Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
On today’s show, Liz talks to Geraldine Keogh, the Bien Lady. Geraldine is in the chocolate business, but she didn’t start in that business—nor in food at all. As a young mom, Geraldine ran a preschool primarily so she had a place for her own kids. After she grew and sold that business, she teamed up with local friends as part of a dessert catering business.
Within a year, she was running the business with her daughter and looking for ways to expand. They started to produce chocolate truffle centerpieces referred to as Biens Chocolate Centerpieces—a big hit among her local customers. But, as Geraldine describes it, both she and her daughter have ADD and the ideas on what to do with Biens just kept growing.
Today, Geraldine and her daughter have built a national dropship business for Biens, as well as continuing their local work with the Dessert Ladies. And she’s not done yet with her expansion plans. If you’ve ever thought about running your own business, you will love Geraldine’s story of determination and ambition.
2:38 Growing up in Ireland and then coming to the US
3:14 Running a daycare
4:08 Founding Dessert Ladies
6:13 Her big break at the Super Bowl
10:23 The origin of Biens
15:28 How not to break an egg, or a chocolate centerpiece
18:53 Her advice for small business owners
22:46 Taking a leap of faith to expand during the pandemic
25:04 Learning to dropship
28:34 Government help for small businesses
If you’re hungry for chocolate after listening to this episode, check out Biens Chocolate Centerpieces. If you want to know more about Geraldine, check out her LinkedIn here.
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:06):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:21):
Hey everyone and welcome to Third Act. On today’s show, I talk with Geraldine Keogh, the Bien lady. Oh my goodness, what a story Geraldine has to tell. And fair warning: you might be hungry listening to this, because Geraldine is in the chocolate business. But she didn’t start in that business nor in food at all.
Liz Tinkham (00:37):
As a young mom, Geraldine ran a preschool, primarily so that she had a place for her own kids. After that business grew and she sold it, she teamed up with local friends as part of a dessert catering business. Within a year, she was running the business with her daughter and looking for ways to expand. They started to produce chocolate truffle center pieces referred to as Biens chocolate centerpieces. And they were a big hit among her local customers. But as Geraldine describes, both she and her daughter have ADD and the ideas on what to do with Biens just kept pn growing. Today, Geraldine and her daughter have built a national drop ship business for Biens, as well as continuing their local work with the Dessert Ladies. And she’s not done yet with her expansion plans. If you’ve ever thought about running your own business, you will love Geraldine’s story of determination and ambition.
Liz Tinkham (01:32):
Geraldine. Thank you so much for coming on this show. Where do we find you today?
Geraldine Keogh (01:36):
Calling in today from New Jersey.
Liz Tinkham (01:38):
Oh, what part?
Geraldine Keogh (01:39):
I’m in Denville at my manufacturing plant. And it is a chilly 29 degrees today.
Liz Tinkham (01:46):
Yeah, the east coast still cold, even though it’s the end of March. It’s funny. I was just looking at your Biens chocolate centerpieces. And speaking of your manufacturing plants, your Easter candies are unbelievable. Do you come up with the designs or how does that work?
Geraldine Keogh (02:00):
It’s a collaboration between myself and Lindsay, my business partner who actually happens to be my daughter as well, of whom I’m very proud. She is an amazing person to work with and we just feed off each other in terms of creativity. One person has an idea and somebody else enhances it or comes up at something totally different. And it’s, the best part of our job is a creative process of coming up with ideas.
Liz Tinkham (02:27):
Beautiful. And we’ll come back to talking a little bit about those, but I know you weren’t always making chocolate and your accent might give you away that you’re not originally from the United States. So where did you grow up and how did you end up in the United States?
Geraldine Keogh (02:38):
I grew up in Dublin, Ireland back in the 70s, 80s. Always the US was this beacon, a great place to go. We loved everything about the US that we would see on the TVs. So I moved here in 1985 with my husband and my one year old on the condition that we would be here for a couple of years while he was just working for a US based company. And that was 1985, a long time ago. And we are still here.
Liz Tinkham (03:09):
So you had a daycare business at one point that you sold. How did you get into that business?
Geraldine Keogh (03:14):
Actually, that was a funny story. When I moved here, came to the US, my mom made me guarantee that I would not put my son with anybody that I didn’t know. So I started a home daycare initially just to keep myself busy and extra income. And then that morphed into a full daycare center style business. And that’s how I kind of got into what I enjoyed being around other people, I enjoy their children. And we went on to have that career for about 15 years until my own kids got too old for me to be working till eight o’clock at night and needed to be supervised a little in the afternoon after they came home from school. So my husband and I decided that it was time to retire and which I did and… But I missed it a lot. I must admit. I missed the interaction with the families and the children.
Liz Tinkham (04:05):
So how did you meet and find the Dessert Ladies?
Geraldine Keogh (04:08):
Again, just, friends play such an important part of your life. And some of my friends were doing small chocolate gifts for businesses and friends and family, and they weren’t really going anywhere with it. They were struggling to find their feet and marketing has always been one of my passions. And I said, I jumped in. At the time I wasn’t working. I was volunteering a lot. And raising money for charities was one of my favorite things to do. So I said I would help them initially get on their feet and expand the business. And within six months to a year, one had dropped out and the other one stayed involved and we founded the Dessert Ladies with my daughter, Lindsay.
Liz Tinkham (04:48):
And so you become the CEO. So there’s sort of a theme here, you get going and then all of a sudden it sort of takes off. Because you quickly become the CEO of the business and it really starts to expand. So what did you see and how did you get that to happen?
Geraldine Keogh (05:01):
We had a small vision to begin with. It was 2009, the economy had just kind of cratered. And we saw an opportunity for a small business to be able to retain a client by sending them a gift that had a personalization to it. And with Lindsay’s coming into the company, she brought with her the ability to be able to add edible images to a lot of our chocolate products. So people could add logos and messaging. And that became a huge opportunity for us. But again, I didn’t want to stay and just do something small. We had a vision from the get go that we would be the best in the business, and we also wanted to expand our product offerings to all of our clients.
Geraldine Keogh (05:46):
So we started adding every dessert imaginable. Our theme was, it’s small bites, single serving dessert. Enjoy it, have it taste as good as it looks and then move on from the guilt. So we kind of rallied around that theme and then made presentation boxes for our clients that they could give to somebody for birthdays, milestone events, and then at the holidays. So it kind of grew from there.
Geraldine Keogh (06:13):
But our desserts started getting a lot of attention. And in 2014 we opened a commercial kitchen and a store in our current location in Sterling in 2012, September. And then in the middle of 2013, we were approached to pitch to the NFL that was coming to New Jersey, the following year with the Super Bowl. And we were asked, would we like to get involved in that process?
Geraldine Keogh (06:39):
So that turned out to be a seventh month tryout, so to speak. And we would go back every couple of weeks with new dessert offerings. And I think we pretty much gave them our whole repertoire over that seven months. And they seemed to enjoy sitting around eating them, but we were quite okay with that, but it was a great team and they were planning this huge tailgate party that is customary on the afternoon of the Super Bowl. The two to six hour before the game gets going. So we were lucky to be awarded the contract for that, and then got elevated to the VIP room with all of the owners and celebrities, which was unbelievable experience for us. 11,000 people, we’re a small company, we’re thinking, how are we going to make this happen?
Geraldine Keogh (07:27):
But fortunately they asked, they gave us a great array of dessert offerings to bring in with us. So we rallied all the other small bakeries around New Jersey area and anybody who had a specialty in Italian bakeries or Portuguese or whatever, it was on the menu. And we went to them for their expertise and they made those small products and we just collated everything together and then presented on the day. So it was actually a big community effort, but it was amazing for us to be able to pull this off. And it really did test our mettle as to how we were going to be as future business owners. And it gave us an idea about scale, which we hadn’t really anticipated up until then. So it was a heck of an opportunity and it was just a great thing.
Liz Tinkham (08:17):
So how many pieces of dessert did you deliver that day?
Geraldine Keogh (08:21):
It had to be 24,000.
Liz Tinkham (08:24):
Oh my goodness. And how big had the biggest order prior to that been? Do you remember?
Geraldine Keogh (08:30):
Actually, that weekend we had a conflict. One of our clients was a hospital in Pennsylvania and they were looking for 3000 personalized cookies, sugar cookies. And under normal circumstances, a 3000 piece order would be huge. And the fact that it happened the same weekend was just enough to test us completely.
Geraldine Keogh (08:51):
But we were able to complete both. So getting the size of this contract and the scope of it was a big deal. And it was a lot, but we got it done and we delivered and we enjoyed the entire process from start to end. It was truly transformational for us.
Liz Tinkham (09:09):
Do you have any background in cooking, catering, any of that at this point?
Geraldine Keogh (09:15):
Other than being something that we did as Irish, English dessert is a big part of our meal. And I grew up in a household of bakers, some classically trained. And I just, I was actually the worst of a lot of them, believe it or not. Everybody groaned when it was my time, but I could bake. The one thing I learned from young was that I could bake. Not a great decorator, but then I started to look around and I saw incredible talent out there. So we put out advertisements and we hired some incredibly talented people that are still with us to take on the decorating part of the bakery business. And we make a combination of good quality, best ingredient bakery items as well as superb talent in terms of creativity and design and execution of no matter what it is, whether it’s a high profile cake, a big, something huge or it’s somebody’s cake for their relative’s birthday, and there’s six or eight of them. Everyone is equally as important.
Liz Tinkham (10:23):
How did the idea of Biens chocolate centerpieces, how’d you come up with that idea?
Geraldine Keogh (10:27):
We always are looking to expand our product range because people get bored with things or they expect something new and different from you. So we had come up with this truffle and we didn’t have a name for it. They were just cake balls. So we were said, my daughter was like, “What are we going to call these things?” So we love the idea of a one word name, like Uber and Mower and things like that. So we came up with the whole idea-
Liz Tinkham (10:51):
Uber for chocolate, right?
Geraldine Keogh (10:52):
Yeah. We came up the whole idea of… She said, “It’s not a bonbon, but it’s as good as.” And she said, “Bien is good in French. And it’s good in Spanish, let’s just call them Biens.” So we started calling the Biens ourselves, and I can’t tell you the thrill we got when people would come into our store and say, “We want those Biens things.” And we were like, just the fact that they started calling them by the name that we had identified them with was just thrilling to us. But we were, again, creativity pushing the boundaries. We were selling boxes of them. And that was great, but I said, we can do better. So I came up with this idea one afternoon of putting them on a ball. And I found these pieces of a turkey that you would put it in a pumpkin.
Geraldine Keogh (11:41):
So it would make a pumpkin look like a Turkey. And I put this together and I turned it around to Lindsay and I said, “What do you think?” There was 50 of the Biens on this ball, and she said, “That’s genius.” So we started selling them. And then we also put them on trees for Christmas, a cone shape so that we made a tree out of it for Christmas. And then she would personalize the headers for like, “The Smith family wish you the best holiday wishes,” and, or it was engagement parties and things like that. So they started to get very popular like that. And it meant that we could sell higher quantities of them because our trees were anything from a 30 piece little tree to a hundred piece, large thing, very large thing.
Geraldine Keogh (12:22):
And then we had these characters. So we said, and we did that for about a year and a half, two years. And after the Super Bowl explosion, and we were happy with the progress we were making, but we realized that we couldn’t go any further with it, that we couldn’t ship them. We tried, it was a disaster. And, these things were stuck on a styrofoam ball with toothpicks, and obviously we deliver them. But so we were restricted to a very small catch of an area. In the meantime, we’re doing boxes of desserts under contract with a Century 21 and ERA realtors. And we had to, what we would do is take a chocolate covered Oreo, for instance. And then we would print on a box of six, the house that an agent wanted to sell, and they would take them to their clients and pitch them as why they were the best agent and how they could market using chocolate as well as everything else.
Geraldine Keogh (13:18):
So we got invited to attend some of the national conferences around the country in DC and Vegas and the like, and we brought our Biens on the road with us, because we really wanted to make sure that it just wasn’t a local phenomenon and that other people around the country like them equally as much as we did. So we would use them as samples at these conferences. And we would have a line every morning waiting for us. People going, “Can I have some of those things?” So we knew we were onto something good. So we then dug down and said, what, how do we scale this? How do we grow this so that we can ship these nationwide? And at the time I had applied for a… I’m all about education with business.
Geraldine Keogh (13:57):
You keep learning all the time. So I applied for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program and got accepted. It’s a great program. It’s free to their participants once you’re you’re selected. And it was a great opportunity, but they challenged me on the very first day and said, “What are you here for? And what are you going to do with this education that’s going to help you scale and really grow your company to a different level?” And I said, “My idea is if I can figure something out to be able to scale this product and ship it, then that’s my growth opportunity in this.”
Geraldine Keogh (14:37):
So Lindsay and I sat with an engineer and we said, “This is what we want our end product to look like.” We had drawn it and scaled it. And then so we worked backwards. And then we worked with this R&D for about 18 months coming up with the right component to be able to bring the packaging that is now what we have today with Biens, for the tower and the sphere shapes. And then we came up with more characters and more ideas, and that’s where Biens was launched out of.
Liz Tinkham (15:10):
Did they also help you figure out how you could ship those appropriately as well?
Geraldine Keogh (15:14):
We did, that was all on us. We had to do… they just gave us the support in order to think bigger, think greater, just expand our horizons, but we had to figure out how to ship them.
Geraldine Keogh (15:28):
So when I grew up in Ireland, we had a company that made Easter eggs and they always had this packaging that allowed them to ship the eggs all over the country and keep them intact, from getting broken. The shell of an Easter egg is very thin. And if it works for them, it could work for them. So that was kind of my inspiration as to how. Once we able saw what the forms would look like, and then with all the spikes on them that we attached the Biens to, and we had to change them millimeter by millimeter, just to make sure that we had the projection right of the spike so that it would stay on in transit. But this piece that coming together, this what we call our final wrap, came together and it hooked and it kept everything secure. And we had great fun the first couple of months drop kicking them around the facility. We literally dropped-
Liz Tinkham (16:19):
To make sure they don’t break?
Geraldine Keogh (16:21):
To make sure that they didn’t break and the things didn’t fall off. And then we put them in. We also wanted to be able to have it in an unboxing experience so that when you got this gift, given how the stature of it and how well they looked, we wanted the shipping box to be equally as creative. So we went with a two inch styrofoam insert so that we could ship them all over the country with, and keep them, intact and well preserved.
Geraldine Keogh (16:47):
So we just kind of looked at all elements of the process. We had this product and they were thinking, “Okay, how do we stop anybody replicating this quickly?” So we went through the patent process pretty quickly, got that started, hired an extraordinarily good firm. It’s not something I think you can ever skimp on. It’s not something you can really do yourself. We did not have the expertise or the bandwidth to do that at all. So we hired an excellent company to represent us, and we started the process. And once we got so far into the process that we were… The first part of it was actually finding out did anything like this already exist. So the search part of the patent process is so-
Liz Tinkham (17:33):
Prior art, right?
Geraldine Keogh (17:34):
Yeah. And they went all the way back to 1904 to France through a, it is something that was close, but not close enough. And they decided that, yes, we were unique enough to warrant the process of applying for utility patents and design patents. So we put in five. We have three already, they’ve all been approved and we have three completely finished and published.
Geraldine Keogh (18:03):
So we were very excited about that print, to be inventors as well was kind of cute. It was a buzz, all of a sudden they wrote to us and said, “Dear inventor.” And we were like, “Oh, that’s us,” so that’s pretty cool. So to add that to our repertoire. So the whole process was a great learning experience and enjoyable, a little fraught with anxiety about, would anybody get to it before we had it protected and that sort of stuff. But we got there and we got it done. And like I said, then we trademark names and all of that good stuff and character names. And that’s kind of where we are right now.
Liz Tinkham (18:53):
This story of building a small business basically from an idea is amazing. And I know it’s growing by leaps and bounds and we’ll come to that, but we have listeners who in their third act want to launch small businesses. So what would be sort of the top, say one to three pieces of advice you might give someone who’s listening and thinking about doing something similar.
Geraldine Keogh (19:11):
I’d say, first of all, it’s possible. That’s the… As crazy as that sounds, it’s possible. I recommend to people, imagine your end result and then work back and itemize the steps, and then break them off into pieces and see who can you get to help you with this. It helps to have somebody, and I’m lucky in this regard to have somebody be able to run your ideas against, that will give you honest feedback, for everything you get right, you’re going to get something wrong. And just going the distance and believing that you can do it. Even if it seems unreasonable, there are people out there that can help you with all elements of it.
Geraldine Keogh (19:55):
And that’s what networking does. Just networking with people, asking questions, not having to all the answers up front, but finding out, and doing your due diligence, is this something that some people are going to want? Are they prepared to pay for it? And how much resources do I have to be able to apply to this? I think there might be three, but my first were die hard, do it, do it, do it, people.
Liz Tinkham (20:23):
No, that’s great advice. So you still have the two businesses, Biens and Dessert Ladies?
Geraldine Keogh (20:28):
Yeah, we do.
Liz Tinkham (20:29):
And where are you headed with both?
Geraldine Keogh (20:31):
With Dessert Ladies… actually I’ll go with Biens first, because that’s possibly easier because that’s got a very clear path. The Biens, I need to grow this as quickly as I can. And as solidly as I can. When we started the Dessert Ladies, it was very much a mom and pop type business. And we were okay with that. We knew that it’s impossible to scale that type of business. We did look at franchising it, but it wasn’t the business model we thought made the most sense to us. But we also enjoy the creativity of it. And we do a lot of dessert bars at the Dessert Ladies and signature cakes and things like that. And we do love that and we realize that it does have limitations on it based on geography for the most part, but we do like that business and we’re always looking to make that better and interesting, as one has developed, it’s now opened an incredible opportunity for the Dessert Ladies, which I’ll get to in a second.
Geraldine Keogh (21:30):
So the Biens, we learned a lot along the way from mistakes that we made and successes that we had with Dessert Ladies, as to how to build a business that has scalability and getting ourselves into the flow process of being able to scale a business. And I don’t think we would be where we are with Biens right now, if we hadn’t had our teeth cut on Dessert Ladies. So it’s incredibly valuable to us in that regard.
Geraldine Keogh (22:05):
But with the Biens, we have these product, we have a great product range. We have this… Basically we added other products to the Biens range, like the chocolate covered pretzels, all of the other things that we do, so that we would be able to offer just not a one dimensional product to our customers.
Geraldine Keogh (22:25):
And again, the customization for our corporate customers is huge. So as long as we’re able to offer that on different types of products, like our chocolate covered Oreos or even Graham crackers or whatever it is, we feel like we can answer a lot of the pain points that our corporate customers have when they’re gifting and they’re looking to make a memorable gift exchange with somebody.
Geraldine Keogh (22:46):
So we grew this with the intention of us being able to scale it. And in the middle of the pandemic, actually my husband thought I was nuts, we found the best facility ever in this manufacturing plant that had been recently vacated and it was spotless, clean. It was perfect for food preparation, which isn’t easy to find. It had a warehouse component to it. And it was on one level and it just spoke to us. So we said, “We’re going to do this.” And you know, everybody else is hanging on their thread and we’re going the opposite direction. We’re going to-
Liz Tinkham (23:23):
You’re expanding during the pandemic.
Geraldine Keogh (23:24):
In the pandemic, June of the pandemic.
Liz Tinkham (23:26):
Geraldine Keogh (23:27):
Yeah, exactly. So we took this facility, we signed the lease and we took possession of the facility on June 1st. On June 4th, we went into a virtual trade show for a business to business, for a B2B thing. And we had a booth built for us and we went into this trade show. And the first day, this guy comes into our booth and says, “I’m a buyer with 800-Flowers.” He said, “And I’m wires. I’m not your buyer,” he said. “I think the buyer for the Simply Chocolate website we’re under 800-Flowers umbrella would be very interested in talking to you. We love what you offer.” So we said, “Great.” So he introduced us. And that was the start of something amazing. We hadn’t been as aware of the dropship model, as before that. And we just thought we would just sell it on our own website.
Geraldine Keogh (24:14):
But all of a sudden this opened up a revenue stream for us, that we would be able to apply to see these big retailers and go on their websites and then dropship directly from us so the product is not sitting around in their warehouse and we have control over the end product getting to the customer, which was vitally important to us. So because we can attest to quality and longevity and all of that good stuff.
Geraldine Keogh (24:40):
So we went down this road with Biens of expanding out our ability to dropship. So we started with 800-Flowers, the onboarding process for that, it was one to cut our teeth on. Because if anything went wrong with it, we experienced it. But we learned a lot and it was slow, painfully slow. But in the meantime we kind of got like, “Okay, what else can we do?”
Geraldine Keogh (25:04):
And we found a company that represents a lot of the big retailers, Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor, Kroger’s in the south. And we went to work with them and we were able to get on those platforms and expand at our product offerings for the 20, 21 holiday season. So we learned a lot from this process. It sounds like it comes together quickly, but there was weeks and months in between where we were frustrated and we were, like I said, it all doesn’t go smoothly. And some days you just throw up your hands, but you’re in it to win it. So you find it another way to go. You pivot.
Liz Tinkham (25:45):
When you say “We,” how many people are you talking? How many people do you have working at Biens?
Geraldine Keogh (25:49):
At Biens, we have six at Biens right now. Six full time people at Biens right now. And we are looking to actually have another seventh person joining us next Monday in, we hired a sales director, who’s starting on Monday. And then we have four other positions open right now. So we’re hoping to grow to 11 or 12 people by the middle of June.
Liz Tinkham (26:10):
Now I’m getting the sense that, this isn’t a third act. This is like third, fourth, fifth. You’re just going to keep going. Where do you get your drive? I mean, it seems like everything you’ve talked about, you touch it, you think about it, you work on it. And then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, let’s just keep expanding this and making it bigger.” I mean, not everybody does that. So how does that happen for you?
Geraldine Keogh (26:29):
I guess it comes down to the end results. The big picture that I have at the end of this journey is I know what it’s going to look like. I know where the steps are that I want to get to. And what drives us is getting to that vision of what we have for this company of being a national brand and then potentially either an IPO or selling it, who knows. We’ve approached already with an offer to buy us out, but we’re not there yet. We’re not one with it yet at all. So that kind of is the motivation to keep going and keep growing and… But I’m also as a third act person, aware of the clock and the timing.
Geraldine Keogh (27:15):
And that’s why I put such an effort into doing this as quickly as possible and growing this because my husband retired early and he is doing things that make him happy right now. He’s different volunteer things that he does. And he helps us out with the company. He was deputy auditor at Prudential Financial before he finished his career there. He has a wealth of business knowledge, and he’s been invaluable to us. He definitely keeps us sane and keeps us on the right track from doing anything too risky. So he’s been great.
Geraldine Keogh (27:52):
But I’m also watching the clock as well. I want to be able to… I have four beautiful grandchildren. I love spending the time with them and I prioritize that, but there’s only so much time to go around. And this right now is a big focus for Lindsay and I to grow this as big and as wide as we can to make it super successful.
Liz Tinkham (28:20):
Being a small business owner and when we were prepping, we were talking a little bit about some of the programs that the government runs to support small businesses. Because I also dabble in it a little bit only from the teaching perspective at the University of Washington.
Liz Tinkham (28:34):
But what have you found in terms of, particularly during the pandemic, have you found the federal and state government to be supportive of small businesses, particularly women owned small businesses, and what more, if you were running the small business administration, what more would you want them to do?
Geraldine Keogh (28:51):
I think that it quite honestly, when we went into the pandemic to begin with, the first thing I said to my staff was, we had no idea what kind of help we were going to get. We didn’t know how long this was going to last. But I said, “We will take care of you. Your employment’s not going to change. You won’t be working as much, but you’ll get paid the same as what you did and we’ll work it out down the road.” And I was comfortable enough that I was going to be able to honor that for a while. I didn’t know how long it was going to go, but then the government got to work and they came up with all of a sudden the SBA and the small business administration is thrusted into the forefront of small business.
Geraldine Keogh (29:28):
They’d always been there with great programs. And I was very familiar with them because they offer a program in every state that is a great resource for every small business owner out there. It’s called the emerging leaders program, and every state has one and you apply to it. And it’s pretty much a small MBA program, high level business instruction for you to be able to scale your business with the idea being employment. That you grow so you can employ more people locally. And I was fortunate that after finishing the Goldman Sachs program in 2018, I went on to do one at my local, Rutgers University had a business program right after that. I did that one. And then the SBA came about in 2019. So I learned on lot about the inner workings at the SBA through this emerging leaders program.
Geraldine Keogh (30:25):
So I felt they would be a good resource. Also, we set up networking groups amongst all the small business owners that I knew and said, “If anybody hears of anything, grants, anything out there, share it and put it on a forum and we’ll all get it out to everybody, because yes we are competing with each other, for these grants, but you’re going to get one. I’m going to get something else. And what goes around will come around for all of us if we all prop each other up.” And that was a huge part of the survival process of the early pandemic weeks.
Geraldine Keogh (31:00):
The SBA were tremendous. They were incredible. The first thing came out was the PPP. Knowing that we had help paying our payroll was the biggest thing, because that for a lot of small businesses is one of the biggest expenses that you have.
Geraldine Keogh (31:14):
And knowing that we had initially it was for eight weeks and I’m thinking eight weeks isn’t going to do it by the looks of where this pandemic is going. Through the Goldman Sachs program, they came and said, “What do you guys need?” And immediately all of us jumped on this and said, “We need this PPP to be extended.” So they said, “How many weeks?” There was anything from 12 to 24. So they went out and they lobbied with all of the legislators that was involved in this for 24 weeks on the PPP, forgiveness on the PPP.
Geraldine Keogh (31:48):
And they got it for us. They were large part of being able to, our voices were heard and I got very involved with calling my local legislators. I hadn’t talked to them much before. I never really felt they were part of the process, but all of a sudden they were making votes and decisions on what kind of aid that we would get from the federal government. So it made sense to talk to them. So we got them involved and I spoke to them regularly about the progress and our fears and just the struggles that we were having. And then they came up with the EIDL program, the-
Liz Tinkham (32:23):
Yeah, EIDL, right?
Geraldine Keogh (32:24):
EIDL, which was great. And then, so that kind of gave us, we had the PPP in place, for the Dessert Ladies at least, it was a big like load off. But then the EIDL gave us a peace of mind and it gave us a chance to breathe because we had this sitting in the back of the PPP. So I said, when you’re looking at the rest of the year and contracts are getting canceled and you still have all the overhead, at least there is money there to cover it without completely destroying personal savings and all the rest of it.
Geraldine Keogh (32:57):
And it also gave us the platform to be able to think about expanding, what can we do with this opportunity? But again, these programs were a lifeline for a lot of us and it gave us the impetus to say, we can survive this and we can keep going. And as we needed it, they added a second round of PPP and they opened up the bands on the EIDL for us to be able to go back and reapply for more. And that in 2021, both of those things were life saving.
Liz Tinkham (33:31):
Has your business started, it’s coming out, I assume out of the pandemic?
Geraldine Keogh (33:34):
Yes. Yeah, no question, no question. It started to doing more in person things and just be able to get back to trade shows. For instance, this year we have several lined up for Biens. We got certified during the pandemic for women as a women owned business, which is, and that network in the WENC is incredible for all business owners. Incredible.
Geraldine Keogh (33:57):
And now we’re looking at several different ways where we’re going to grow Biens, our new hire, Larry is next week, I’m looking forward to have him come in and take over the sales process and help us grow in that regard. And I just feel there’s so much territory out there that we can conquer once we have a plan and I’m super excited about it. I’m thrilled.
Liz Tinkham (34:19):
I can tell. Well, listen, I almost named this podcast, “I’m not done yet.” What aren’t you done with yet?
Geraldine Keogh (34:25):
I don’t think I’m ever going to be done because I always feel there’s so much to do and staying active and… just, it invigorates your brain and it keeps you, I mean, that keeps you going. It keeps you, I’m not done at all on any front quite honestly. I know, no matter what it is, I’m not done traveling. I’ve had many canceled trips that I’ve had that I’ve really been sad over, but I’m not done with growing this business and just getting out and talking about it. I feel I wish there was more we could do to support each other.
Geraldine Keogh (35:00):
You asked me a question about what can the government do for us as business owners, especially women or any diverse business owners, access to capital. Fair access to capital is a huge hurdle that we still fight against. And there are a lot of predatory people out there that you just have to ignore. Best advice, stay away from them. And get creative. But if you have a good business plan and you have good credit, and you’ve done your best with your business to keep that in, you will find the funding that you need, but you have to dig. You have to do that. And you have to network. Network is the golden rule of small business.
Liz Tinkham (35:41):
Geraldine, thank you so much for being on the show. In addition to publishing where we can find Biens, the chocolate centerpieces, where else can people find you online?
Geraldine Keogh (35:48):
You can find us at a lot of the larger retailers and Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor. You can find us on our own website. Through Shopify, we have, Biens is available through the Dessert Ladies. dessertladies.com or bienscc.com.
Liz Tinkham (36:03):
And what about you? You’re on LinkedIn, right?
Geraldine Keogh (36:04):
I’m on LinkedIn as well. Yes. With both companies.
Liz Tinkham (36:07):
So we can all be inspired by you. So thank you so much and good luck with the growth of the business.
Geraldine Keogh (36:12):
Thank you so much Liz, for having me on the podcast today.
Liz Tinkham (36:17):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.