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Laura Gerrard - Sweetmore Bakeries

Laura Gerrard is the Customer Service Manager at Main Street Gourmet, a partner of Sweetmore Bakeries. Laura’s Everyday Hero story starts with an understanding of her place in the broader world, a perspective she’s developed over a lifetime of travel. With her sense of perspective, Laura has an uncanny ability to stay calm under pressure and to know just the right moment to release tension with her notorious sense of humor. This is the story of how Laura achieved her proudest accomplishment: becoming a Manager at Main Street Gourmet.


Sweetmore Bakeries (Chicago, IL) operates three bakeries – Main Street Gourmet, Biscotti Brothers, and Meurer Brothers – delivering stock and custom bakery products to the retail in-store bakery and national restaurant channels. Sweetmore focuses on high quality and innovative products to help customers differentiate their sweet baked goods and improve operations.

Transcript

Introduction

Laura Gerrard: I have this model every day when you get up, you take your vitamins, but you gotta take a cup of laughter with it. And you gotta share that with other people. If you can make their day happy, you give them a laugh. It just makes their day, makes them smile, and it's going to show in your work. There's times in our seasons we get really busy.

You're in there and you're working like long hours sometimes, and you just gotta keep your sense of humor, keep smiling. We're going to get through it. It's every year, it's the same seasons. We're getting to our busy seasons in the fall, and it is what it is, and we just have to be patient with one another and we'll get through it.

We always do.

Anderson Williams: Welcome to Everyday Heroes, a podcast from Shore Capital Partners that highlights the people who are building our companies from the inside, every day, often out of the spotlight. With this series, we wanna pull those heroes out of the shadows. We want to hear their stories, we want to share their stories.

We want to understand what drives them, why they do what they do, how they might inspire and support others to become everyday heroes too.

In this episode, I talk with Laura Gerrard, the Customer Service Manager at Main Street Gourmet, a partner of Sweetmore Bakeries. Laura opened our conversation with such a clear personal perspective and worldview that quite frankly, it caught me off guard.

A Lifetime of Travel

Laura Gerrard: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I had been traveling back and forth to Ohio for about 22 years to visit friends and family and my outreach church was also located in Ohio. With them, I was able to travel to different parts of Africa for missionary trips. I love to travel when I can. Couple of my favorite places I've been to are Switzerland, the Black Forest in Germany, all over, across Canada.

I traveled with my dad, growing up as a child on my summer breaks. Got to see coast to coast. It was beautiful. I think travel is important for people. It opens up your mind. It opens up experiences with people, meeting people from all over the world.

I remember hearing a quote from Mark Twain. He wrote, travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all in one's lifetime. I think he summed it up right there. It opens up a lot of opportunities and doors and meeting people from other parts of the world.

Anderson Williams: So tell me a little bit more about that, Laura. You traveled a lot with your dad. Was it with his work or what drove travel for your dad that gave you that opportunity as a child?

Laura Gerrard: My dad was a long distance truck driver. He moved all over Canada, from coast to coast, moving people the furniture. And because he owned his own truck, we were able to go with him as kids.

My sister and brothers and that were able to go with him across Canada and on our summer breaks he'd take some of us to go with him and sometimes we'd help out, you know, unloading furniture. We learned a lot, but we got to see all the scenery from province to province. It just was a great opportunity.

So that was like the starting of me liking to travel. Dad and I used to watch a lot of documentary shows on TV of Africa. I always thought I'd love to go to Africa someday. And later on in my life I had that opportunity and I got to go to Africa and to do missionary works. I got, that opened up my mind to a lot of gratefulness.

What we have back here, United States and Canada. Just meeting the people like we went into prisons and hospitals and schools out in the street work to help the people there, and sometimes you meet people on your trips and you realize, we're not that much different. You can't just be in the one little part of your world.

I mean, to go out and to have the opportunity to travel, I just think it makes you a better person.

Anderson Williams: I was struck by the beauty and the image of Laura's time with her dad and the lifetime of curiosity and growth that's come from it. I was also curious how this expansive sense of her place in the world and perhaps the world's place within her, played out in her daily life when she isn't traveling, when she's at work at Main Street Gourmet.

So tell us a little bit about what your role is at MSG and tell us a little bit about what that looks like.

Right Down Main Street

Laura Gerrard: My current role with MSG is the Customer Service Manager. I'm responsible for entering purchase orders, invoicing, corresponding with customers, order acknowledgements, assisting and coordinating changes to orders with our planning team and our salespeople.

Just making sure pricing is correct and our lead times are put into place, and also working alongside with our shipping department and our logistics department.

Anderson Williams: And how long have you been doing that, Laura?

Laura Gerrard: I applied and I started working here in December of 2011, and I've grown with the company and eventually I was offered the job as Customer Service Manager.

My previous manager had moved to a different department in the company and the door was open and I walked in.

Anderson Williams: I ask Nate Searles, the Director of Sales at Main Street Gourmet, about Laura's role and importance to the company.

Nate Searles: She's kind of that unsung hero here at Main Street. You know, customer service people don't always get a lot of recognition.

The hope is you don't hear from them. So yeah, she does a lot of the dirty work that we don't like to deal with. She's always checking on people. She's always dealing with a lot. Here at Main Street, we're a very complicated company. We have a ton of skews, a ton of customers, a ton of deliveries, and things are always changing and she constantly has to deal with that.

And there's a lot of behind the scenes stuff that occurs where she coordinates that with many, many different departments and she's become an absolute pro at it. I always say, I manage, the customer service team, but I don't really have to manage Laura and her team. She kind of takes care of everything and really owns her department.

Anderson Williams: As Nate talked, it was clear to me how complex customer service can be at a company like Main Street Gourmet with the breadth of skews and range of customers, and I was intrigued by that reality that customer service is an area you don't really want to hear too much from. You just hope, or in this case, trust that they take care of things.

Keep things moving and keep customers as happy as possible, and when you have someone like Laura who's really good at it, your director of sales can confidently keep growing the business. As Nate told me, Laura, makes him look good all the time. Within a couple of minutes of my conversation with Laura, it was clear why she's so good at customer service.

Calm and Clarity

Laura, you have a real sense of calm and clarity as you talk about this. Does that sound accurate to you or is that something I'm reading because you're enjoying your first podcast experience?

Laura Gerrard: No, I actually, thank you for the compliment. I've been told as, yeah, you got to keep calm in situations, and I think it's just my personality, which is why I went into customer service.

My previous job when I lived in Canada was in customer service as well for about 20 years. So moving into this job, it's a different product, but kind of the same goals in many ways. You just try and stay calm when you can and when you can't stay calm, you just walk away, come back and deal with it. I think with Main Street Gourmet, what is my main support here, and it's hard to talk about yourself.

I like to talk about other people, but I have to give honor what honors do and what keeps me going here is everyone else in this team. We have a great sales team, we have a fantastic planning and production team. We have a flexible shipping department, and I can't even stop there. I mean, our HR department, you know, there's always that open door policy that you can go in and talk to 'em about anything.

Our research and development, our quality assurance, our maintenance team, everybody is a big part of who I am today.

Anderson Williams: The work that you do, even as you make it sound clear and under control, dealing with customers is not an easy thing, particularly in those stressful moments, and it is a skill and it is a perspective, and it is a mindset.

I think it's a lot of things, particularly for those of us who don't love doing that work necessarily. Where does that come from for you? Is there something in your experience working with your dad or is there something in terms, where does that calm, that demeanor that, not just the ability, but the desire to work with a customer even in a difficult situation come from for you?

Laura Gerrard: I think it's a little bit of everything. It's who I am. I think also putting myself in their position. I've been a customer many times for a lot of things. I want an answer and like I want to find out why. When will I get my product? I mean, we're all customers. How do you want to be treated? I think just treating someone the way you want to be treated is what's in the back of my mind and we'll do our best to do what we can.

I mean, that's always going to make it a repeat customer, whether you're in a restaurant or wherever you are. You're ordering something through the phone or online, I think just being, treating people the way you want to be treated. I've always been raised that way. My mom's always put that into me, installed into me, and it's just who we are.

The Secret Weapon

Anderson Williams: Laura's approach to customer service is deeply rooted in who she is and how she was raised, but she does have a secret weapon that she's clearly developed and refined over the years.

Nate Searles: It's actually surprising her humor, one of the things she does a lot of is when things are going, getting chaotic and crazy and there's a bunch of emails going back and forth.

She'll throw like a gif or a jpeg in there that's just like from like a movie. And it just kind of makes everyone go, you know what? It's not that serious. Let's take a step back and just have fun with it and realize we'll get through it. She's very funny. She has a great way to kind of know when to throw it in there.

Anderson Williams: As we heard earlier, Laura takes her vitamins with a cup of laughter each day, and she knows how and when to share that cup of laughter in a way that reframes stressful moments and adds perspective. It's not a distraction, it's a strategy. It's part of her philosophy and her leadership, and when I asked her what she was most proud of in her work, she spoke about leadership.

She spoke about the opportunity to move from being an assistant to becoming a manager, an opportunity that allows her to keep learning, but more importantly to develop and lead people.

What in your career or could be personal have you accomplished that you're most proud of?

Her Proudest Moment

Laura Gerrard: I've always been an assistant in my job titles, assistant manager. When I worked in retail, I was assistant and having the opportunity to become a Customer Service Manager. There's a lot of learning and it's not all about me now.

I have a team I have to look out for and making sure we have goals set in place and reaching them. I'm just proud that I had the opportunity that the door was open for me to take this job, and I'm grateful for it, and I'm always learning, of course, I keep saying that, but it's true.

And if I could teach someone else what I've been taught and see it come to fruition, it's a proud moment. You know, you see it, and if that works, it's going to work for them. And just seeing them let the aprons drinks go and you see them grow, it's a proud moment.

I just think it's great as a manager to see that.

Anderson Williams: So given that your kind of framing of always having been an assistant, if you went back to yourself 11 years ago when you joined MSG, what advice would you give that version of yourself, given the wisdom of 2023?

Laura Gerrard: Just keep doing what you're doing.

Pay attention to what you learn and pay attention to detail. You're going to use it someday. Listen, don't always just hear what's being said. Always take time to say hello to somebody. You can make a difference, or if you're part of a solution, then just do it. Put yourself out there, suggest things, no matter how busy it gets, go back to that whole thing.

Take a cup of laughter, share it with someone to make their day. And if you can alleviate anyone else's burden, if you have that knowledge or that experience to help them, then I think it's a good feeling. And I guess lastly, don't eat too many cookies.

Anderson Williams: Sage wisdom. That is hard, hard won wisdom I suspect. That's hilarious.

As you can tell, Laura is true to the commitment to share her cup of laughter. Because she had opened our conversation with her experience and passion for travel, I wanted to bring the conversation back to the topic and see what's next for Laura.

I'm curious, Laura, going back to your idea of travel and your emphasis on learning. So what's the trip you haven't taken? What's the dream trip that is sort of the bucket list trip that you hope to go on?

Laura’s Next Adventure

Laura Gerrard: I would love to go to Scotland. My family and my ancestors are Scottish and French and Irish, of course with my red hair.

But Scotland definitely I would love to experience that trip. Just the meeting the Scottish people, and I would just love to go there and maybe Ireland too, cuz my, grandfather on my mother's side is Irish, so it'd be nice to see or maybe do some research on, you know, family, your background and where I come from and it'll be really nice to do that.

Anderson Williams: Yeah, I think it's really interesting the, you talked before about, particularly in when you visited Africa and having some perspective on the rest of the world and what you have and what connects us and so forth, and I think there's another kind of journey there. You're describing around your own history, your own family history that is sort of similar, like what connects you to those people that are your ancestors from Scotland and Ireland and France and so forth.

That's kind of part of weaving together this common story, right?

Laura Gerrard: Right. Absolutely. And just finding out, you know, it's a large world, but we're all connected somehow. And when you travel to other countries, we don't realize how young we are back here in North America. I mean, you see history, you see Roman walls and you see what people have come across in their lives and things that they've built with their hands.

And it's still standing. I mean, that's amazing. And just learning new cultures and just reaching out to other people and trying their food. I love to eat. And just everything about traveling is wonderful, and anybody out there listening, give it a chance. One little country at a time, one place at a time.

Anderson Williams: Just don't eat the cookies in all the countries, right?

Laura Gerrard: Right.

Anderson Williams: Laura Gerard is an everyday hero whose superpower is laughter. Laura uses laughter to remind herself and her team to keep a little bit of perspective on the world and on the challenges of the day. A perspective that enables her to calmly manage what others may feel is chaos. And a perspective she developed traveling as a child with her dad across Canada and as an adult across other parts of the world.

So let's raise a cup of laughter to Laura. Cheers.

This podcast was produced by Shore Capital Partners with story and narration by Anderson Williams. Recording and editing by Andrew Malone. Editing by Reel Audiobooks. Sound design, mixing and mastering by Mark Galup of Reel Audiobooks.

Special thanks to Laura Gerrard and Nate Searles.

This podcast is the property of Shore Capital Partners, LLC. None of the content herein is investment advice, an offer of investment advisory services, nor a recommendation or offer relating to any security. See the terms of use page on the Shore Capital website for other important information.

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