In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with John Bronson and Femke Veelenturf, founders of Finger Licking Dutch Stroopwafels. Finger Licking Dutch Stroopwafels sells Stroopwafels (Caramel Waffle Cookies), is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has been in business for two years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
John + Femke: On one of our first dates Femke gave me a Dutch package with stroopwafels in it. I love the stroopwafels so much and realized they were not readily available in the U.S. You can say I fell in love with the stroopwafels and with Femke.
As a former NFL player and sports business entrepreneur, I decided to make a transition from sports to cookies. Femke was a primary school teacher and always wanted to start a stroopwafel cart. When we became a couple we both made the transition to start Finger Licking Dutch Stroopwafels from Holland to the U.S.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
J + F: The original Dutch stroopwafel was invented over 200 years ago, but has never been readily available to the U.S (the Dutch know how to make them). We produce authentic Dutch stroopwafels from Holland with Dutch ingredients. Our model has been to keep the good tasting stroopwafel in its original form, as it was made over 200 years ago.
Our initial focus was on creating a brand that would represent how valuable this stroopwafel has been over hundreds of years.
R: How do you make your product? What’s your process like?
J + F: It’s extremely difficult to make these Stroopwafels by yourself. Our manufacturer in The Netherlands has been in the stroopwafel business for many years and produces over 8,000 stroopwafels an hour (a secret Dutch recipe). Our Holland team makes, packs, and imports them to our Philadelphia warehouse. We then distribute from Philadelphia throughout the U.S.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
J + F: We start our morning with a cup of coffee and a Finger Licking Dutch Stroopwafel on the top of the mug. That is the Dutch tradition and how Femke taught me. Femke grew up in Holland and understands the Dutch market and has her connects.
I’m more focused on the American market. In Finger Licking Dutch Stroopwafels, the best of both worlds come together. Our team mainly ranges between two countries with a lot of moving parts. We spend most of our days as coordinators and sales, which is what we like.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
J + F: 100K+, which came from other passive investments.
R: What are some of your other passive investments?
J + F: I live by an ‘invest in invest’ strategy, (this is no formal term that I know of, I just started using it for myself). In theory what this means is, if I am to invest in a business, I need to have other investment vehicles that are successful and have already made a decent monetary return comparable to the amount of business investment that I will make.
This ‘invest to invest’ strategy limits the risk a bit, plus it’s also easier to keep the equity inside the company without having to find outside investors.
For example, I’ve been a long time silent passive real estate and stock investor. I’ve made steady returns over the years. I have enough leverage capital from the interest I incur to put into a start-up company. I think these avenues are two of the most steady platforms out there, if you don’t get greedy.
R: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
J + F: Our first ever retail location was a cigar shop in Philadelphia, Smoke Cigar Lounge. Who knew that Finger Licking Dutch Stroopwafels would pair well with cigars. Our next 9 retail locations were all different Press Coffees, a coffee company in Phoenix, Arizona.
Press loves to sell our 8-packs and 2-packs. Another founding retail partner is Gasoline Alley Coffee, a 4 location coffee company in New York City. Customers in the Big Apple love our grab-n-go 2-pack. All of these shops are still our happy customers.
R: Where do you sell your product now?
J + F: We’re currently in about 160 retail locations including coffee shops, convenience stores, hotels, and neighborhood markets. We are also on HSN (Home Shopping Networking), currently heading into our third airing. We also sell on a host of e-commerce sites like eBay, Etsy, etc.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
J + F: We would love to sell in one of the big coffee chains, hospitality, airlines, and big convenience store chains, and we’d also love to increase our online direct to customer outreach.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
J + F: We are very socially active, especially with Instagram and Facebook. It’s important for us to showcase our caramel stroopwafels in ways that people are not familiar with.
Our goal is to give customers many and new experiences when eating our stroopwafels. With the many ways you can eat Finger Licking Dutch stroopwafels it makes our cookies very versatile, they can be enjoyed in many ways.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
J + F: Learning to work with your domestic partner. At first, it was a challenge, then eventually you learn what each other is good at and you trust each will do their job.
Another is understanding new aspects of a new business type. In our case we had to learn just about every aspect of manufacturing, import, customs, distribution, target audience, etc.
What we found is, it is good to have a general understanding of each area, but having a team of people who know the specific area already has helped us move at a much faster pace in less time with fewer mistakes.
R: What are your hiring strategies to make sure you’re getting the right people who are experts in their areas who will also work hard?
J + F: I come from a pro-sports background which is very to-the-point, black and white, and can be brutal. So we don’t allow a lot of room in our company operations for errors or complacency.
To answer your question more thoroughly, I’ve broken down a few metrics we go by:
Trust: We don’t have one particular strategy, but the number one thing we do measure is how well we can trust you. If we can’t trust you, it won’t work no matter how good you are.
Do You Fit: We’re much like Abound, with team members in different states, different countries all connecting into one or two systems. We look at how well you can fit with our business lifestyle. We like to keep business fun and a part of your lifestyle, not just a job!
Self Sufficient/Disciplined: Can you follow tasks that are outlined. We don’t micro-manage, but we do have time frames and expectations.
Can We Grow With You and You With Us: We like to find team members and partners that we can grow with over time. We’re not interested in one-and-done scenarios, although they happen from time to time in certain aspects of the business.
We treat each team member with respect and hope they can feel the business love. We also are very stern in the goals that we need to accomplish. We try to give everyone the feeling that we are in this together, when we win, you win.
We believe this type of motto gets everyone excited and wanting to do more and give more of their best effort. Dealing with team members in different states and different countries can be challenging, we do what we can to make sure everyone is on the same page and inclusive.
With all of this said, the context is simple, it comes down to production, quality, value, and sometimes price. An understanding of “what is most important” to each team member or partner is important for us to understand.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
J + F: Our ability as a team to come together between two countries, with all the logistical things that are involved with starting a new company and new brand. We managed to make it work, which is definitely a huge accomplishment.
Appearing on HSN (coming up on our 3rd airing) is something we are proud to have accomplished in our short business life span. Also, our ability to accumulate 160 stores in under 7 months. Our goal was 100 for the year.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
J + F: Know your products inside and out. Have a clear first and second avenue of how you are going to sell them. Help the consumer understand why your products are better or solve a problem. Tell your story through your products.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
J + F: “You can’t climb a mountain if it’s smooth. You have to go over the rough spots.” – Anthony Adams
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
J + F: We love the freedom to be free. The ability to see our friends and family at our own pace. We love that we are able to give back to the community in various ways freely and we love that we can help provide opportunities or more people to support their families or themselves.
We are avid travelers, so it was important for us to develop a business structure that could fit our lifestyle, as well as be engaged to our team and consumer base. Luckily, technology makes it all possible.