Prairie City Bakery innovates and satisfies

Bill Skeens, President, Prairie City Bakery

Prairie City Bakery may be a bakery, but it operates like a traditional manufacturer, doing everything a manufacturer does – from product development to taking that product to market. Bill Skeens, Prairie City’s president, and his team produce more than 65 different bakery items, each made to Prairie City’s specific specifications.

“We are always looking for new ideas and ways to satisfy the customer and always ask ourselves, ‘Is there a better way to do this?’” Skeens says.

Though the company, itself, has a total of 11 employees, Prairie City’s impact on employment goes well beyond that. Last year, the company sold more than $20.5 million in bakery goods that were produced in seven separate bakery operations — primarily in the Midwest and Canada — that employed more than 500 people.

Skeens was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked him how he overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Three years ago, a major account of ours was looking to develop a private label program in a very short period of time. On a Thursday, we met with their buyers and got specifically what an ideal product line would look like from a quality, packaging and pricing standpoint. The following Friday, we came back with live product, packaging and pricing and laid out 25 alternative products, two different packaging designs and pricing on all items in their conference room.

This was a total company effort involving and coordinating with all of our suppliers, creative packaging designers and financial people to deliver this is just over a week. We were in competition with much larger companies, and because we delivered, we ended up producing 15 of their 18 private label items and continue to deliver on this business today.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Our people are all empowered to ‘Do what is right for the business.’ When I worked for a large bakery manufacturer, we only sold what we could make, and this often was not what the customer wanted. With the Prairie City Bakery model of outsourcing of manufacturing, this is a huge advantage because we want to sell what the customer wants to buy.

We do not have blinders on that say, ‘This is the only way we can do it.’ We look to solve problems and provide a solution, and then we get our reward of selling the right product that provides us with revenue.

Customers ‘vote’ with their dollars every day, and we are always looking for creative solutions that set us apart, add value and makes customers not only want to buy from us but to recommend us and to be and advocate of Prairie City Bakery.

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