Dan Malovany: Bun-dle of Ideas
BakingBusiness.com, Sept. 1, 2011
by Dan Malovany
With Cordia Harrington, aka The Bun Lady, there is never any shortage of bun puns, even when it comes down to serious business. For the high-energy founder, CEO and president of Tennessee Bun Company (TBC), “a ton of buns and fun” has become ingrained into the company’s culture over the years. So when it came to executing the bakery’s new business plan to boost the volume, sales and profitability of its Nashville, TN, facility, Ms. Harrington couldn’t help but to come up with a catchy name for rewarding its employees who bought into program.

“Everyone knew what we had to do, and that was to lock arms and win,” said Ms. Harrington, who calls herself the chief manager of the company. “We knew what we needed to do to achieve excellence, but we wondered what we could do to make sure our employees won, too. So we came up with a program called Bun-dle Bonus.”

Yep. That’s Ms. Harrington in true form. During the past two years, TBC has doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bun-dle-licious bonuses after achieving its goals as outlined in its “plan to win strategy.”

That strategy is a comprehensive roadmap that’s quite a departure from the way the company used to operate. Since the late 1990s when TBC opened as a wholesale bun plant in Dickson, TN, Ms. Harrington and the entrepreneurial team often relied on gut instincts to grow the company. Recently, however, when the company developed a comprehensive multiyear expansion strategy, its leaders added a new level of big-time discipline to make sure TBC met its 2013 and 2015 objectives.

Specifically, Alan Edington, vice-president of operations, provided a formal process to validate these “gut feelings.” To transform these big ideas into a detailed action plan, Mr. Edington relied on a Decision Matrix model to quantify and rate a slew of projects. The process explored everything from solving product quality concerns and capacity issues to evaluating potential financial risks and interruptions to production before determining if the leadership team should proceed, investigate, consider or kill each proposal. In August, Baking & Snack’s editors flew to Nashville to see one of the best ideas that evolved from that process — namely, the 30,000-sq-ft expansion of the Nashville facility along with a new biscuit line — on the first day the line began making products to market. According to the company, the start-up was one of the smoothest in its history.

Although the process is disciplined, it’s not rigid, Mr. Edington noted. “The plan is more fluid than what we thought in the beginning,” he said. “We crafted the overall map for what we needed to expand in the following years. We roughed out a picture, but when you are talking about a 5-year plan, you need to be pretty flexible about how you get there in the end.”

That map outlined how to improve cost structure, boost sales, enhance the customer value proposition and, perhaps most detailed, how to improve production efficiencies. It explored how to manage operations through process controls, optimizing equipment and adjusting for ingredient prices to maintain or reduce the costs for its customers. There are systems for developing new products, for regulatory requirements and for employee training and safety as well.

Getting employees to buy into the Bun-dle Bonuses was an integral piece to what is best described as a closed-looped growth strategy.

“We now have our insight. We’ve got the dream,” Ms. Harrington said. “We’ve got everyone collectively engaged in the dream. We developed a way to achieve our goals for the business, and now we just had to get everyone to buy into it.”

For Ms. Harrington, she just hopes a bun-dle of new ideas results in a bun-dle of joy. “We gave away a lot more money than anyone thought with our Bun-dle Bonus program, but it was done to share our successes,” she said. “It’s like a bun of blessings.”

Ouch! Now that’s pun-ishment.