When Sandy Higgins started her logo-embroidery and screen-printing company, Crackerjack Shack, in April of 2007, she introduced herself to nearby businesses by stitching their logos onto small towels and hand-delivering them to each location.
She has taken the same simple, frugal, client-focused approach to her venture’s management and growth ever since. “We believe in running our business like your grandmother would have — taking care of people like they’re family, honoring employees and valuing money that comes in,” she says.
That timeless philosophy has yielded solid results. Crackerjack Shack employs 17 people at two Missouri locations — a small retail store in Springfield and a larger production and sales center in Republic. It pulled in just over $800,000 in sales in 2015, and, this year, expects to cross the $1 million mark.
Those numbers put Higgins in the top tier of entrepreneurial achievement among her female contemporaries. Of the women who participated in our 1,000 Stories project, a multiyear effort to document the experiences of women entrepreneurs globally, only 16 percent have survived as long as Crackerjack Shack, and just 6 percent manage companies with a similar number of employees. A mere 2 percent of women-owned businesses pull in more than $1 million in annual revenue, according to a study from Ernst & Young.
As Higgins says, “That’s a lot of T-shirts.”
Sewing Her Entrepreneurial Oats
A Springfield native, Higgins was always interested in business ownership. “I think some people just have an entrepreneurial vein — a thirst for the next hill, the next goal, the next thing,” she says.
Before founding Crackerjack Shack, she ran a tanning and nail salon. The salon, which she took control of in the early 1990s, “wasn’t a total flop, but it wasn’t a success. It paid the bills, but that’s about it,” she says. Higgins also taught high school English at the time.
But everything changed when she and her husband adopted a newborn girl in 2000, and she decided to stay home with her daughter, affectionately nicknamed Crackerjack. Higgins left behind teaching and the tanning salon, and instead started a small business embroidering girls’ clothing as a sideline, using sewing skills she learned from her mother.
It was successful — almost too much so. “It got to where I could not keep up,” she says. “I’m only one person, and I crafted highly specialized items that can’t be duplicated, so I couldn’t grow beyond myself.”
Higgins began to embroider logos for a local franchise, and found that avenue more lucrative and manageable. A fateful trip to a trade show in Kansas City opened her eyes to the possibility of building something big. She began embroidering those giveaway towels, and formally founded Crackerjack Shack soon after.
Growing from the (Under)Ground Up
Initially, Higgins ran her business out of the basement of her house. But after adding screen-printing services to her line-up, she found she needed more resources and space.
“The only reason I moved out of my basement was because we needed equipment that wouldn’t fit in there,” she says. “I tried everything to get it to fit. I even thought about digging out an extension to the basement to make it work.”
With encouragement from her mentor, John McKearney, whom she met through her local SCORE office, she moved the business into a small brick-and-mortar location in Ash Grove in 2010. “I cried every day that first week,” she says. “But ultimately, it was the best thing we could have done. It legitimized our business in a new way.”
In 2015, Higgins opened her Springfield location to meet increasing demand for her products. And for the first time in her business’ history, she took out a small loan to cover some of the moving costs — debt she plans to erase before the end of 2016.
“We have always operated debt-free by saving, then buying what we need,” she explains. “We probably would have grown faster if we hadn’t done things that way, but this is just how the Higgins do it.”
Aide as a Measure of Success
Higgins now has her eyes on franchising, ideally in Arkansas and other nearby states, and hopes to do so within the next two or three years.
She also recently moved out of Ash Grove and into a new space in Republic to accommodate her company’s continuing growth — though she aims to stay put after that. “Moving a house is tough. Moving a business? I’ll never do it again. It’d be easier to just buy everything new.”
At the same time, Higgins is focused on philanthropy, providing T-shirts and other items for fundraising efforts, such as for victims of the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy, which struck in the Northeast in 2012.
Higgins says she finds true fulfillment in time-honored charitable work. Indeed, many of our 1,000 Stories campaign participants say they’re motivated by meaning more than money — and almost 26 percent define success by their ability to help or inspire others, we found.
“The more profitable we are, the more we are able to give back to our employees, our community and beyond,” she says. “At the end of the day, positively impacting others with my business is what makes me the happiest.”