• There's nothing tiny about Teeny Foods' growth plans

    Tags: Dough

Family-owned Teeny Foods may have to change its name after it moves to a new, state-of the-art baking facility early next year. The automated baking operation, which produces hundreds of custom pizza crusts, has become much larger than its owners ever envisioned.

"We started working real aggressively a few years ago when we saw potential for a recession," Rick Teeny told the Business Journal of Portland. Along with wife, Debbie, Rick took over the business in 1996 by buying out his brother and parents, Sam and Minerva Teeny, the company's founders.

Seventy-five percent of its customers are foodservice suppliers, businesses the family cultivated as customers by asking them what they wanted, rather than selling them what they had.

"We got them to share their needs, and 10 out of 10 said they wanted to do more business with us," said Teeny, whose end users include many pizza companies. "We don't just go to customers with a list of our products and say, 'Here's what we can do for you.' We say, 'What can we do for you?' "

Teeny credits a new hire for the strategy of opening up to customers' concerns. Darryl Abram spent six years as a board member before Teeny hired him as general manager and vice president of sales in 1999.

A Canadian with food distribution experience as a SYSCO employee, Abram set about ensuring the company's baking systems could handle the anticipated orders he believed would come from improved face-to-face marketing.

At one time, trying to meet every customer whim pushed Teeny's number and variety of parbaked pizza crusts to more than 300, but that number now is closer to 200.

All told, in 2001, Teeny released about a dozen new products, including garlic breadsticks, whole-wheat Greek pita bread and a deep-dish pizza crust. More than half of its products carry proprietary brand labels.

Today, Teeny Foods employs 50 people full-time working in a 40,000-square-foot facility. The next plant will be some 60,000 square feet, custom built, and located near Portland's main airport.

As a result of honing in on customers', the company has recorded its strongest three months of the past six years. So far in 2002, "we're [on track to be] up 40 percent over last year's gross revenue," Teeny said.

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