HoneyBaked Franchisee Toni Gilbert tells the story of how she moved up through the HoneyBaked system – from seasonal employee to multi-unit franchisee.
HBH: You were part of the HoneyBaked system even before you were a franchisee. When did you get your start with the brand?
Toni Gilbert: I actually started with the company as a temporary seasonal employee in 1988. I was going to college and I went back to HoneyBaked over the holidays for three or four years – and that kind of worked out to be my extra spending money through college.
Then one summer, the district manager in Arizona asked me if I wanted to work the summer, so I agreed, and I became an hourly employee and it kind of clicked. I loved working at HoneyBaked and I loved working with people. So, I started to move up the ladder.
HBH: How did you prepare to move up? What was the transition like?
TG: I wanted to learn so they gave me things to learn, and I learned more as I moved up. I had only worked the front end of the store, so first I learned the back of the house. I had to learn to glaze our ham, how to slice our ham. At that time, we actually smoked the hams in-store, so I learned how to smoke the hams. So, by the time I became an assistant manager and, later, a store manager, I could perform every position and every task in the store.
And when I started out as a manager, I started in a lower-volume store and had to prove that I could handle that before I moved into a busier store. In the busier store, I had to show I could handle the store during the holiday peak times. And there, you’re learning even more about the stores – learning about product and labor control, how to build sales, things like that. At the time, HoneyBaked was set up in three divisions across the country, and the store I was running was at the top of our division.
So, they saw I was an asset and saw that I needed a challenge and I was able to apply for the district manager position.
HBH: How did you, or corporate, know when you were ready for the challenge of store ownership?
TG: Well, one of the things I really like about HoneyBaked is that they stress recognizing talent and applying from within. I was only able to move up when those positions became available, but since I was applying from within, I had a better chance of getting them than someone coming from outside the system. They saw me applying for these new positions and seeing that I wanted to move up – and they saw the potential in me. That’s part of what I love about HoneyBaked. They stick with you, help you make it through to your goal, and they’re there for you.
As a district manager, I wasn’t really thinking about owning a store myself. I was in charge of these six stores and I loved my job. And actually, in the time right before I became a franchisee, in addition to being Arizona district manager, I was also training new managers around the country as they were learning how to operate their stores. But at the time there were some upper-level structural changes being made in the division and they came to me and said, ‘What do you think of the idea of owning a HoneyBaked store?’
HBH: And you jumped right in?
TG: Well, it was a risk. I’d be leaving a job that I absolutely loved and going into a different side of the business. But we had a conversation and the idea kind of blossomed from there.
And franchising with HoneyBaked has been the best thing in the world for me because it helped me get my family life back. As a manager, you’re not your own boss, you put in a lot of hours but as an owner – while my oldest son was in high school, I never missed a basketball game, never missed a baseball game. All four years of high school I was able to do that. The money will come, but you’re able to make the most of your time with your family. It means so much and goes so much further than any paycheck.
Toni continues to try new things and take on new leadership responsibilities as a franchisee. Proving again that she never backs down from a challenge, she joined the HoneyBaked Franchise Advisory Council, the group of influential franchisees who work to approve and implement new strategies and initiatives across the franchise system.