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What I Know About Making Money I Learned From Making Bread PDF Print E-mail

Ed Michael Reggie, like so many other successful entrepreneurs, credits his achievement in business to early inspiration by a singular, powerful mentor and role model. The family environment in which he was raised was swirling with inspiring people; his father Edmund Reggie was a judge, banker, and deeply influential in state and national politics. Governors, senators, and President John F. Kennedy all dined at the family table. However, Reggie did not share his father’s taste for politics and the public sector. His passion was for business, and his inspiration was his maternal grandfather, Frem F. Boustany, an immigrant from Lebanon who through hard work, shrewd business strategy, and attention to detail, built a small local bakery into a regional bread empire.

Among many lessons in entrepreneurship Reggie learned from his grandfather were the value of taking risk, and seizing a moment. Ed Michael remembers family legend: “One morning at 10:00am he was having coffee in a Lafayette, Louisiana restaurant, and Joe Huval from the bakery across the street joins him, and mentions that in two hours’ time, a large out of town bakery would exercise an option to purchase his struggling business. My grandfather quickly summoned my uncle Alfred Boustany, they went over the books, and by noon they were in the bread business.” Frem Boustany became Executive Vice President and CEO. Within 18 months, their Evangeline Maid brand doubled in size and profits under his impassioned direction. Frem Boustany eventually bought full ownership from Alfred and Joe Huval. Later, Boustany purchased a bakery in New Orleans and built a new multi-million dollar facility there, selling under the Bunny Bread brand.

Among Ed Michael Reggie’s first jobs as a teenager was working for Bunny Bread, delivering and arranging loaves on the shelves in supermarkets. “The key was to make it seem as if your shelf saw the most traffic. We would jumble them up, leave empty space to reflect greater demand for the product. I still can’t resist fiddling with displays when I’m in stores. “ There was essentially one product on bread shelves in American supermarkets at the time, with little brand differentiation – plain white bread. Consumers gravitated to the familiar and convenient and the bread that was displayed on the shelf at eye level had the best odds of landing in the shopping cart.

Two more lessons for entrepreneurs: “Differentiate your Brand,” and “Know your Competition.” When Boustany entered the New Orleans market, it was dominated by Sunbeam bread. “My grandfather knew that Sunbeam’s older bakery had narrow ovens that could only accommodate a traditional loaf. By making the loaves about five slices longer,  he found a way to differentiate the brand in a way that the competition could not follow.”

Ed Michael Reggie remembers his grandfather’s motto, “Advance, or you are going backwards.” Having become the dominant brand in New Orleans, Bunny Bread also sold the most hot dog and hamburger buns. “My grandfather managed production and price in such a way that competitors could only sell up to half of the hot dog buns they could produce in a night. A half batch tied up facilities and staff just as much as a full one.” When Frem Boustany merged the company with Flowers Industries in 1976, Bunny and Evangeline Maid controlled over half the bread sales in Louisiana.

Ed Michael founded American LIFECARE, a multi-state managed care organization, now a portfolio company of The Carlyle Group. He serves on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards of directors. He is Managing Director of Future Factory, an investment holding company.

 


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