Famous for creating SusieCakes, one of California’s top destinations for satisfying the sweet tooth, Susan Sarich is a twenty-five-year veteran of the hospitality industry. Upon graduation from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, she grew her hospitality career with a variety of renowned hospitality groups, including the Mobil 5-Star Everest restaurant and Ian Schrager’s Clift Hotel. Ready for an entrepreneurial challenge, Susan moved to Portland, OR where she co-founded Zinc Bistrot, honored as one of Zagat’s “America’s Top Restaurants”.
Combining her business savvy expertise with the treasured 3”x 5” recipe cards passed down from her grandmothers, Mildred and Madeline, she opened SusieCakes in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2006, bringing old-fashioned, classic Midwest desserts such as layer cakes, pies, cookies and cupcakes to the Westcoast.
The Company has since steadily expanded throughout California and Texas, for a total of 26 locations and has recently launched nationwide shipping.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Susan Sarich: Thank you for having me! I grew up in Chicago and as a young girl, spent a great deal of time in my grandmothers’ kitchens. After graduating from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, I intentionally focused my career path on working for hospitality companies with strong corporate cultures that were still founder or family-led such as Hyatt Hotels, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, House of Blues, and Ian Schrager Hotels.
After ten years in the business, I realized how many women were continually leaving the industry because of the taxing hours required. I began focusing my energies on creating a business model that could incorporate hours less demanding than hotels or restaurants and that were ideal for the working mom. Inspired by the 3X5 handwritten recipe cards my grandmothers, Mildred and Madeline, passed down to me, I founded SusieCakes in 2006.
To date, we have expanded to 26 bakeries across California and Texas with the recent addition of nationwide shipping of our two most popular cakes to cake-lovers across the country. Built on the foundations of simplicity and tradition, we hope to continue to grow our community of cake-lovers, empowered women, and all alike.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Susan Sarich: I firmly believe businesses can absolutely thrive if they are open to innovation and adapt to the ever-changing conditions we continually face. I learned that nothing lasts forever (i.e., this too shall pass!), how resilient my team and I are, how to lead in the face of great uncertainty, and how to stay positive with strong headwinds.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Susan Sarich: With the market uncertainty, we have to remember that not only are our businesses’ bottom lines important, but equally important are our team members. It is important to be fully transparent about the dynamic environmental impacts we are facing, while reinforcing the security of our company. We have increased our benefits packages to support recruitment & retention and are offering more part-time positions.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Susan Sarich: Due to the post-pandemic and decreased labor market, we had to pivot our business model to fewer days, fewer hours, and fewer products. This also led to an emphasis on increasing our technologies to support a more robust online presence. We began focusing on driving guests to place orders online, allowing us to better prepare for the day and create less waste at our stores. These changes have led to a more profitable business model, decreasing team member tasks and increasing exposure to a wider consumer base.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Susan Sarich: I wish I had known that there really isn’t ever going to be an “end” to the pandemic. I think we all now know this is the new norm for the marketplace on how businesses, especially retail and food service, operate.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Susan Sarich: Online business surging provides more accessibility to the products that consumers want, and we should expect that online consumer demand will only continue to grow. For example, with the recent launch of our nationwide shipping, our guests can order cakes for their celebrations or gift them to family and friends anywhere in the country. We are also planning on adding more baked goods to this roster to continue catering to our Susie-fans!
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Susan Sarich: This really varies day to day depending upon my schedule. For an office day, about 9-10 hours a day. For an in-the-field day, about 1-2. I much prefer my days inside the bakeries!
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Susan Sarich: I have always openly shared my experiences in the hospitality industry and how my grandmothers shaped me to be the leader I am now. Any childhood and business stories that I share, I share with the hopes of inspiring our team members to pursue their dreams.
One of my favorite traditions is spending time with team members before we open a new bakery and getting to know them. As I’m still heavily involved in day-to-day activities, creating a collaborative atmosphere is important in order to support our team members’ connection to our mission.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Susan Sarich: The current labor shortage and ongoing covid regulations are causing businesses to close permanently. Personally, I am devastated to see how many mom and pop and independent restaurants no longer exist. The landscape has changed for all of us – including consumers who are learning that the high levels of customer service seen pre-pandemic are now few and far between.
Given the number of food service and hospitality professionals who have left the industry since early 2020, many of us have had to alter our 4-wall business model and adapt to the current talent pool.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Susan Sarich: I am interested in continually learning how to do more with less given the shrinking labor market. This means learning about automation and technology products and avenues that can support us to do this!
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Susan Sarich: At SusieCakes, our turnover rate has remained consistent pre- and post-pandemic. However, recruiting has become far more difficult due to the few qualified applicants, resulting in a longer time to fill vacancies. We want to ensure that all of our team members have a flexible schedule and can communicate with us when life changes. Communication and teamwork are important, and at SusieCakes, we have created a tight-knit community that supports all endeavors.
For example, we have expanded our team member benefits to include PTO for all full team members that starts accruing on their first day, enhanced the company portion of health insurance to help offset the rising costs our team members are experiencing, expanded our bereavement program to include loss of pets, and have added a flexible return-to-work schedule for moms returning from maternity leave.
My advice to businesses experiencing large turnover numbers would be always put your team members first as they are the foundation of your company and deserve to be honored and appreciated as such.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Susan Sarich: What an amazing question! Without a doubt, I would like to know what the economy and the market are going to do in the next 3-5 years as well as what technological advances will be available to us during that time. I would then plan business expansion appropriately!
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Susan Sarich: Personally, as long as I can keep building our brand and bringing more celebrations to more guests, am motivated to get started each and every morning and surround myself with a team that is also inspired and happy, I will consider myself successful
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Susan Sarich for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Susan Sarich or her company, you can do it through her – Instagram
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