It was Laura Neilson’s grandmother who spent hours teaching her children and grandchildren how to bake – while sharing life lessons and family stories. Grandma and her sister-in-law sold cinnamon rolls ‘in town’ to help supplement the farming income. Can you image the commute on horseback during the depression in a Minnesota winter?!
Laura had been making Grandma’s rolls and giving them as gifts and holiday treats for over 30 years. But as Laura’s career in commercial printing was winding down, the idea of baking and selling cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, monkey bread and other ‘sweet treats’ came to the forefront.
Laura recalls, “Attending the LEADING EDGETM program in 2015 was probably the smartest move we could have possibly made. The curriculum was interesting, detailed and informative.” They learned about a host of resources available to businesses. By the end of the series, Grandma’s Rockin’ Rolls was formed. Rolls are freshly made in small batches, from scratch, all natural with no preservatives.
The Neilsons began with one farmers market in 2016 and grew from there. The beauty of this humble beginning was the ‘face-to-face’ sales experience. Customer feedback, product testing and surveys allowed them to grow their product line, improve packaging, streamline labeling and create a true one-of-a-kind customer experience.
They quickly outgrew the Cottage Industry requirements – as well as their tiny kitchen. Rather than spend money on renting a commissary, Randy Neilson remodeled and installed a commercial kitchen. By the end of 2017, they placed Grandma’s Rockin’ Rolls in 90 markets, and they registered with the FDA, allowing them to ship product in the continental U.S. The business grew by 440% in the first year!
By 2018, they realized that their best fit is selling at special events. Randy did the build out on a concession trailer. Their business model is straight forward: “We bake and wrap items in our kitchen. We then pack, ship and sell rolls and beverages from the concession trailer.” Laura does the baking, purchasing, sourcing and scheduling, while Randy (who still works full time) takes care of taxes, web development, kitchen and trailer repairs, and setting the trailer up at events.
“The Aurora-South Metro SBDC has helped us every step of the way. Their team assists with surveys, financial analysis, and resources for business growth. Sometimes when we are ‘stuck’, we can call, email or stop by for brainstorming, and always leave with a solution or idea.” Their product has been tested at CSU Food labs for shelf life, packaging and product stability.
The Neilsons are currently doing research on automated production to grow business capacity beyond the current 24% growth rate (over 20,000 rolls). They plan to work with the SBDC’s Small Manufacturer’s AdvantEDGE program. This has been the experience of a lifetime for the Neilsons. “Our goal is to leave an indelible impression on the people who enjoy Grandma’s Rockin’ Rolls.” (GrandmasRockinRolls.com)