Sacrificing dough helps baker sell cookies

To get sales of his cookies moving, Andrew Terry had to sacrifice bringing in some dough.

Terry launched Sweet Andy's Cookies in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. in April 2010 after leaving his job as a financial adviser during the height of the financial crisis. His friends and family loved his cookies which he adapted from his grandmother's recipes, but customers and local stores weren't biting.

He was sure that if he got people to taste the baked goods they would be hooked. Stores told them him that they were happy with a competitor's cookies and didn't want to add another product to their shelves. He was able to get a friend who owned a market to start selling the cookies, but overall, sales remained slower than he wanted. He needed a strategy.

In the summer of 2010, Terry started going to farmers markets in nearby towns on Long Island and set up a table to sell cookies. He also began offering free cookies to anyone who passed by.

"No one says no to free cookies," says Terry.

For a new business, especially one that sells food, giving away samples is one way to attract customers. If someone loves the product, the company can gain a lifelong customer.

Sweet Andy's Cookies quickly built a fan base at the farmers markets. Terry told the customers they met that they could stop by the Westhampton commercial bakery to buy more or ask nearby shops to stock them. They did both.

Now when he went to pitch local stores to sell the cookies, most owners already had heard about the brand from customers. So many people were stopping by the commercial bakery, that he opened a retail shop there last May and added pastries and muffins to his offerings. Sales rose 50 percent in 2012 from the year before and the cookies are now sold in about 30 stores. The bestsellers are Chocolate Chip, followed by the Triple Chip, which is made with chocolate, peanut butter and white chocolate chips.

When he wanted to boost online sales, Terry again turned to his free cookie strategy.

Terry redesigned the website, SweetAndysCookies.com, recently to make it easier to use. To drum up business, he sent about 100 boxes with 30 free cookies to online bloggers with many readers, hoping that they would review them.

The idea worked. Good reviews from bloggers helped boost sales. About 60 percent of the company's sales are from retail and the other 40 percent comes from the website. Terry says that he hopes to reverse that since the company makes about a $1 more on each bag when they are sold online than in a store. A bag of 5 cookies are sold for $5.99, but the company sells them to retail stores for $3.

The majority of the company's online customers are still from New York, but the second-biggest market is Florida. "I think it's because many of our customers winter in Florida," says Terry. Arizona and California round out the top four online markets.

Sweet Andy's Cookies plans to have a table at farmers markets in Long Island again this summer and will give away free cookies. He's found another reason to offer freebies: research.

"It's a great way to test new flavors," says Terry.

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