best ingredients for her recipes, referring to her quest for French flour and for cinnamon from Madagascar.
Considered the Culinary Ambassador for the State of Alabama, Barnes serves on various non-profit boards and is a visiting executive in the business school at Auburn University, where she majored in interior design.