WHO: Tina Corso-Hess
WHAT: Corso’s Cookies
WHERE: Syracuse, NY
HOW: “I always loved to bake since my first easy bake oven and I also loved art. Once I combined them both into decorated cookies I knew I had found my niche,” says Corso. When Corso had trouble finding a unique gift to send to a friend who had a baby, she decided to take matters into her own hands. The result? A million dollar business. “I decided to send her some cookies decorated like flowers in a basket. She loved them so I started making them for thank you gifts…they created quite a buzz around town. Every time I sent cookies out the recipient would want me to make more to send to someone for them. It seemed to be a snowball effect,” says Corso.
Working as a real estate agent, Corso used part of her commissions to fund the start-up. “I would go to the store, buy a pound of sugar and ten pounds of flour pretty much every other day. Then I’d wait to get paid on one bouquet to go out and do it again,” said Corso. The fledgling cookie business received its biggest boost from its first large order. “One thing that really helped was an order for 5,000 heart shaped cookies from the American Heart Association. We didn’t have any equipment for this. We had to do all the rolling by hand. I called every relative I had, every friend I had to help. With that order, the money we made helped us get things really started,” says Corso. A new and improved website also helped Corso’s Cookies gain exposure. “Once we got a really good website up, other companies started coming to us wanting to sell the bouquets on their site,” says Corso. Today, Corso’s Cookies are sold on over 100 websites, including ProFlowers and Amazon.
As orders kept getting larger and more frequent, Corso decided to leave the real estate business behind and pursue her true passion. “Within 6 months of starting cookie bouquets, the cookies just dominated. The tipping point for leaving real estate was my getting three hours of sleep a night,” explained Corso. But Corso wasn’t the only one burning the midnight oil—her husband Peter Hess also worked overtime to get the business off the ground. “My husband worked a full-time job to support us and worked with me in the evenings and weekends to prevent us from having to hire an accountant, janitor or salesperson. He kept on top of business matters and I made sure the product was made and orders were fulfilled,” says Corso. Over the course of the first three years in business, the couple went from engaged, to married to full-time business partners. “It was a huge challenge to the relationship but we both came out stronger and so did our business,” says Corso.
After three years of hard work, Corso’s Cookies began to turn a profit. In 2008, their revenues topped two million dollars and they expect things to only get better. “2010 should be our best year ever based on the sales we are starting to see come in for next year,” says Corso. For Corso’s though, it isn’t just all about making a profit—giving back is important too. Recently, the company teamed up with Vera Bradley’s Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer to sell their “Hope Garden Cookie Bouquet,” with a 20% of the proceeds from each bouquet going to help the foundation.
HER ADVICE: For Corso, slow and steady is the key to building a successful business “Don’t get in over your head or think you have to have everything right away. Grow slow,” says Corso. “Buy equipment used, and don’t worry about the competition. You have stay focused and have a plan of your own, don’t let their decisions influence what you are doing,” she adds.
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