Melissa Stephens is no stranger to hard work, and because of that hard work, she is no stranger to success. Her company, The Cordial Cherry, is an Omaha gem which has experienced explosive growth in the midst of one of the toughest years in many of our lives. The success of the company is no accident: Melissa and her team have been planning, growing, strategizing, reformulating and starting again for years and that work is paying off in a big way. We met up with Melissa to discuss her business, vision and advice she has for fellow entrepreneurs.
The Cordial Cherry has been growing for years, but saw incredible growth in the spring and their marketing strategy and growth has continued into the fall. Even in the midst of a pandemic, Melissa and her team are prepared for the best and worst. It’s admittedly an odd place to be emotionally and mentally, but the team has worked through manufacturing concerns, developed a ‘Plan B’, if needed, and is prepared to execute for maximum sales. In a time when unemployment, corporate stability and disposable income are uncertain, the Omaha community has stepped up in a big way, showcasing a powerful display of community involvement and small business support. In addition to an incredible local following, The Cordial Cherry has seen explosive e-commerce growth, with orders pouring in from all over the country.
The company set itself up with several strategic advantages: their ingredients are extremely high quality and boast a long, stable shelf life which has allowed them to not only purchase in bulk, but to manufacture in anticipation of major events and holidays. More importantly, Melissa has kept her team at the forefront of her planning, and it is evident that everyone involved is appreciated, taken care of and motivated to move the business forward. Melissa’s strong leadership and genuine team approach means taking the well-being of her staff to the next level by providing monetary incentives to grow the business and removing the standard ‘hourly wage’ approach. She incorporates a compensation structure which allows employees to benefit financially along with the business and that ownership of success, she says, has made all the difference. The care of employees and product is evident, but Melissa also stressed the importance of fine-tuning the numbers to understand exactly what the business spends, what those funds are spent on and how their numbers generate revenues. She wisely fine-tuned the numbers and the business became much more profitable.
Melissa’s background prepared her for this business, even before she knew it would happen. After earning her undergraduate degree in Biotechnology and a Master of Science in Biology, she started her career as an educator and spent more than six years teaching science at Omaha Public Schools (OPS). She was in the process of earning her Doctorate and wanted a way to supplement income to pay tuition when she utilized the teachings of her Grandma and started making chocolate-covered cherries to sell at small craft shows. Each show quickly started selling out and Melissa increased business enough to fund her schooling. Craft shows turned into custom orders which turned into a solid business and, four and a half years later, when Melissa decided to home school her own four children, she turned the enterprise into her full-fledged, full-time, stand-alone business. This leap of faith provided for her family, but also provided invaluable learning opportunities for her own kids. Melissa was now able to set her own hours, teach on the job by showcasing real-world practices and grow the business along the way. Melissa’s leap of faith to run the business full-time allowed her to navigate through a difficult divorce, realize the power of faith, family, and friends. Family is very important to Melissa. Each of her children played a huge role in the business, including being the inspiration behind the very design on the boxes in which their chocolates are sold.
As a business owner, Melissa has learned several valuable lessons in the past few months:
- Be willing to just try, even the least-promising of ideas could lead to a breakthrough.
- Realize you won’t be the best at everything: others can use their talents to run certain parts of the business, freeing up your time to be creative. Her ability to grow and trust her team has allowed her to create several new collections.
- Be willing to tackle things that aren’t your favorite. Learn from the process! Accept that in order to do the things you want, you have to do some things you don’t love.
Looking forward, Melissa is excited about how her company will make a positive impression in people’s lives and how their branding will propel the business forward. It has been a tough but powerful year and Melissa is confident her team, business and clients will all be able to emerge stronger and prepared for whatever life has in store.
Melissa’s faith in the future extends to her fellow small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Omaha community. Her advice is simple yet effective:
“Have faith in this community. Trust your community and trust yourself.”