Woman from Colorado Springs engineers new cookie business

Cookie Advantage owner Michelle Shah prepares cookies for shipment. A former engineer, Shah started the business a couple of years after her second child was born so she could have more work independence and spend more time at home. Enlarge photo

Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

Cookie Advantage owner Michelle Shah prepares cookies for shipment. A former engineer, Shah started the business a couple of years after her second child was born so she could have more work independence and spend more time at home.

COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) – Michelle Shah wanted more – more time with her children, more independence from work and more satisfaction from her job.

A former chemical engineer, Shah left the Colorado Springs semiconductor industry in 2008 after the birth of her second child.

Once the child passed the toddler stage, Shah decided to go back to work, but not at a corporation.

“The engineering field is not conducive to family life,” she said.

For Shah, 38, deciding to become a business owner was the easy part. The tough part was deciding which business to open and whether she should start her own or a buy franchise. After several months of research, Shah chose the Bixby, Okla.-based franchisor Cookie Advantage.

“I don’t have to keep evening and weekend hours,” Shah said. “And who doesn’t enjoy cookies?”

Shah and her husband, Vinay, couldn’t get a traditional business loan, so they used their entire savings to open their franchise.

“That was big risk because now you don’t have a huge safety net anymore,” she said.

But it was that risk that gave Shah the fortitude to pursue her plan.

“Once I made the commitment, I said, ‘I don’t have a choice.’ I had to make it succeed,” Shah said. “There is no failing.”

Shah opened her franchise in May 2011. She owns the franchise rights to the state of Colorado. While she is not required to open more than one bakery, Shah said she must reach certain sales goals each year as she grows.

Cookie Advantage sells only gourmet chocolate-chip cookies, Shah said. Its owners, Duane and Kim Carns, made themselves available to Shah throughout her first year in business. Shah said the couple recommended which oven to buy, furnished the cookie recipe and offered other help. Most importantly, Shah said, Kim Carns spent two weeks with Shah, teaching her how to make cold sales calls. Shah toted sample cookie tins door-to-door to build her clientele.

“Being an engineer, I can troubleshoot and do accounting, but the sales part was just something I had never done, and I would have struggled a lot more without that mentorship,” Shah said.

Shah’s bakery has few walk-in sales. Nearly 100 percent of her orders come through the Internet. Most are from business owners or salespeople who want to thank their clients by sending them Shah’s cookies. The recipients see the name of her company only on the bottom of the cookie tin. The cookie tins and laminated thank-you cards can be customized to bear the name and logo of the company or person thanking clients with an order of gourmet cookies.

“It all looks like it came from (the business owner) themselves and not like they ordered it from someplace else,” Shah said.

Cookie Advantage is not a home-based franchise. The equipment needed is too large to fit in the average home kitchen.

The bare essentials to open a franchise include a multirack oven, refrigerator, a 40-quart mixer and at least four cooling racks and ingredients. The cost to open a franchise runs between $75,000 and $100,000, depending on the make of oven and if cooking and other equipment are purchased new or used, rent and other factors.

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