The Margaret Rudkin Lessons

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All in all, Margaret Rudkin was having a wonderful life. She grew up on Long Island, the oldest child in a second-generation Irish family. After working for a bank, she took a job at a brokerage where she met her husband. They moved to a splendid farm in Southern Connecticut, where Margaret set about raising their three children.

The youngest, Mark, had asthma and food allergies. The doctors didn’t seem like they could do much for him. Margaret thought a change in diet might help. Part of that diet would be bread that was different from the sliced white bread everyone else ate.

She dug out her grandmother’s bread recipe and set about learning to bake bread. She described her first effort as “hard as a rock and about one inch high.” After several trials, she got it right. After several more, she produced tasty, whole grain bread.

Margaret Rudkin Lesson Nr 1: You can learn almost anything if you’re willing to keep trying and improving.

Mark got better. Soon his doctor was “prescribing” the bread to other patients. Friends asked if they could buy some.

Margaret Rudkin Lesson Nr 2: Sometimes opportunity doesn’t just knock, it kicks down the door and yells at you.

Margaret went to her local grocer and asked him to carry her bread. He was hesitant. After all, Margaret was “just a housewife.” Besides, she wanted twenty-five cents a loaf when most bread cost ten cents a loaf. Margaret took out some bread and buttered it with the grocer’s butter. The grocer and all his helpers asked for seconds. They also agreed to carry the bread.

Margaret Rudkin Lesson nr 3: The best way to sell a high-quality product or service is to let people experience it.

That became a standard sales tactic. When Margaret took the train to Manhattan and called on Charles and Company, Specialty Grocers she took bread and butter with her. She convinced them to carry her bread by giving them some to eat.

Margaret Rudkin Lesson Nr 4: When an improvisation works, consider turning it into a practice.

Soon Margaret’s husband, Henry, was taking loaves of bread with him on the train to New York City and paying a redcap to deliver them to customers before heading downtown to his brokerage. More and more stores wanted the bread because their customers came in asking for it.

Margaret Rudkin Lesson Nr 5: There is no better advertising than a great product.

The business outgrew the farmhouse kitchen and then a local building. Within three years bread-making was mostly automated in a new, modern bakery. I say mostly because Margaret demanded that workers knead the bread by hand, which she thought was one key to a great product.

The company grew at an average rate of more than fifty percent per year for more than two decades. Along the way, Margaret added other products to that original bread. One of the best-known was a goldfish-shaped cracker that she discovered in Switzerland and licensed to produce in America. There’s a package sitting in our pantry as I write this.

That may give you a clue that the name of Margaret’s home and the name of her company were both Pepperidge Farm.

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