The corporate baker
Stephanie Vandegrift, 54 Dallas
(FORTUNE Magazine) -- In the early 1990s, as an account manager for A.C. Nielsen, Vandegrift used to give presentations to consumer goods companies on how their products were selling. On a whim, she hired a baker friend to make batches of cookies bearing the logos of clients like Dr Pepper and Eagle snacks. The gimmick proved so popular that "nobody ever missed those meetings," she recalls.
Then, a few years ago, after stints in sales and marketing management with Coca-Cola (Charts) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, Vandegrift suddenly found herself responsible for her severely ill sister and their mother. "I needed to get some control over my own schedule," she says now. "I remembered those cookies and thought, 'I bet I could make a business out of that.'" The first step was to convert a building on her property in Dallas into a commercial bakery, with the help of a loan backed by the Small Business Administration. Next, Vandegrift experimented until she found the ideal butter cookie recipe. Initially she put logos on each cookie by hand, using an overhead projector, but she soon found a faster, mechanized printing process. (The "ink" is food coloring.) A mass mailing of samples yielded her first clients - Exxon Mobil (Charts), Chase (Charts), the United Way of Texas, the Dallas Symphony - and the Cookie Co. was launched.
"The only really hard part has been not having lots of smart colleagues to bounce ideas around with," she says. Her solution: She joined the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners for ideas and support. Now that her company, soon to be renamed Stephanie's Premium Bakery, is raking in the dough, what's next? In 2007, Vandegrift plans to expand into muffins.