Deanna Hawkins, left, of Sugar Daddy’s Cafe’ shared her storefront with Joan Fischer of Joan’s Caramels. Courtesy photo.
Joan Fischer had been renting Sugar Daddy’s Cakes and Catering Café’s kitchen for a year to make caramels for her sweet shop, Joan’s Caramels, when the suite next door to the bakery became vacant. Joan Fischer and Sugar Daddy’s owner Deanna Hawkins had become close friends through their working partnership, and combining their locations for a dominant presence in south side sweets sounded as good as a brownie drizzled with caramel.
“The reaction from everyone was nothing but positive,” Joan Fischer said. “Everyone kept saying that they were so happy Bloomington now has a shop like ours: locally owned with homemade desserts and sweets.”
Now, brides and grooms visiting Bloomington for wedding tastings at Sugar Daddy’s often leave with more than a cake to cut on their special day. Customizable caramel wedding and shower favors from Joan’s are for sale just steps away. That’s what Joan Fischer calls a “business marriage made in heaven.”
In an effort to keep all aspects of Bloomington business in Bloomington, several local business owners have capitalized on common interests by working with each other instead of in competition.
In the year since Hawkins and Joan Fischer became business partners, they have expanded their offerings to include dessert trays and gift boxes with homemade treats from both shops. Joan’s Caramels and Sugar Daddy’s also had a booth together at the Bloomington Bridal Show in January.
“The thing that is nice about having a business partner like Deanna right next door at Sugar Daddy’s Café is we have been able to introduce our ‘own’ customers to each other,” Joan Fischer said. “By that I mean when longtime Joan’s Caramels customers come in to buy, they will often comment that they didn’t know Sugar Daddy’s Café was there. This in turn will often bring them new customers.”
Businesses with mutual clients for different services will often refer customers to one another. President of Elite Limousine Jay Wilson says banquet owners and wedding planners have sent new business his way, and vice versa.
Holiday gift-giving season provided the perfect opportunity for Elite Limousine and gourmet oil and vinegar shop The Olive Leaf to promote one another by teaming up to offer a Christmas light tour in a superstretch limo and gift bag of balsamic truffles and oil or vinegar for one price.
Because he is also the certified public accountant for The Olive Leaf, Wilson used his familiarity with both businesses to devise a partnership where they might not ordinarily collaborate.
“By combining efforts and resources, two businesses can accomplish more than one alone,” Wilson said. “A win/win attitude and approach by both businesses is more likely to result in mutual benefit.”
Some local business partnerships have lasted for years and could continue indefinitely. Since 2006, Fischer Farms has supplied Nick’s English Hut with the meat for everything from burgers and ribs to eggs and steak.
When Nick’s managing partner Greg “Rags” Rago needed a new meat supplier, he was wary of partnering with Fischer Farms, which was farther away from Nick’s than his previous distributor. Rago had to work with Fischer Farms owner Dave Fischer to re-organize delivery logistics to keep fresh, not frozen, food in the restaurant.
“We would have to assess how much product we need and hope it didn’t run out or hope we didn’t buy too much,” Rago said.
The challenge of buying locally and keeping food prices reasonable paid off in customer satisfaction, as Rago found that keeping his carbon footprint low raised the quality of his burgers.
“If you get a good local product that’s raised well with least amount of chemicals rather than if you go to a Wal-Mart and try to keep the cheapest burger you can, you can tell the difference,” he said.
In his personal life, Rago tries to avoid shopping commercially whenever he can, and he runs his business under the same philosophy.
“We keep the money within the community rather than it getting spread all around the country or internationally,” Rago said. “If you spend locally, it comes back to you. It’s difficult to do, it adds to cost and less to the bottom line, but it overall comes back to you many times over.”
Businesses that work together also share connections. Rago urged Dave Fischer to look into distributing pork, which led to a working relationship with Stanley Hall and Hall Farms in South Paoli. When Rago’s pastry chef needed extra-large natural brown eggs, Dave Fischer used the Purdue Extension Agent in Orange County to get in touch with an Amish family who now provides 300 dozen eggs for Fischer Farms to distribute every week, as well as mayple syrup and sorghum molasses.
Like Joan Fischer and Hawkins, Dave Fisher has found the monetary and consumer benefits of a professional partnership isn’t the most powerful impact working with another local business has had on his life.
“Rags knows our three kids by name and really understands how the decisions he makes as a restaurant owner impacts the farm family that he supports,” Dave Fischer said. “Over the years, we have turned this business relationship into a true friendship, which I truly value more than the business.”
Originally published in BizNet, February 2014