The sweet life

An Indiana State alumnus teams up with his alma mater’s Business Engagement Center to ensure honeyed success at Brooke’s Candy Co.’s venture in Terre Haute.

Roses are red.

Sycamores are blue.

Sugar is sweet.

And so are the folks at Indiana State University’s Business Engagement Center who have stepped up to help Seth Vicars, a fellow Sycamore and manager of Brooke’s Candy Co. in Terre Haute, as he takes to new heights the business started by his aunt, Brooke Schmidt, and his mother, Dana Vicars.

Seth, ’15, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance with a concentration in financial planning and started working at the shop before its grand opening last August.

After opening 13 years ago as a small candy, toffee and gluten-free baking mix company in Dana, Brooke’s Candy Co. expanded its business to Terre Haute last year, setting up shop next to the Indiana State University Foundation office and bookstore at 5th and Wabash.

The Terre Haute shop of Brooke’s is located by the Indiana State University Foundation office and bookstore at 5th and Wabash.

A not-so-well-kept secret, the candies have already hit shelves in retail chains like Kroger, Fresh Thyme, Marsh, Giant Eagle Market District and other small shops and were featured in celebrity gift bags at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

With the momentum at his back, Seth turned to some of the best at his alma mater for advice on where to go next.

“It’s fun and that’s what drew me to it in the first place, but being every department of a business on your own isn’t easy and you’re never really off work,” Seth said. “There is no employee handbook, but I’m learning and doing as I go.”

It was an unforeseen demand for all things sweet and salty that led Seth to Launch Terre Haute, where he was referred the Indiana State’s Business Engagement Center in the basement of the John T. Meyer Technology Building to talk to its director Daniel Pigg about a strategy to expand and meet the demands of the customer base.

“They have a quality product that is known in the area so we hammered out their market opportunity, still focusing on individuals but also looking at partnering with businesses like ISU or financial institutions that do recognition events and host meetings in town,” Pigg said. “The worry was that if they got a big order, though, it couldn’t be filled because they did everything by hand. We talked about how to automate the process because they wasted a lot of product when it became too hot or too cold to use.”

Indiana State students designed and created with the university’s 3-D printer a mold that will allow for quicker and more accurate cutting of the product.

Thanks to Indiana State junior Emma Auterson and graduate student and project manager Audie Spencer, that problem is on its way to being solved via a 3-D printed mold that will allow for quicker and more accurate cutting of the product. Auterson and Spencer are two of several students who have a hand in the Terre Haute store, including several of the store’s employees who are Indiana State students.

Auterson, a junior psychology major from West Terre Haute who works in the innovation lab at the Business Engagement Center, learned new software and used CAD files to design three versions of the mold from scratch, assuring the molds created with a 3-D printer were the correct configuration.

“In psychology, they teach you about different disorders and what how to treat them, but you don’t learn about the business side,” said Auterson, who added that she only had to remake one mold during the process. “It’s important to know how to interact with clients in a business setting and work in a team environment, so this has been a great experience to learn more in those areas. On top of all that, I got to learn how to use a new software during the process, too.”

It was a win-win for everyone.

“I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t gotten in contact with ISU,” Seth said. “I didn’t know what to do about the bottleneck that was caused when we tried to cut the toffee on the marble slab. We were breaking about 20 percent of the candy we cut, but since the molds have cut that number way back.”

Once the molds are perfected, they will be fashioned out of food grade stainless steel to be sturdy enough for repeated use at Brooke’s Candy Co. Add a contraption to take the “man” out of manual press down, and the candy creation process will hopefully be better automated, faster and more efficient for this growing Indiana business.

“The molds are the first step. When they can automate beyond that to areas like the mixes and packaging, we can focus on how to get their products into more stores,” Pigg said. “It’s a classic small business problem. They are awesome at what they do and they have the opportunity to be in big stores. The hands-on nature of the operation makes it harder, but we’re here to help them get through these hurdles to growing their business.”

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