Thursday, July 17, 2008

Your Brownie Connection

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Step into the Brownie Connection store in the historic Farmhouse Village in Gilbert and you think you're back in the early 1900's.

Inhale the sweet aroma of baking brownies coming from the small kitchen and you flash back to your childhood.

Take a look at the company financial reports while you're chewing a brownie and, this time, you move ahead into the modern age of successful corporate economics.

Very successful economics.

Brownie Connection was started as a home business by three generations of mothers. Today it sells its tasty product to more than 30,000 in the Valley, nationally and worldwide via telephone and Internet. But many of its customers are good, old-fashioned walk-ins who hear about it through word-of-mouth.

The business moved in 2001 into a less than 1,000-square-foot home that was built in the 1920s on a former farm between Elliot and Warner roads at 397 S. Gilbert Road. The brownies are baked in a relatively small oven, about 40 at a time.

"Yes, I'd say we've been a steadily successful business," said Amanda Dana, 31, the company's marketing manager and its youngest owner.

"We're a family-owned company, and we have fun working together," said Margo Fees, 51, the main brownie baker and Amanda's mother. Fees has created 17 brownie flavors as well as cupcakes, cookies and other taste treats.

"Here, take a taste," said Cletis Nutting, 83, known as "Granny" and the company's primary packager as she holds a sample brownie close to a visitor. Granny is Fees' mother and Dana's grandmother.

More than 25 percent of Brownie Connection business is with corporations, including Valley Private Mortgage Group of Scottsdale.

"Our clients love their brownies," said Darby Richter, executive assistant for the real estate lending firm.

"Brownie Connection builds a miniature home that is filled with a variety of brownies," Richter said, referring to one of their many brownie gift packages. "We give the brownie-filled home to our clients when we conclude a business agreement."

Fees started baking brownies as a child following her mom's three-pie-a-week routine.

"When men come into our store, they primarily ask about the flavors," said Fees.

The three most popular flavors are Double Trouble (double chocolate), Incredible Turtle (caramel and pecans) and Cream Cheese Swirl. All chocolate is Ghirardelli.

"Women customers are mostly interested in our gifts that come with the brownies. And kids, well, they're hopeful they have earned enough money to pay for a brownie."

Packages range in price from as low as $8 for a box of two brownies to as much as $175 for large packs, including shipping charges.

Walk-in customers can buy a coffee mug containing a coffee stick or packet of chocolate as well as two brownies of their choice for $25.

"Our busiest time of year is during Christmas," said the youngest brownie entrepreneur, whose two sons, Ashton, 10 and Wesston, 7, often run through their family store as the fourth generation of Brownie Connection members.

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