Bill Cullins created his business, Bill's Cookie Jar out of a desire to heal his soul after some emotional and physical setbacks. He started baking cookies just to give away but then his entrepreneurial drive took over and he realized his goal of a business that would make money without him (sort of) might be in cookies.
Can 'Random acts of kindness' become a business? Bill Cullins thinks so
Bill's Cookie Jar hopes to establish an online only cookie store featuring his well tested recipes
Bill Cullins is the first one to tell you he's tried many careers. "My very first job was washing dishes when I was 14 years old," he said. He's mowed lawns, worked for JC Penney and then went to school to become a hairdresser at the age of 18. But the lure of big money working as a fisherman in Alaska was strong until, "I found out I didn't want to die in the sea getting King Crab so I went home and went into construction."
He became a day laborer, working in construction primarily with concrete, even working on the construction of the Bull Run Reservoir in Portland. He did a little more hair work then started a window washing business (he still has this one) and out of that a business referral business, somewhat similar to Angie's List but before the internet. He also tried a martial arts video production business for a while.
"I basically tried a lot of different jobs," Cullins said, "but my sole goal was to create an income that produced without me." That's a tall order if you are not the boss. "I'm very good at making money when I show up but I'm not good at hiring employees but I'm great at hiring private contractors."
Cullins has always been a free spirit and got married a little later in life at age 40. "After about 3 years I was having health problems which caused financial problems. This was during the time I was running the referral business AAA Home Service referral which was just exploding."
"I took a sample of a drug my neighbor gave me to reduce inflammation and it caused my brain to start bleeding. My health kept going downhill and my wife just kind of disappeared. One day she just said, 'I'm going to move out until things settle down,' and I never saw her again," Cullins said. "So I just let my other business go, which was dumb, but I cut it all back to just window washing."
During this time period he found himself drinking. Way too much and way too often and by himself. His depression over his situation was severe and he realized he needed to do something to pull himself out of it.
"At night I just started making cookies," Cullins said, "and started giving them away to feel good."
These random acts of kindness had the desired effect and Cullins started feeling better but still hadn't moved any closer to his goal. "I did it basically to heal my soul." That was eight years ago.
Then on a trip to Hawaii with a friend he was staying at a hostel. He made cookies and was advised not to give them away but to sell them instead. He made some samples and put them out. "I'm laying in my bunk taking a nap half asleep thinking to myself, 'I wonder if I could make money selling cookies while I sleep,' and my friend comes in and said, 'I've got some money here. Somebody just bought some cookies from you.' I thought that was a sign, even though I had no clue about the cookie business at all."
Two years hence Cullins has gotten into a work flow at a commercial kitchen he rents, he's set up his website, and given away a lot of samples. He's also got his cookies for sale in Burien at Three Tree Wellness on 152nd. Shari, the owner there said, "they have some sugar but they are so good people keep buying them and we keep reordering them."
But retail is not his plan. He is aiming at a pure online cookie business. The cookies are made with no preservatives so are shelf stable for "about two weeks."
He ships a very rich chocolate cookie and a shortbread cookie. He can also do special orders if requested. "I can make sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, australian cookies and even caramel corn if you like," and the cookies cost $10.50 per dozen without shipping. His price for online orders for the chocolate or shortbread is $19.99 plus shipping for two dozen cookies.
"What I plan to do is have people get on a monthly or bi- monthly order where they are automatically shipped and they would get 3 dozen cookies, the type would vary depending on the time of year they order."
He developed his own recipes for the cookies by first finding them online then changing them and relentlessly testing them until they are universally loved by everyone who tastes them. Pretty good method.
You can learn more about Bill's Cookie Jar by visiting his site www.billscookiejar.com or by phone at 206-384-7654.