Cathy Raffles is President and Owner of Creative Confections, a manufacturing company that makes English Toffee. They are primarily a private-label business, but they’ve added their own label in the last 8 or 10 years by having a web business. During our interview, Cathy talks about her family-friendly business model; the importance of respect in the work place; the healing effect of seeing the good in everyone, including those affected by gangs; the blessings of her business; and much more.
How did you become President and Owner of your toffee candy company?
The toffee was my mother-in-law’s recipe which she tweaked to make the long-term recipe the company uses. I actually started in advertising, working for two fairly large ad companies. But when my husband and I started a family, the hours I spent working at the ad agency became too much. So my husband and I bought the company from my in-laws, who were ready to retire. I never planned on working for a manufacturing, cooking, or candy company. It was brand new to me. The business was pretty small at the time, and it is still considered a small company, though we’ve grown significantly. When we took it over in 1989, we had a 1-year old and were expecting our second child. My philosophy during the early years was to have a company that would be friendly toward family, to women and children, and still serve our customers in the best way we could. I wanted to enable mothers to work during the time their children were in school and leave around 3:00 so they could be at home with them.
What was it like moving from advertising to manufacturing?
The first few years (and then some) were like a “wilderness” experience for me. I came in to run a company that I didn’t know anything about. I had to learn about the production and marketing of the product and management of employees. I had no choice but to trust God. I often think about Moses and his faithful trust in God, which enabled him to lead the children of Israel. That helped me through my wilderness experience, and it continues to help.
How did you build the business?
I picked up many new customers through exhibiting at gourmet food shows attended primarily by gourmet food retailers. But in general, the business has grown over time. As our customers grow, we grow. About seven years after I took over the business, we moved into a larger facility, which took a lot of listening to God. We were outgrowing where we’d been. We found a place that was more than double in size, but we weren’t sure that we would have the business to warrant the space. It became clear that the move was the right thing to do. Within a year or two, business had grown four times. I have one customer who has over 100 stores and adds another five to ten stores every year. They set high standards for all of their suppliers, and I think they’ve been blessed as a result. I respect them for that. I really have not focused a lot on sales because I want to have a balance with my family. If I gained a lot more business, I’d never be home.
So the increase in business did not affect your family-friendly philosophy?
It did not. We just added more people and only changed the hours for those who were flexible. During that time, there was a man who came in and did a lot of the cooking starting at 3:00 in the morning, so the women who came in at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. could still do their work and didn’t have to wait. We had a couple of senior citizens working for us. As production increased, it seemed difficult for them to keep up the pace. But I felt they had a lot to offer -- a wonderful work ethic, dependability, and a solid example of hard work. I didn’t want to lose them. So we filtered in younger people with them. Some of the senior people wanted to come in earlier. Working with their schedules, we were able to maintain our production schedule.
Over time, the senior people retired, and the complexion of the staff changed from employees who needed to be home with their families to a group who needed further education. We were getting a lot of diversity. I ended up with several young women who had dropped out of school because of gang-related activities, which affected their safety going to and from and attending school. But everybody still gets out by 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s a very seasonal business: five months are very busy, and the rest of the year is part-time work.
What helped you run your business -- anything from your advertising career or any inspiration from the Bible?
As far as marketing the business went, my ad experience was helpful. Working for an ad agency was my first corporate job out of college. I often had people above me leaving, so I was given responsibility at an earlier age. It forced me not to doubt myself, to have more confidence in myself, which was very valuable when I took charge of the business and found that I didn’t have anyone to turn to for help when I didn’t know how to do something. This forced me to turn to God -- an excellent source of inspiration and direction. The 23rd and 91st Psalms always provide comfort and support when I don’t know what to do. In advertising, I had seen that God directs and unfolds things in proper ways, and I had confidence in God’s unfolding process and knew that this same law would run my company as well. I have found that whatever I need to know, I tend to know ahead of time.
What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
One of the biggest aspects of the business that we’ve turned around is transportation, shipping and receiving, dealing with truckers. We didn’t have a dock when I took over (we do now), and it was difficult to coordinate routing schedules with our 3:00 p.m. closing hours. There was a lack of harmony due to routing issues and an unusually tricky dock to maneuver. But it’s completely turned around so that now I have guys who will stop by just to say hi. But it took awhile.
How did you work and pray to turn it around?
I changed my expectations. That’s what changed. I stopped expecting that there would be trouble walking through the door and instead started expecting to see those who loved their jobs and valued themselves coming through the door. The dock we have requires some talent to maneuver. Lots of times guys would be angry once they finally got in. I tried to change my attitude towards them. I wasn’t trying to change them. To me, it didn’t matter if they changed their dispositions or not. If they were rude or uncooperative, I saw an opportunity for me not to react; to see that every truck driver is walking into an environment where he is going to be blessed; to value every idea of God; to see the strength of character in each individual; to see that everyone is reflecting a beautiful sense of God’s character. Their behavior didn’t matter to me. I just cared about them feeling loved and valued. The full transition took six years, but I kept with it. I know that there’s a law of harmony, and every part of the business should reflect that law. I just don’t give up. Over the years, the love melted the attitudes that promote the stereotypes that tend to go with that industry. I also give them candy when they leave. That helps.
You really value the people who work for you and with you, which is wonderful. How does that influence your business model and your success?
My philosophy as a business is not driven by a financial bottom line. I don’t gauge the success of my business by profit, although it’s a good indicator, and I do pay attention to it. What makes me think that my business has been successful is when I see the transportation issues become harmonious, or my employees interested in furthering their education, or see them recognizing their own value. With my employees, I often turn to Ezekiel 34:11-15 and think about how the shepherd “seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered” (12) and “bring[s] them out from the people, and gather[s] them from the countries” (13) -- bringing them together and protecting them. I know it’s not me shepherding my employees, but God, and I’m listening to God to hear how to help facilitate the process.
How have your employees responded to this shepherding concept?
As I mentioned before, there were some gang issues with my employees. Some were very street smart, were clearly using drugs when they weren’t working, went to jail, got in fights, were having children taken away from them. So, I treated them all with respect and expected all of them to treat one another with the same respect, no matter what level. At one point, I walked into the lunch area and could tell that some of the young women were obviously mocking me, probably regarding how I thank them. I had a moment where I thought, “Do I need to change my behavior and make the environment more similar to what they’re used to?” No. They were making fun of being polite and respectful. Gratitude is a big part of the respectful environment I was demanding. They were here to learn. Later on, I overheard these women, who had second jobs, talking about how important it was to treat others with respect. They didn’t change because of me but because they could see the value in respect and the harmony in the work environment as a result.
The dynamics at work also helped change the dynamics within their families, and in particular, within one family with eight adult children. Over the years, they’ve expressed gratitude. A couple of them have written me notes or told me verbally that the model at my company has changed their expectations of themselves -- what type of work they could do and how they interact with their family members. That’s how I value the company. It’s a Christian business model to me. It’s more long term.
How do you help them with education?
We constantly talk about going to college. I’ve written them recommendations for other jobs, helped them with their resumes, helped them study for their GED. I’ve really encouraged them to finish high school and take as many college courses as they can. From that one large family I mentioned, two of the girls got AA degrees and have set the example for the rest of the family, even for their mom, who works for me and who, I think, is going back to school.
What qualities do you think are necessary to run your own business?
I think you have to have a sense of fearlessness, humility, adventurousness, a willingness to try new things and change them if they don’t work. I really think for me that humility has been the big quality. If I don’t know what to do, I think humbly and listen. Humility gets your personal sense or personal ego out of the way and opens your thought to be receptive to bigger ideas than you would think of by yourself. Humility enables you to look to God as a greater source than the human mind for solutions.
It sounds like your company has been a tremendous blessing.
If you view the company as a blessing, as I do, it’s a blessing then to everyone. It’s easy for me to think of our company as a blessing because our product is a gift. This carries through to every aspect of the company, the whole operation, including the employees. I never envisioned myself working with truckers, gang members, and day laborers. But it’s given me a much greater appreciation for all of humankind. Many of my employees work part time or have other jobs. I’m so grateful for everyone who works there. The one guy now comes in at 2:00 a.m. (instead of 3:00 a.m.) and then goes home and starts his regular full-time job at 7:00 a.m. He’s integral to our success. He leans on God; I know that. I have learned a lot from my employees. They are very dedicated, hard workers -- very unselfish in the ways they support their families. They have brought a greater sense of intelligence and efficiency to the production process. It’s been a blessing for me and my family.
Have you been able to keep family hours for yourself?
Yep. My kids are 17 and 19, and I’ve pretty much been able to set an example that proves you can have a family, cherish and respect family time, and contribute some place besides my own home. I think they’ve seen that blessings come from reaching out to other people. My way happens to be through business. And my family has definitely helped. There were a couple years early on when I would have to go back to work at night, so we’d all go back as a family and pack tins together. It was fun.
Is there anything else from the Bible that has been an inspiration to you throughout your career?
I love Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ” -- not through myself, “through Christ” -- “which strengtheneth me.” It just always comes to me whenever I need the support -- when I have to phone someone I don’t want to, or find that a situation is uncomfortable and have to take human footsteps. I realize that the footsteps I’m taking to resolve problems with customers or suppliers are done through the Christ.