Harnessing the Powers of eCommerce — and Pretzels

  •    A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.

Betty Lou Kranz, a former school bus driver who sometimes held three jobs at a time, hadn't planned on becoming an entrepreneur. She always liked making sweets, though, and always had a creative side.

After her husband died more than a decade ago and her then-employer contracted out its transportation jobs, she turned her sweets-making hobby into a full-fledged business, transforming herself in her 60s into the CEO of the Pretzel Princess.

Kranz, 71, makes and packages her customized, chocolate-covered pretzels in a small kitchen on her property and sells them from her Weebly website, at chocolate and holiday fairs and from a Main Street storefront in the little Hudson Valley town of Port Jervis, New York, where she lives.

“I like the creative side of the sweets department," says Kranz, who also offers her products wholesale. When tasting one of her treats brings a smile to a customer's face, she says, "it makes me feel good inside."

Thanks to her own creativity, industriousness and, in part, to her eCommerce site, Kranz, an outgoing raconteur with a down-to-earth sense of humor, has been able to make a living with her sweets — with a boost from a part-time defensive-driving-instructor job.

“All in all, the business, between the website, the events and the store, we're able to survive," she says.

Kranz's husband, Richard, before he passed away, told her, "'You've got to make a go of this,'" and she has, but it hasn't always been easy.

She took a year off to care for her ailing mother, and spent nearly a year in physical therapy after a tree fell through her house and an injury sustained during repairs left her unable to walk for three months.

“So we've had some little kibotches in between," says Kranz. “But all through it I learned great lessons."

Doing It Herself — With Support

Initially, working on the internet posed problems as well.

When she started the business, she used a troublesome, expensive website that she couldn't fix or control.

“I found that to be extremely upsetting," says Kranz. who recalls having to call New Zealand in the middle of the night for help. “It wasn't a good experience for me."

Eventually she found Weebly's do-it-yourself platform, which allowed her to create and update her own web store without knowing how to code. One day she called a friend; “I told her, 'Don't call me this weekend, I'm building a website,'" she says.

“I was really in shock but in 24 hours, and that's the God's honest truth, my website is up and published," says Kranz. "Every day I went in and tweaked."

She's become a loyal Weebly customer and gotten to know the company's tech support team in Scottsdale, Ariz., on a first-name basis.

“They become part of your family, even if it's your web family," says Kranz, who mentions having talked to tech support twice recently. If Kranz has a problem, the tech support representatives tell her how to rectify it, walking her through the process if necessary.

During her first year on Weebly, which she joined in 2014, Kranz called tech support about three times a day. “I lost the whole site one time, I had no clue, and they're all going, 'Calm down, calm down, we've got it, it's all here.'" Now she calls every once in a while.

“Oh God they know me, yes," she says. “Every one of them are just sweethearts, they're just sweet kids. They're smart and knowledgeable. They're kind, they joke around and they make you feel at ease...It helps to know I'm not perceived as a moron."

To show her appreciation, Kranz sometimes sends packages of pretzels. "They're fighting over the pretzels. We have 24 flavors so they were excited," she says. Tech support has a ping pong table, so she also sent the staff customized Pretzel Princess paddles with the “Proudly powered by Weebly" slogan.

"Every once in a while when I send out pretzels, I'll throw in ping pong balls," she says. “I like the home feel."

Creative Marketing

For someone who says marketing isn't her forte, Kranz, who calls herself "the test case for seniors," has come up with innovative approaches to sell her goods, which include vegan, sugar-free and gluten-free treats.

For Lent, she embraced an idea from her priest to offer an internet coupon code.

"Every year before Easter, many people make a decision to give up something special for 40 days. Maybe they'll give up carbs or coffee or gossiping or never being late. Or maybe instead of giving up something they will add something like volunteering at the hospital or the animal shelter or walking an extra mile a day," her site says.

"So this year I have decided to give you something — 15% off orders placed between 2/14/18 and 3/29/18."

A fan of the personal touch, Kranz tucks notes into boxes bound for pretzel customers. “I don't want to be served by a machine, I want a pulse," she says. “We've lost that in the workplace."

Kranz also is experimenting with combining an old-fashioned advertising medium with her website. After dozing off one day, she woke up with a brainstorm: “I want to be able to advertise up and down the East Coast. I want people in North Carolina to know and Georgia to know."

So she's working with companies that produce advertising placemats for restaurants and having them positioned in carefully researched and selected diners — she sought busy, 24-hour establishments with both local and transient traffic — from Florida to Connecticut. The ads include coupon codes for free extra pretzels, with a different code for each diner so she'll know the order origin.

"I'm trying to see if this works," she says.

Kranz thinks most of her business comes through word of mouth, and says large events shows currently contribute the most to her enterprise. "My best way of advertising is when I go to the shows and we give samples to everyone that walks in the door." One customer placed a $1,000 corporate order after a show.

Making Her Mark

When she's in the "making mode," especially before holidays, she sometimes stays up until midnight in the kitchen, then wakes up at 4 a.m. to resume working.

Kranz, who designed the 9/11 monument on display in Huguenot, NY, also crafted the logo for her own business.

“It's important that people realize that we are never too old," she says. “Everybody's got something in them, this little entrepreneur... People can change their own destiny a little bit. They can make a couple of bucks, they can survive."

“We're here on this Earth, we've got to put our footprint some place," says Kranz.

“Even if its on a small scale you can do it. And with the web anything's possible."