CV #3 McCrea's Candies: No Sweeter Place
COMPANY AT A GLANCE: MCCREA'S CANDIES (pronounced MC-KRAY’s)
Founded: 2010 by Kate & Jason McCrea (wife and husband team) and longtime neighbor, Jim LaFond-Lewis in Hyde Park, MA.
Ownership: 80% Kate and Jason. 10% Jim and 10% employees who worked throughout the early stages of the company.
Mission: To make the best caramels.
Values: While not formalized yet, many of the values are clearly engrained in the culture (more on this later).
Employees: 15 | Revenue: 1.3 million in revenue
Community Matters: McCrea’s partners with a local middle school for their 8th grade internship program. They also run a program to keep Fowl Meadow clean, inviting community members to join while McCrea’s provides the supplies. They also participate as a team in the Neponset River Cleanup each year.
THE FOUNDING STORY
In the midst of the economic downturn, Jason McCrea was laid off from his job. With a background in science, a desire to innovate, and a lot of time on his hands, he started experimenting with caramel. He worked tirelessly for a year to perfect the recipe and once he was finished, Kate and Jason decided to seek some advice from their longtime neighbor and former restaurant owner, Jim. Kate left her job in education, and together, they convinced Jim to come along for the ride —the three of them have been at it since!
LET THE TOUR BEGIN
When I arrived at McCrea’s caramels, I awkwardly asked an employee taking a break outside if I should go around to the back because I didn’t think I was in the right place. Expecting some sort of warehouse, I was surprised to see a very humble, quaint, and residential-looking building. He smiled and shook his head, motioning me to go on in the front.
I walked in and was immediately overwhelmed (and overjoyed!) by the incredible smell of fresh caramel being made. You can see the entire caramel making process the second you walk into the door!
A few moments later, Kate McCrea, Co-Founder and Chief Caramel Visionary, who’s job description is: “keeping the entire company sane and talking to each other, not to mention the outside world”, and Operations Lead, Jim LaFond-Lewis, who’s job description is “makes sure the caramel gets made, packaged and shipped, even though he bears a strong resemblance to a bald Oscar the Grouch,” welcomed me.
I had the opportunity to spend most the day with Kate – learning about the caramel making process, as well as their culture and operations. I also had the chance to meet and speak with 6 of the 15 employees over lunch together. Here are the lessons I learned along the way:
1. Scaling With Purpose
McCrea’s Candies is constantly thinking about scaling intentionally. In the last three years, they have experienced 30% year over year growth. They currently producing 400-600 pounds of caramels per day, which are available in 48 states including Alaska and Hawaii!
It’s a great problem to have, but they have outgrown their space of two years. In fact, they currently have two different locations (the residential-looking building for cooking the caramels and wrapping them) and another location —half a mile away — for shipping and receiving and office space. The plan is to move to a larger space in August for wrapping and packaging and to expand the cooking operations in the residential-looking building. While the location may solve the space issue, they’ll need to purchase more machinery equipment to increase scale; however, they refuse to do so at the expense of quality. For this reason, they’ve decided to hire more employees to cook the caramels and purchase the machinery for the caramel wrapping.
Additionally, something I found fascinating is that as a caramel manufacturing company, they’re committed to operating only 5 days a week for 8 – 12 hours a day and they want to keep it that way! When I asked Kate about this, she said it was because they don’t want to overwork anyone (a shift ends after 8 hours). Maybe you’re wondering like I was, why not just use machinery? Well, Kate brought up the point that as a small team – regardless of whether or not they are the ones operating it, everyone feels responsible for the equipment when it’s running. They’d rather have less production and peace of mind than overwork themselves, which leads me to my next takeaway….
2. It’s Just Candy
I can’t tell you how many times I heard this both from Kate and employees (and in the best way possible). Even though they’re incredibly passionate about making the best caramels in the world – they don’t let themselves sweat the small stuff or forget about the bigger picture. Because of this mindset, employees can make mistakes, own up to them, and fix them. It also creates an environment where employees can be honest about their personal lives and challenges and not feel the pressure to choose between making caramels and attending to an important personal need.. McCrea’s makes it clear that they prioritize their people, because in the end, it’s just candy… and candy should be fun!
3. Leaders Must Walk the Walk
After the tour of the caramel making process (and trying a few of the caramels - FYI the Black Lava Sea Salt is AMAZING) - Kate and I went to grab sandwiches at Tutto’s, a local and well-known Italian deli and sandwich shop. When Kate introduced me to one of the shop owners and told him about this project, he shared some words of wisdom along these lines: Especially in the early stages, a company’s values are essentially the owner’s values. If the owner doesn’t walk the walk and hold themselves accountable to a strong set of values, it’s likely that the employees won’t either, and that can destroy culture.
4. Lunch O’ Clock: The Company that Eats Together, Stays Together
Kate and I arrived just in time to experience “Lunch-O’-Clock” – the official name for when everyone in the office location tries to eat together. On most days, Lunch O’ Clock officially kicks off at 11:30am due to a compromise between some early and late eaters. Afterwards, they take a two mile walk (twice around the building) to move their bodies and chat about personal and professional life. Diane, the Marketing Director, (pictured on the first chair on the right)) mentioned that nine times out of ten it leads to an innovative idea for the company.
5. A Place Where You Can Be You
At McCrea’s, it’s clear that they’re building an environment where people feel comfortable showing up as themselves and this starts with the founders. If you look closely, you can see in the photo that Jason McCrea (Co-Founder and Chief Caramel Scientist) doesn’t like to wear shoes in his office, so he doesn’t. Kate is open and honest with her team about being an introvert and because the team knows this, they support her when she’s clearly outside of her comfort zone. Jim (the Operations Director, who bears a resemblance to Oscar the Grouch) is a poet and is known to randomly give pronunciation lessons of challenging words over the PA system.
As I hope you can see, this is a team of genuine people who truly care about one another. While McCrea’s may not have many formalized culture systems just yet, the culture is defined by the values of the people who work there together, who – without a doubt –will remain top of mind as the company scales with purpose.