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Mrs. Fields' Gives Recipe for Success

Debbi Fields
Debbi Fields started from scratch with just a little dough (puns intended) and built a cookie empire. Photo by Travis Bartoshek

By Emilie Hornak/Staff Writer
The Huntsville Item

Starting from scratch, a woman with a flare for baking used three key ingredients to cook up a worldwide cookie empire -- passion, perseverance and perfection.

Debbie Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, shared her story of raising the dough to open the first of more than 1,000 shops filled with her delectable delights with the Sam Houston State University community during the fall edition of The President's Speaker Series on Tuesday.

The passion

As a child, Fields found herself drawn to baking, eating and sharing her cookies.

"I had a passion for making and eating chocolate chip cookies -- emphasis on the eating," she said laughing.

And her enthusiasm for the chewy treats encouraged her to offer them to the public despite discouragement from her family. "My parents told me I had no business going into the cookie business. I had no formal education, money and it just wasn't going to work," Fields said.

While it was true that she didn't have a degree or the money, she was determined to prove her venture would not end in failure.

"The biggest failure in life is never trying," Fields said.

As a child, Fields' father always told her that true love was found in family, friends and a love for what she was doing.

Taking the advice, she pursued baking because it was what she loved, and her love for it made her great at it, she said.

"When you love something, you are great at it -- and I loved eating cookies," Fields said with a smile. "When I made cookies, I knew I was doing something special and creating something special."

So, Fields began her quest for the funding to back her bakery.

The perseverance

She endured the rejection of slamming doors of bankers as she sought the dough necessary to finance her bakery.

She also endured her mother's urges to just quit.

"Quit is a magical word," Fields said. "It's something you can do any time, any day, at any moment, and I decided it was the last thing I would do. No -- I was not going to give up."

Setting a goal is an important part of success, she said.

"When you set out, if you can, set a goal in mind so you have something to keep pushing you to climb up the ladder of success," Fields said.

And soon after, she found a banker who lent the aspiring baker and business owner $25,000.

But on opening day, Fields found herself seeking perseverance again.

Little attention was given to her shop, she said. And less money was spent in its opening hours.

So, Fields hit the sidewalk armed with a sheet full of cookies giving people the chance to try her treats for free.

"Some folks actually followed me back to the shop and I rang up $75 in sales ($25 more than her goal) the first day," she said.

Twenty-five years after opening the small shop and hitting the sidewalks of Palo Alto, Calif., Mrs. Fields Bakery is one of the industry's most recognized names.

The perfection

Seeing her product as more than a cookie, Fields said she continues to seek perfection.

"I am in the feel-good feeling business," she said. "My job makes people feel good."

To give her customers a treat unlike any they had encountered before, Fields took her cookies to the extreme, she said.

"I took my cookies to the extreme. I found out how much butter I could put in them before it was too much. I found out how much chocolate I could put in the dough before the dough wouldn't hold anymore," Fields said. "I took the cookies to the extreme."

She built her cookies to be of the best quality so no one could compete with them, she said.

And part of her quality assurance plan was creating a policy that keeps the freshest cookies on the shelf.

"Any cookie that sat on the shelf for two hours became an orphan cookie and they were donated to charities or sent home with people," she said.

However, the key to her success was not only her pursuit of product purity, but also her focus on customer service.

Fields also used her store to make her customers feel important.

"Anything you can do everyday to make every person feel important can make a difference," she said.

And part of making her customers feel important involved learning their names and how they liked their coffee with which cookie.

"I realized I had something more than a cookie shop when my customers started calling in sick," she said.

And her focus on customer satisfaction didn't stop as her empire grew.

During a random visit to one of her shops, Fields found cookies that were too flat and over-baked.

The store manager said they were good enough.

"Good enough never is," she said.

Instead of selling the cookies and fixing the next batch, Fields threw out the cookies and started from scratch.

The moral of the story

Fields encouraged her audience to find something they love, like her passion for cookies, and savor it because it will make them great at it.

"You have to have passion when you're finding a recipe for a career," Fields said. "If you love what you are doing, you'll never work a day in your life."

Good enough never is, she repeated. When people are producing a product, whether it's for sale or not, they must continue to improve and seek perfection.

"Whatever you do, make it your best and you will stand out among everyone else," Fields said. "Don't rest on your laurels. And don't settle. Keep working."

And when faced with adversity and challenge, Fields said people should find strength and persevere.

"Don't give up," Fields said. "The instance you say 'I can't' you are defeated."

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Oct. 2, 2002
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