Upon walking into the small shop, Wild Sweet William's bakery, located on Main Street in Searcy, Arkansas, there is something different, something simple; an aesthetic so modern, but full of comfort. There you will find Lisa Ford, the bakery’s owner, baker and mastermind, behind this unconventional way of doing business.
Lisa has been baking scones and other treats as a freelance baker for small local Searcy businesses for years. On Oct. 28, Lisa opened her storefront.
Lisa does not remember a time when she has not been baking. Her father, William, was a juvenile diabetic, yet her mother loved to bake, so she learned everything from her. She and her mother would spend hours and hours in the kitchen chopping, processing and baking all her mother had locally collected—bundles of overripe bananas and bushels of apples. Since her father could not enjoy the treats, they would always take them around to their neighbors.
Lisa would always find ways to use her talent, because she was aware of her ability. When she was 15 she was given the opportunity to travel to Europe during the summer. Her family did not have the means to send her but that did not stop her from finding a way.
“I would come home from school on Friday nights and start baking,” Lisa said. “My mom would help, and Saturday morning we would load our old LTD trunk up with baked goods. My dad would drive me to a local bank that allowed me to have bake sales in their lobby.” It was from that age that she found out the importance and reward of hard work and finding your “little gift.”
"Billy Teague, the Original Wild Sweet William, admiring a bouquet of Wild Sweet Williams"
"I dream of a quiet man who explains nothing and defends nothing, but only knows where the rarest wildflowers are blooming, and who goes, and finds that he is smiling not by his own will. "
Lisa was able to spend that summer in Europe, and came back to finish her high school career. She began her time at Harding University as a History major. She met her husband at Harding, a man in the United States Air Force.
In their first year of marriage, they were presented with the opportunity to live in Italy at the time the U.S. was at war with Bosnia. They were stationed at the NATO Base in Aviano, Italy. This base did not have on-site housing, so they had the experience of living in the town as the Italians did.
The apartment they lived in during their three year stay was in an 800-year-old building above a pizzeria, run by a “spicy little lady” named Nellie. Nellie set a model for Lisa that she did not realize was happening. Nellie owned a business and managed apartments, but she was all about the people.
“We couldn’t arrive at the pizzeria, our home, without Nellie dragging us in for a coffee, and we would sit and Nellie would want to practice her English and tell us all of her stories.” Lisa said.
That planted a seed in Lisa that business could be done differently from what is generally experience in America. Lisa said she was once told, “A business isn't owned, a business owns.”
All of the Italians that lived in their piazza owned their businesses, and their businesses supported their enriched lives. When it was time for a nap, “siesta” went on the door. When it was time for a vacation, “vacanza,” the Italian word for holiday, went on the door.
This kind of lifestyle had a large impact on Lisa. She said “In my early 20’s, that made a huge impression, before I even knew that one day I would try to start my own business.”
Lisa and her husband came back to Searcy in 2000. Upon their return, she started baking for the original owners of Midnight Oil Coffee House and close friends, Matt and Mandy West. Up until her shop opened, she worked as a freelance baker for various events and friends.
However, for the past couple of years she has also provided her sweets to two other local businesses—Mr. Postman Coffee Shop and Burrito Day, both located in Searcy. Wild Sweet William’s is only open on every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, or, as Lisa calls it, a “Weekender Pastry Market;” however, her scones are available everyday in the three alternate locations.
Why vs. How
Lisa sees more merit in the “why” she does her business rather than the “how” she does business.
“I think the ‘why’ I do business is more important than the ‘how’ I do business,” she said. “Because the ‘why’ I do it directly affects the ‘how.’ On the days that are difficult, when the ‘how’ I’m doing business doesn’t seem to be working, I have to refocus and ask myself ‘why’ I’m doing this.”
Lisa has never really been motivated by money, referring to Proverbs 30, specifically verses 8 and 9, that states, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9 (NIV)
The communities of Searcy and Central Arkansas have paved a way for Wild Sweet William’s to come into fruition. Lisa found a demand that was not apparent at the time, but as it came around more people were consuming and asking for it. Lisa believes in the four public spaces—public, social, personal, intimate. She is aware of her ability to play a vital role in the public space, which is just as important as the sought-after intimate space. She emphasizes the “everybody knows your name and is glad you came” mindset.
“That’s what’s in my heart,” Lisa said. “Providing a space for people to come and not just get a pastry but to come in and realize that they are a valuable part of this community.”
Lisa executes her business by making sure she is in her best state physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Without those four states, there would be no space that would feel welcoming or personal.
She displays this feeling through her hours. She does not believe in the idea of being open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, because she does not believe that it will provide the service that she strives for. Though she pushes herself, she is well aware of her limitations, so she doesn’t stretch herself too thin and let the product suffer.
Another aspect that elevates her success and ability to run her business is taking things step-by-step and having a community and support system behind her.
Her ability to take things in stride, and not make herself available all of the time has given her the balance that makes this “experience” work. Her balance of peace, family and her joy for what she does is her model.
The business culture in Italy, though it shares small similarities with America, is very different. Since the Industrial Revolution, there has been an over-arching theme and idea of The American Dream. “The American Dream: the widespread belief that every individual can succeed and prosper financially by working hard,” (Schulz, 2007). However, the belief in the American Dream has led to lives consumed by long hours, overtime and a separation between employees/employers or management and subordinates. It can be credited for the distinguishing factor between America and Italy, maybe even the rest of the world as a whole.
The similarities in the cultures are the motivation to succeed and be productive, though that is executed in different ways, and the rise and importance of small businesses. According to a 2013 “Forbes” article, over 50 percent of the working population in America (120 million individuals) work for a small business, and they have generated over 65 percent of the new net jobs since 1995 (Nazar, 2013). Italy is the sixth largest earner from tourism in the world today, so they will always have a market for small businesses to utilize. They are able to sell anything from spas to street-vendor pizza.
America has the reputation of being the place you go to make your hopes and dreams come to life, and in turn her citizens have adopted that mindset. They take on long hours. Adults that are employed full time work an average of 47 hours, roughly six days, per week. That number is an hour and a half up from a decade ago (Isidore and Luhby, 2015). However, the average time worked (including part time) comes out to be 34.4 hours per week. According to CNNMoney, Italy works an average of 36 hours per week, and that is on its highest end—The Netherlands works the shortest with 29. Italian workers have a limit of 40 hours a week with no more than eight hours of overtime. Businesses can actually be fined if they are discovered going over the allotted time.
Italy did not used to have such a “heavy” work week, but after tax policy change was made people began taking on more hours and work to be able to take off more work. U.S. workers only have around 15 days of vacation a year, but only take around 14. Workers in Europe are generally given 28, and will more than likely take all of theirs (Isidore and Luhby, 2015). Also, there are almost four times more workers that are unionized in Europe than in the states (20% as opposed to 80%) (Landsburg, 2006). American unions and Italians unions have strived for two different goals. Americans fight for higher wages, and Italians fight for shorter hours.
America finds a sense of satisfaction in deadlines, a fast pace and strict adherence to schedules. As soon as meetings begin, there is nothing but the topics on the agenda, though this does not speak for every meeting ever held, and they are goal-oriented.
On the other hand, if you give an Italian a meeting time, he will likely show up late and scarcely stick to the intended agenda. Yet, that routine works for them. In any decision they take their time to discuss advantages and disadvantages, build relationships and the hierarchical members of the company must follow their protocol and look over what they are given.
A rushed lifestyle with a mildly poor work-life balance is accepted and expected in the United States. A “get down to it” attitude inspires more than a three-course lunch would, but it works for the majority. Italians—and their laid-back, yet productive, lifestyle—are inspired to take the days as they come. They are inspired by those lunch dates that would have Americans wishing they could get back to the office, as well as any chance to build a relationship.
Italian workers and the citizens desire relationship, an intimate connection with those that they are drawn to. They aim to reflect that in their business and the way that they interact with clients. Like Lisa, they adopted an “everybody knows your name” attitude.
With owning any business, challenges are going to come. When Lisa would get overwhelmed with multiple challenges she would stop, assess her situation and think of what she needed to get done right then in that moment. Doing this would build momentum and confidence for her and help her tackle her problems one at a time.
According to her, the biggest challenge for her during this process was her personality. By surrounding herself with the right people that believed in her, encouraged her and helped her see that they wanted her to accomplish her dream, she realized that she can do this and she made it happen.
Lisa’s husband was also a huge support and helped balance her gifts and the areas she needed more help with incredible organizational and management skills. He was also a best friend that was willing to pick up her slack. There was a whole team of people who surrounded Lisa daily and showed up, when she has no idea what she was going to do.
“This is bigger than me; this is bigger than a business. It’s about purpose, it’s about effecting a community in a tiny way,” Lisa said.
Lisa has three tips when it comes to opening your own business:
The first tip she shares is "Start with why". Why are you doing what you are doing? Why are you starting a business? “You should have a clear picture of that why, because the why directly affects the how.” Lisa said.
Lisa challenges those wanting to start a business to be retroactive in protecting the how you do business, so it is always supporting your why you do business.
The second tip Lisa shares is “Have a great team.” Lisa stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with people that believe in you and people who will encourage you. Surrounding yourself with people who are gifted in ways that you are not will also help you in the long run, according to Lisa.
“You can’t be your whole team.” When it comes to running a business, accepting the support, help and encouragement that comes from your community and family is a huge help.
The final tip Lisa shares is “Take one step at a time.” When you own your own business it is so easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture and wondering how everything is going to get done. According to Lisa, if you take one little bite at a time of that thing that is right in front of you, that one little bite will lead to the journey being accomplished.
Lisa’s goal right now is to support the Wild Sweet William’s weekender pastry market. The weekender pastry market is open Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, where people can come in grab a pastry, grab a coffee and a little chat. Lisa’s goal is to also continue her wholesale and special orders on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“I want to keep my hands in the dough.” Lisa said. “I hand make every pastry. It is not my goal to hire a lot of employees, because I want to stay small and personal, and keep the joy in what I am doing.”