Our special guest on this week’s episode of the Over 50 Entrepreneur Podcast is Brian Jackson, President at Woody Candy Company. The historic company was founded by Claude Woody when he returned from service in World War II in 1927. Brian applied his MBA in Finance, Accounting, and Operations Management, and his experience consulting, to taking over the operations of Woody Candy. Since taking over, he’s honored the legacy of the company that’s become a staple in the Oklahoma City Community.
We chat about the transition of ownership, as well as:
- Food manufacturing regulations
- Previous introductions to production automation
- Woody Candy’s commitment to handmade quality
- The changes Brian would have made if he had the opportunity to do it all over again
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
- Call Woody Candy Company 405-842-8903
Voiceover: You’re listening to The Over 50 Entrepreneur, the podcast that’s dedicated to the business builders who are only getting started when most are winding down. This is the place to discover how to create more freedom from your business while growing the value of your business. Now, here’s your host, Rick Hadrava.
Rick Hadrava: Hey guys, this is Rick Hadrava. And you’re listening to The Over 50 Entrepreneur Podcast, as always, so grateful that you took the opportunity to listen to our program today. And I think you’re gonna love this, I love today’s guest. And I’m guessing very much so that you will too. Not only has this business owner served our country serving in the United States Navy, but he decided to purchase a small business with a sweet history. And I think you’ll like that reference here in a little bit.
His company, Woody Candy Company goes all the way back to 1927. Folks, that’s when it was founded by Claude Woody, when he returned from service in World War II. This is a historic company with deep roots in a great story. And you know, as I thought about it, so many times in this day and age, we seem to give a lot of praise to technology, and startup companies with lots of money being thrown at these things. And they seem to get all the press, I’m super excited to share Brian’s story, and share more about a company that’s persisted through ups and downs that’s been around and a stable in the Oklahoma City Community. So without further ado, let me welcome Brian Jackson to the Over 50 podcast. Brian, thanks so much for joining us today.
Brian Jackson: Thanks for having us. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate being here.
Rick: Well, you know, we talked a little bit before the show, you’ve grown up in this community, and you’ve got a good story yourself, why don’t you share with us a little bit of your background, as we work our way up to you purchasing Woody Candy Company?
Brian: Sure thing, as you mentioned, I grew up here in Oklahoma City, and was a customer of Woody Candy Company growing up and after, after growing up here went off to went off to school. And after I graduated from undergrad in 2001. And right in the, in the in a time period where the tech bubble was officially popping, or maybe had just burst kind of depends on the timeframe that you look at it from. And the job market was not awesome. And I had a few opportunities to go do some things and just didn’t really find anything that really, that really felt like a good fit.
And September 11 happened. And at that point, I knew exactly that I was going to be joining the military. And so went down that road was a logistics officer in the Navy for a little while. And then got out of the military use the GI Bill to further education. And, and got an MBA in emphasizing finance, accounting and operations management, and then was a consultant for a major consulting firm for a while and, and kind of determined that it would be great to kind of be the guy calling the shots. And the opportunity presented itself with Woody Candy Company to get back to Oklahoma City after being abroad and away for quite a while and I thought that sounds pretty attractive.
And so we made the move to purchase Woody Candy Company and my dad and I bought it together. And that’s been about, well, almost seven years ago to the day now. And so we’ve been we’ve been at it for a little while now. We bought it from the Woody family. And our we’re, you know, we we think of ourselves as the the keepers of the, of the treasure so to speak not, you know, not that we are the world’s most phenomenal candy creators of new products. But you know, we certainly have created new products and and those have done well. But you know, we’re the we’re trying not to mess up a great thing, so to speak
Rick: I understand. Well, first of all, thank you for your service. We do appreciate it and we want to acknowledge that but I want to I want to dig a little deeper. Great you decided to buy Woody Candy Company. But what was the triggering point for you? Were you living out of state and and how did you come across the opportunity?
Brian: Let me answer the how we came across the opportunity side first. My, my dad and Claude Woody Jr. have been there, their business history goes back into the early 70s, in the oil days of, you know, the oil days in Oklahoma City in the 70s. And so we have been aware of and customers of Woody Candy Company since then. And my dad ran into Claude one day in July or August of let me see, I guess it was about in 2013. And just asked him how things would go on, and what’s the latest and greatest with the Candy Company. And at that point, he and I had kind of started the search of, hey, let’s go buy something together and kind of have our own family, family owned and operated business.
And when he ran into Claude, Claude mentioned Claude Jr. mentioned that he was looking for an exit strategy and hadn’t really found one. And most likely was going to shut down the company after Christmas of 2013. And so at that point, we told him, you know, maybe we’d like to take a look at it and see if it’s something that fits for us. And after looking at it for for a while and digging through it. And obviously taste testing everything we could get our hands on, which is most painful part of it all, obviously. We, we decided to make the move in February 1st of ’14, we signed all the paperwork and became the owners of Woody Candy Company. So kind of to your question of why. What was the first part of the question? Was it why Woody Candy Company?
Rick: Well, I think you explained that basically, the opportunity presented itself. But you made mention that you came back to Oklahoma, and I’m just curious.
Rick: Was it was this was this the thing that got you back to Oklahoma, or were you already thinking about coming back, and then looking for a company to buy.
Brian: Some of both of those. I was not yet living back in Oklahoma. But from the time I graduated high school, in ’97 to 2013, I had lived away. And I mean, when I was in the military, I was stationed in Japan for a couple years. And I guess from the time I left, after high school, to the time I came back, I had either lived or worked in, I think, 30 different countries. And what that really taught me was that Oklahoma City is a great place to live and work and raise a family. And I was not married at the time.
But at the time I was I was living in Dallas, and Dallas, there’s there’s a lot of great things about Dallas, I’ve got two older brothers that live down there. But I was not tied to living in Dallas for, you know, for any particular reason. And kind of I was at the point where if the opportunity presented itself, and it was attractive enough, I would I would move to Dallas, or stay in Dallas or move to Oklahoma City or Houston, you know, but I wanted to stay in the south central part of the US. And it just so happened that Oklahoma City was a fertile hunting ground, if you will, for opportunities at that point in time. And there were there were a couple different things that we’re looking at. And we’re able to make things happen with Woody Candy, and I was more than happy to move back, Oklahoma.
Rick: And I totally agree. I think several of us, myself included, have done that over our careers. And, you know, we’ll give a little plug here because I know there’s a lot of movement around the country these days from coast to coast and people moving to different states. And I think that’s one thing that people that visit, you know, Oklahoma, whether it’s Oklahoma City or Tulsa or surrounding areas, they’re a little surprised. I think what what they think absolutely, it is versus reality. Well, you let’s go back to consulting for a second because if I understand, right, that that’s what you did finance and auditing and operations. So I’m curious the contrasting experiences of of that, versus now you’re running Woody Candy Company. Does anything stick out in your mind as to you know, the experience as you transitioned this company over the last seven, seven years.
Brian: As in comparing and contrasting consulting, versus running a company?
Rick: Yeah I mean, you know, not going from the consulting part to now you’re, now you’re owning this company. I’m just curious if anything, if you’ve learned anything different from that experience?
Brian: Well, certainly, when I was, when I was consulting, I was with Deloitte Consulting, and some of the projects that we were working on were extremely high level, that they were projects where the the dollar values of the things that you’re trying to accomplish are in the billions of dollars, and, you know, and so moving, moving the needle 1%, for those kinds of things, those are huge dollar savings, you know, one way or the other. And, you know, driving it, driving some of that to Woody Candy Company of saving 1% here, 2% there, you know, you can really, you can apply those lessons learned there and realize that, you know, that that 1% on shipping or cost of goods sold, here or there.
Yeah, that that adds up at the end of the year. And that’s money in my pocket, that’s not money, that we’re saving the taxpayers at this point. That’s, and it’s, it’s a lot of the lessons are the same, but the end result is much more tangible. Now, one of the projects was trying to save money for DOD maintenance expenditure, which is $100 billion a year, line item and the DOD budget, well, save 1% that’s a billion dollars to the taxpayers, that’s great. But do the taxpayers really ever see that?
And and that’s, you know, it’s a little it’s a little fuzzy and less tangible, but owning Woody Candy Company and saving one, or 5%, on your cost of goods sold, or freight or something that’s just a straight expense item. You know, that’s, I see the difference in the financial statements in the in the bank account at the end of the year. And that’s a beautiful thing. So, yeah, they’re absolutely, they’re absolutely some, some parallels there that, that, that cross pollinate, for sure.
Rick: Well, on that same note, so early on, were there any stories that stick out in your mind or surprises? Positive, challenging along the way, when you when you took over Woody Candy?
Brian: The biggest surprise was the regulatory environment for food manufacturing. And when I was so when I was in the Navy, part of my job was I was the food service officer on the USNS Comfort. In 2007, and for about a six month period of time, we were deployed down to Central and South America, and I was in charge of food operations. And we were serving we had about 75 people working for me, and we’re serving about 2500 meals a day. And military food service is audited on the accountability and the inventory of the food in your storage rooms. And is it is it cooked properly so that people are not getting sick on ships.
Fairly important deal so that you don’t have you know, food illness outbreak of 800 crew members everybody laid up or or you know, fighting for a spot in the bathroom kind of thing. That’s a bad day. And whereas in the civilian food manufacturing, regulatory environment, there, there are a lot of safeguards in place to make sure that the things that you find on the shelves at grocery stores and convenience stores and any, you know, commercially available retail food item is is made in a safe manner and is not adulterated and is is preserved properly. And a lot of those things are absolutely necessary.
And I and I agree with most all of that. There are some things where it gets to be, you know, in my opinion overreach of the regulators of some of the things that that they look for, and in that part has been a little bit surprising a little bit of a headache. And by no means am I the only person that has some, some disagreements with some of those auditors from time to time, but that’s the nature of the beast and you got to you got to work with it and figure it out. And it’s part of the cost of doing business and so you get through it. You figure it out. And that that caught me by surprise. I knew that there would be, I knew that there would be oversight, I knew that there would be auditing because you need that. And you have to have that to ensure a good safe food supply.
And that’s, that’s a good thing. I’ve been to other countries that don’t have that. And you do not touch the fresh fruits and vegetables in those places, because you I’m not going to get into it. But you do not want to know what they’re using for fertilizer and how long ago it was applied. And let’s just leave it at that.
Rick: I understand. So tell us a little bit, let’s get behind the curtain a little bit. And, you know, my sweet tooth is kicking in here. So you’ve got all these varieties of candies that you guys put out. I’m just, I’m just curious, like, tell us a little bit about the variety. Are there any stories behind any of the candies that you guys put out that that you could share with our audience?
Brian: Well, the English butter toffee that we make is, I would say second to none, we’re not, we’re not as well known on the national scale as some of our competitors, and that’s fine. That’s the nature of the beast. But if we do side by side taste tests, I welcome that with open arms, anytime I stand by our product, really, with any of the products that we make. On a side by side taste test, comparison, we everything that we make is handmade, it’s, it’s not machine made. And that really makes a difference. We, we use nothing but the highest quality ingredients that we can get our hands on.
And, and I think that the that the consumer can really taste the difference, and they then might not realize that the difference is that their tasting is handmade versus machine made and mass produced. But at the end of the day, I think, you know, bang for the buck, we present a really compelling, if not better value than then a lot of others out there, not to say that they’re not producing great products. But I think that, you know, we, we can really hold our own against a lot of the bigger players out there. Insofar as what are our best selling products, that really boils, there are three that stand out for that stand out above all the others. It’s our English butter toffee, our peanut brittle, our chocolate, pecan fudge, and our turtles. And those are those four really are just phenomenal.
Rick: Well, and I have to say that we had a box of your candy make its way into our office over the holidays, and I was blown away and maybe not happy with you. Because, you know, I’m a nibbler. And I got a sweet tooth. And it’s really good stuff. So but so Brian, as you were sharing this, the thought that came to my mind is, you know, I talked about, we have a lot of new companies that we work with, we have a lot of old companies that we work with, and yours is kind of in the middle, you got a company just steeped in tradition been around forever. And I’m just curious, I’m curious, how do you market in this day and age? You know, because it’s not the same as it was in 1927. Right? Right. So how, I mean, obviously, you’re on the show today, you’re sharing your message, your story, and that gets publicity but but outside of that, what do you guys do to to market your company?
Brian: Well, there, there are trade shows that we go to and participate in and, and selling shows and things along those lines and participate in the Made in Oklahoma Coalition is a pretty strong coalition that about 75 or 80 companies that we we kind of Co Op some some marketing opportunities there. Where we’re exploring getting more involved with social media to start attracting the next generation of customers. That’s it That’s an awfully sticky, tough algorithm to figure out. And that’s that’s not my strong suit. I’m more of a ones and zeros and operations, engineer type of type of guy and so the the social media advertising and marketing thing is is something that I need to get better at.
And so those kinds of things have really been the drivers of, of marketing for us. And, and also talking with some of our clients and some of our bigger customers of that have been that have been loyal customers and clients for a while and asking them, hey, do you have anybody that you do business with or that is similar to you that you work with? That you wouldn’t mind giving us a good word and a plug for and, and sharing our story? And you know that that reference selling? Really is, it’s a lot better than cold calling for sure.
Rick: Yeah. Well, like any business, if somebody’s willing to, to make an introduction or refer you, there’s a little bit of confidence there. And I get that. So it begs the question, you’re making this candy handmade, you got natural ingredients, you know, you said the best that you can get your hands on. If your company were to grow 10 X in 2021. In 2021, what would be the biggest challenge for you guys?
Brian: Storage capacity.
Rick: For ingredients?
Brian: For finished goods.
Brian: Yeah, storage capacity and, and personnel, we would need to hire more candy makers and get them trained and skilled up to the standards that we that we hold.
Rick: Have you have you considered like, any sort of automation, or does that just go against everything that that you guys stand for with the company.
Brian: It doesn’t necessarily go against what we stand for some of the things that we do, you just cannot automate. But, you know, insofar as machinery to help pack candy and help do the, you know, that side of the of the production line, we’re absolutely ready to pull the trigger on those kinds of capital investments. But the automation of production of the candy did that’s, that’s not something I’m ready to go do.
Rick: I understand.
Brian: Because, you know, there. And some of the recipes that we have, we’ve we’ve tried different mechanisms to, not necessarily automate, but to speed up the production process by using instead of hand stirring a batch of candy for 45 minutes, put it into a mechanical stirring machine, and see if we can get that machine to stir the candy instead. And I I’m not a food scientist, I don’t know exactly why. But it just boils over and blows up and it just turns into a giant mess. And so but to answer your question, a 10 x growth this year, it would be personnel and storage capacity for finished goods would be the the the two challenges.
Rick: Good, well I appreciate you sharing that with us. It and it kind of leads me into one of my last questions here, as we get towards the end of today’s program. You’ve been doing this for seven years, you and your dad bought the company. If you were to go back and start over do it over on this journey, is there anything that you would do different or that your dad might say he’d do different?
Brian: You’re the first person that’s asked me that in seven years. And I think that, if anything we could do differently. There are some sales calls I would have made earlier and more aggressively, or I guess pursued them harder. But really, there’s there’s not too much that I would do differently.
Rick: Are you willing to expand on that a little bit?
Brian: We’re just just pursuing different accounts that we either it used to have or do have now. And then if we couldn’t either retain some of those accounts that we that we used to have or seeing if we couldn’t pursue some of the accounts that we have now at an earlier date. You know, just basically it’s just a top line growth.
Rick: So was that do you feel like that was because you were coming into something new and just not ready to go have those conversations or had something else taken place?
Brian: I think it was more a matter of just getting our hands around everything that was going on. And some of it was just timing of transition. You know, last last couple of accounts, just bad timing with when we bought the company and and how the account was on its way out or growing or not growing in and things like that nothing. Nothing at all egregious by anybody, just circumstantial unfortunate kinds of things.
Rick: Yeah. Well, that that’s sometimes the best learning comes from that that type of experience. Well, like I said earlier, we’re coming to the end of this, and I do appreciate you taking the time to share with us. If you had any, you know, if you had any parting wisdom to share with our listeners, our entrepreneurial community, based on your experience, what would you have to say to them?
Brian: That client appreciation gifts from Woody Candy Company are probably the best way to grow your business.
Rick: All right, well, there you go. I will say they are good. And again, this is not a I’m not soliciting for you. But first hand experience. It’s you guys put out a good product. And I’ve enjoyed it. So that begs the question, if somebody wants to learn more about you, Brian, Woody Candy Company, has a question, whatever, what’s the best way for them to to connect and learn more
Brian: Our website is woodycandy.com. Our office phone number is area code 405-842-8903. We have a Facebook account that is at Woody Candy. And if you want to get in touch with me directly, that that office phone number works perfectly. I will be out of the office for a while. We’re recording this on what’s today’s date? I’m getting all my days mixed up right now.
Rick: That’s alright, we’re in January.
Brian: Yeah we are in January. And in less than 24 hours, my wife will be having a C section with our second child. So I’ll be out of the office for a few weeks. But after that, I will be back in the office and geared up and ready to go. Maybe a bit sleep deprived. But we can all get through that.
Rick: Absolutely. Well congratulations to you and your wife. And we look forward to to hearing how everything goes. Guys, you’ve been listening to another edition of the Over 50 Entrepreneur Podcast. Remember, if you want to learn more about Woody Candy Company, you can check it out at woodycandy.com. You can check our show notes, our show notes notes, and we will have that information on our website. And along with many other resources.
You can catch that at www.epicsbiz.com. For those of you that don’t know, that’s epicsbiz.com. You’ll check out the show notes resources that we have available. If you want to learn more about some of our programs, our mastermind programs, some of the one on one work we do, be sure to check it out on the website as well. And as always, we’d love your feedback and suggestions. Email me personally, Rick@epicsbiz.com. That’s again, Rick@epicsbiz.com we appreciate you listening as always. And until next time, stay safe. And remember, we’re only getting started.
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