Heidi, Our Gift Guru…

Madame Chocolat’s Blog:

My Beloved Chocophiles,

No, we are not open, yet – please continue to be patient, my friends – update to come!

Now that Heidi, PL&C’s Gift Guru, has put herself out there and added to our PL&C blog with her “From Tea to Science… and now Chocolate, what a perfect Trifecta..” entry, I would like to give her a formal introduction to all of you.

I met Heidi Lewis almost twenty years ago when she was the buyer and manager for the quaint little tea shop and emporium at Celestial Seasonings. Heidi and Steve Spencer, the guest relations manager, hired me as the first “official” tour guide because business had grown so much so to validate such a position. I mentiond in an earlier blog how I wanted the tour guide position at the local tea company in the hopes of working my way up and into the amazing art department there. I was, after all, a graphic designer. Ah, but alas! A chatterbox like myself preferred being the center of attention to the confines of a cubicle.

We made quite a team together! In the beginning, even though there was a distinction between the tour program and the tea shop, we all did tours and sold goods from the shop – such multi-tasketeers! We were so busy and despite what our official titles were, we all did whatever it took to ensure a fabulous experience for each and every visitor. Those were amazing times and within a very short period of time, we grew the tours from 10-15 people a day to several hundred a day. Those higher up in the company (Mo) began to take notice when we became a valuable profit center. The marketing department loved us because we were creating immeasurable brand loyalty. Guests who bought a box of tea and a novelty from that shop went on to become Celestial Seasoning brand ambassadors.

As revenue grew and the buying budget for the shop was increased, Heidi began sourcing all kinds of unique gifts and one-of-a-kind novelties related to tea and tea products. I don’t know if any of you have seen the “tea-bag” squeezer – a pair of scissor tongs with flat plates to squeeze the bag – thank Heidi for that. She worked with a vendor to help produce that. She was amazing! She found all kinds of screen printers and embroiderers to create fabulous hats, shirts, jackets, aprons, mugs – you name it. Her passion was sourcing products that were eco-friendly and in line with the company values… and, as an added perk, she knew how to get deals.

She was very devoted to her job and her infectious commitment rubbed off on many of her vendors. Her network of sources was rather impressive. She built strong vendor relationships and many of these people she worked with 20 years ago are still in contact with her today.

I had always admired her fearlessness with a strong sense of self and devotion to purpose. Perhaps, a silly example of this would be this: On her way to an important gift show at the merchandise mart – attendance of these types of shows are critical to keeping buyers up-to-date and competitive in their shop’s offerings – her car had broken down along the Turnpike. She was several months pregnant and she hitched a ride with a big and burly biker (in the traditional sense – not the Boulder sense – no offense!) that dropped her off at the Mart – all in a day’s work. Without incident, she had her car towed and completed her buying and ordering tasks set forth for the day.

I also remember how well she managed the people that directly reported to her in the tea-shop. The only way I can describe it accurately enough is to say she was rather “motherly”. Whether it was a training opportunity or a personnel conflict of some sort, Heidi would always administer compassion first. She would take the time to listen  and understand whatever circumstance was the issue. Her patience with training and the foresight of its application always kept the machine that was this crazy process moving forward. She would remain calm under almost any kind of stress.

In the midst of the daily chaos of this fantastic tour and tea shop adventure, Heidi helped to keep our ship on course. I credit her (and Steve’s) calming nature as the balance we all needed at that time.

Heidi’s ever-charming demeanor and soothing, organized presence are quite precious to me. I chose her for my leadership team because of these qualities – she adds balance and strength where I am weak. Admittedly friends, please don’t be shocked, although you may find me to be charming , I am soooooo not calm, nor am I organized! I am so grateful that Heidi accepted my offer to join our PL&C team! However, she did play hard-to-get, at first…

I first approached Heidi several years ago regarding my chocolate boutique concept. It had been close to 15 years since we had worked at Celestial together, but I knew she was perfect for the position of buyer and retail sales manager at my future shop. At that time, she was working in the non-profit realm up at NCAR and had created a quaint and beautiful gift shop selling all sorts of educational and science-related gifts and novelties. She was very active in the educational outreach and community programs there and could not have been more satisfied with her career. She was applying her tremendous sourcing and buying skills to all-things atmospheric and weather related.

I remember feeling rather foolish when, at our lunch meeting, I pulled from my wallet many photos of wedding and sculpted chocolate cakes to impress and woo her to my chocolate side. Just when I had thought that I had began to “make the sale”, she looked at me with her calming, serene blue eyes and asked me if I had any photos of my children in my wallet, as she hadn’t seen my kids for years. I did not have a single picture of my children in my wallet. I failed my first interview with her. She was very happy and supportive of my endeavor, but she refused my offer.

Now, this next part is going to sound entirely selfish, mea culpa, my friends! Do forgive me…

Heidi called me a little over two years ago to tell me that because of federal budget cuts, her beautiful gift shop and job at NCAR had been eliminated. She was interested in hearing more about my chocolate boutique concept. I hung up the phone and did a wiggly, jiggly happy dance! Can you even imagine? Here Heidi was telling me about her loss and all I could think of was my gain!

How do I know Heidi is a good manager? I worked for her. I watched how she effectively managed others in our small tour and tea-shop team and I experienced, first hand, how she juggled personnel issues. How do I know Heidi is a good purchasing agent? I witnessed some of the most amazing sales growth in such a short amount of time at that little tea-shop and emporium at 5300 Sleepytime Drive!

When we started our discussions of what was to come, she admitted that she did not know a lot about chocolate except that she loved to eat it. I was not concerned because I was not hiring her affinity for chocolate. I could teach her about chocolate and she could apply that knowledge to her innate talent of sourcing unique and one-of-a-kind gifts and novelties.

Many of you may be thinking that a buyer is someone who shops for a living at someone else’s expense. And, well, I suppose that is true. However, what you may not know is that many businesses, such as mine, get into a whole heap of of trouble very quickly when it comes to inventory. As an owner, I may choose to buy and fill my shelves with all sorts of things that appeal to my personal likes and tastes. I may fall into unsuspecting traps of buying quantities in discounts; discounts that wouldn’t do me a stitch of good if you, my guests, do not like or buy the items. I would be tying up huge amounts of operating cash that my business might need elsewhere.

Someone like Heidi can look beyond her personal preferences and purchase items that appeal to many different guests. Also, she has this invisiblenetwork working for her. It may sound like I am describing a superhero and, indeed, I am! Her relationships with her many vendors gives her advantages that I wouldn’t have – they know what Wonder Woman – oooops, I mean Heidi, is looking for. They know she is no push-over and will drive a hard bargain to get the best deals on product and shipping. Gosh forbid they send her a damaged or defective product! That’s when the calm and demure yogini that is Heidi releases the ferocious German Doberman within her – yikes! (I’ve seen it… oooooo! scary!)

At this moment, I am feeling rather sheepish, because I may have talked her into purchasing waaaay too much Michel Cluizel, especially his Orangettes – those delightful confit of candied orange peels dipped in dark chocolate – Chef Cluizel’s are the very best on the market, in my-not-so-humble opinion! I love those – their delicate coating of delicious dark chocolate acts as a protective shield to ensure the safe delivery all the way from France and into your mouth… then when the fruit is exposed to your oral moisture and heat… it melts into a fantastically smooth, chocolate citrus oblivion ! And, and, and I love Michel Cluizel, the chocolatier, and his whole family who run his business now! I have been to his Chocolatrium in northern France admisdt the rolling fields of golden wheat and rapeseed… Ahhhhhhhg! I have no control!  I need Heidi’s cool sensibility to quell my impetuous, fiery, and spontaneous nature!!! And you need Heidi, too, so that PL&C will have more than my chocolate cake and 50,000 Cluizel Orangettes!

BTW, if you have an idea for a unique chocolate gift or are looking for a chocolate something special that you cannot find in our shop, just ask Heidi – she is such a pro!

On a more personal note… There are so many other endearing qualities about Heidi that I would like to share with all of you.  She is the mother of three children and is very close to her family. Her mother, Helga,  lives in a sweet little apartment above her garage.  Helga, is also a very strong, oppinonated German woman and I have a tremendous respect and admiration for her, too – “apples don’t fall far from the tree!” I must admit, Helga scares me a little and I find that I stand up a little more straight in addition to speaking only when spoken to when I am around her.

Heidi also loves music – one of her all-time favorite bands is Yes – in addition to marzipan, Haribo gummie bears and Asbach liqueur filled German chocolates. She is always the last one remaining at a friend’s party and the first to offer a hand to help clean-up (and/or drive you safely home and tuck you in!). Having attended a party of hers, I witnessed first-hand, the longevity of her own friendships.

It is no wonder she has found her calling as a Hatha yogini – she has taught at the Broomfield Rec Center every Tuesday and Thursday evenings for over a decade. She has a devoted following of students, many with special physical needs, that Heidi not only accommodates, but provides tremendous comfort to.

Last year, when I was preparing my business plan and Larry (SCORE banking advisor extraordinaire) reviewed it, he said that it appeared on paper that I was hiring my two best friends. OUCH! That was hard to hear! I was immediately defensive because it felt as if he was accusing me of making emotional, irrational decisions when it came to my business and my money (and he was!).  He really had no idea the years of decision making that went into this decision to hire Heidi (and Genny). He could not have been more wrong – these ladies were never close, buddy, buddy friends of mine – I had only worked with them for the most part… and yet, he could not have been more right. Yes, Larry! I love these people very much! They have becomemy friends! Both Steven Covey and Michael Masterson agree, of the few things in life we can actually control, we can choose the people we wish to be and work with. Right or wrong, I have never been able to separate my head from my heart. To cut one off from the other would surely render me useless… although, it might make me a good banker…? (Sorry, Larry! I just could not resist! Ha!)

When I made the decision to hire my leadership team, I intentionally set out to find people that were strong where I am weak. People that know things that I do not know. People that will be willing and able to grow with me and create a mutually gratifing and educational experience together…

It is such a perk that I love them, too? Perhaps.

Gift Guru, Madame Chocolate, Cocoa Coordinator
Coincidentally, Heidi, Genny and myself are all three mothers – the ultimate multi-tasking, life-long career – to six children between us! Talk about commitment and compassion?!? We are just moon-lighting with this chocolate adventure…

Yup, I am a lucky boss, indeed!

Thank-you for letting me share my friends!

Warmest OO’s & XX’s, Sarah


4 comments on “Heidi, Our Gift Guru…

  1. Hi Sarah, great meeting with you yesterday. I’m writing the story now, and wanted to verify the spelling of the names of Genny Fetherston and Heidi Lewis, which I am basing on your fine blog posts!
    Thanks again,

  2. Great idea! Heidi, this wonderful, what a great business to be in. Cannot wait to come in and stock up on one of my food groups. Congrats!!!

  3. Hi Sarah > love your story and your creativity. Your description of Heidi is right on the mark. She is a wonder of nature. I have admired her since the moment I met her more than 25 years ago. I know why you chose her to join the team and I applaud your wisdom and excellent business sense. Although I have not known you as long as I have Heidi I have already come to appreciate your talent and creativity. I look forward to many jouneys to the land of Peace, Love, & Chocolate in the future. mmmmm

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