University of Louisville College of Business professor Lyle Sussman has made his living teaching business students, co-authoring business-related books and doling out advice, but when his daughter, Annie Harlow, started Hi-Five Doughnuts, she didn’t hit up her dad for any pointers.
“The irony is that Annie never really asked me advice. There were people in this town and people around the U.S. who pay me” for advice, Sussman said, amused. “She never really asked me what she should do, or how she should do it?”
Instead, Sussman said in a phone interview, he’s the one who ended up learning.
Harlow “represents a certain kind of freedom, a certain kind of spirit, a joie de vivre I don’t see in many companies,” he said.
It was the distinct way that Harlow and her business partner, Leslie Wilson, cultivated their thriving doughnut business that inspired Sussman to write “Breaking the Glaze Ceiling: Sweet Lessons for Entrepreneurs, Innovators and Wannabes.” It is the first book Sussman has written alone, but he has co-authored 16 books.
“I am so glad that Leslie and I could be inspiration for him,” Harlow said. “I want this to be his ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’”
Sussman thought Harlow would start a business at some point, but when she told him that she and Wilson planned to open a food truck that sold doughnuts, he thought they were “irrational and crazy,” he said.
“Of all the businesses that Annie might start, she was never a baker. She never even played with mud pies,” he said. “I saw this as a doomed venture.”
But they have provide his instincts in this instance were wrong.
“They are selling more than a ring of fried dough,” he said. “They are selling an experience.”
Harlow and Wilson have built a strong local following through social media, posting pictures of their creations like their glazed doughnut topped with Fruity Pebbles cereal, and through their somewhat twisted sense of humor. (They named their food truck Shelby after the diabetic character who dies in “Steel Magnolias” and call themselves “Ladies of the Morning.”)
They’ve catered weddings and corporate events, and people make an effort to come to where Shelby is parked and are willing to wait in line, Sussman said.
“They see Annie and Leslie as representing freedom and a kind of safe weirdness,” he said.
In his book “Breaking the Glaze Ceiling,” Sussman details 12 business lessons he’s taken away from watching Hi-Five Doughnuts grow, including “Love it and Improve it.”
Look for ways to improve operations or recipes and don’t block out feedback and suggestions from customers, Sussman said. “You really have to love what you do, but you also have to realize that you are going to get defensive if someone doesn’t like it.”
And while college professors including himself teach students and clients to develop business plans, Sussman said he realized that focusing on execution is more crucial. Harlow and Wilson never created a business plan and still don’t have one, he noted.
“The real secret to success isn’t what you say you are going to do as much as what you do,” Sussman said.
“Breaking the Glaze Ceiling,” which Sussman is self-publishing, will be available in the next few weeks on Amazon.com and at the Hi-Five Doughnuts retail store once it opens in Butchertown in mid-December. Sussman said he hopes to get his book in local bookstores as well.