Rustic Crust: The Little Company That Could… and DID!Rieva Lesonsky
The devastating fire threatened to destroy all Sterl’s hard work and leave his employees jobless. But like a true entrepreneur, he never contemplated giving up. His first thought was “What can I do to rebuild?” Racing to the airport, he was already calling back East trying to find temporary manufacturing space. He spent the plane ride putting together a plan for rebuilding Rustic Crust.
Back in New Hampshire, Sterl immediately swung into action. He informed his backers and customers what had happened and promised his management team and employees that Rustic Crust would be back in business in three to four weeks. “Nobody questioned it; everybody had the attitude that it was going to happen,” recalls Sterl, who told construction companies, “If you can’t do this in three to four weeks, don’t even bid on the job. A couple people laughed at me and walked off the site.”
Sterl also promised employees they’d stay on payroll during the reconstruction. In return, “I asked everyone to show up to work, at the same time they always had, every day,” says Sterl. He wanted to maintain the employees’ work habits, keep them engaged in the business and show them the company was making progress. “If we had work to do, they’d help clean up or sweep floors, even for just a few hours.” Sterl also provided extra education and training to help employees do their jobs better once the factory was up and running again.
His plan worked. “It really brought everybody together,” he recalls. “They all wanted to know what they could do to help. People worked literally around the clock to make [the rebuilding] happen.” Open communication with everyone from VCs to employees has been key to the process, he says. “A lot of times, people want to hide after a disaster. They don’t want to talk to employees. That leads to problems, and it spirals down from there.”
Not only did Sterl keep his existing employees on payroll, but he also hired new ones. “Because we don’t have the right equipment [in the temporary plant], we’ve had to hire about 40 people to do the jobs that would normally be done by machines,” he explains.
Incredibly, building the temporary location—a process that would normally take four to six months–was completed in four weeks. Construction on a new plant began in August, and completion is scheduled for late November. The company expects to fully recoup its $4 million loss by the end of the year, and is once again growing so fast that Sterl plans to keep the 40 new employees on permanently.