Becky Ellison of Monmouth-based M&E Catering was our guest speaker in Midwest Entrepreneurs class today. Having gone into catering full time roughly 10 years ago, Becky’s entrepreneurial enterprise is at a very different stage than the start-up firm—the McGuire & Davies Funeral Home—and the mature business—The Twomey Company—that the class heard about last week.
Becky’s entrepreneurial success story is that of local native who was engaged in several business ventures before turning to her true passion; cooking and food. She was born and raised in Monmouth and earned a WIU degree in home economics with a minor in marketing. She dreamed about being a fashion designer but fell in love and had kids when she was very young. That dashed her hope of designing the latest fashions on the runway. After having three children, she started a day care center in her home to care for her kids and 15 others. However, at the urging of her friends, she took advantage of an opportunity to fill in for another wedding caterer and has been in the catering business ever since.
One of the things that stands out most about Becky’s presentation to the students in attendance today is the amount of extraordinarily hard work that is typically required for entrepreneurial success. She and her employees often work through the night prior to weddings and other major catered events. Also, she mentioned that she frequently works 14-16 hour days.
Also discussed was M&E Catering’s fruitful—and mutually beneficial–relationship with another local business; the Monmouth Country Club. Becky is the caterer of choice at the Monmouth Country Club and also brings much business to them when a client is looking for a place to hold an event. The relationship arose in response to changes in the legal and regulatory landscape faced by M&E Catering. Warren County was at one time one of but several counties in Illinois without a health department. When this was the case, Becky could legally do the cooking for her business at home. She invested thousands of dollars in her home kitchen. Then, roughly three years ago, the Warren County Health Department came into being and the law changed. Under the new law, the home kitchen could legally be used only if a commercial kitchen at a different and separate location was also used. The Monmouth Country Club had an adequate kitchen and was looking to make money in new ways; and the still-growing relationship was born. Ironically, this relationship was arranged in part by last Thursday’s class speaker, John Twomey.
A “key success factor” repeatedly alluded to in class today was what can probably best be referred to as “reputation management.” Reputation, according to Becky Ellison, is a double-edged sword; something that can either make or quickly break an entrepreneurial business. On the positive side, a good reputation leads to many referrals and stands as a primary means of competitive advantage. A good reputation is gained by first serving customers well, which, in turn, leads to the spread of positive word-of-mouth (WOM) communication (from one person to another in the marketplace). On the negative side, according to Ms. Ellison: “negative word-of-mouth will kill you faster than anything.” She mentioned this in the context of discussing how while insurance can guard against the negative financial consequences of accidents, she must prevent accidents from happening to protect her hard-earned reputation.
Becky has catered events from Springfield to Peoria to the Quad Cities; events as small as dinner parties for 15 people and as large as 800-guest weddings. She now does weddings out of state and coordinates weddings for Monmouth College couples who marry in Dahl Chapel.
Becky has no business plan or retirement in mind. She learned by doing in pursuit of her passion and does whatever she can to “make it perfect” for her clients. Becky’s M&E Catering business is well along the path to entrepreneurial success and there appears to a lot of road left in front of her. Thank you for sharing your story with us!