Alabama girls appreciate
Sister Schubert’s rolls and role
By JAINE TREADWELL
From the kitchen to the boardroom, it’s been a fantastic ride for Sister Schubert.
But, at no time has she soared any higher than she did when 327 young women rewarded her with repeated standing ovations during her speech at the Crosby Theater Thursday.
Patricia "Sister Schubert" Barnes was a featured speaker at Alabama Girls State held at Troy State. It was the first time she been invited to speak to high school students and she didn’t really know what to expect.
She could never have imagined the response she received.
"I was overwhelmed,"
said the Troy native with a broad smile. "I’ve never gotten a more enthusiastic reception. I am very honored and very humbled."
The rousing reception of the Girls State delegates came on the heels of Barnes being named one of the state’s top entrepreneurs.
As president and CEO of Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls based in Luverne, Barnes was honored with one of three Lowder Center Awards for Family Business and Entrepreneurship presented by Auburn University’s school of business.
"To be recognized by your peers is a great honor," she said, "and to stand before a group of young women who appreciate what you have accomplished is an equally great honor. When I walked out on the stage and saw signs that read, ‘I love Sister Schubert’s rolls,’
… well, it was just the greatest feeling in the world."
What Barnes has accomplished in 11 short years is nothing short of phenomenal but it started simply when she made up her mind to try.
Barnes began her road to success in the small kitchen in her home in 1989. She baked her grandmother’s Parkerhouse yeast rolls for a frozen food fair at her church. That year she had orders for 80 pans of her rolls. The next year, she had to stop orders at 300.
"I decided then that if people in Troy liked my rolls, maybe other people would too," Barnes told her Girls State audience.
She started a bakery business in her home and outgrew that. She moved to a family-owned warehouse in Troy and she outgrew that. In October 1994, Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls moved into a 25,000 square foot bakery in Luverne and she thought she would never have to move again.
However, her rolls were rising in popularity all across the country. She had added blueberry cream rolls to her product line of yeast, sausage and orange rolls and two cornbreads and she was finding her ovens were way too small to fill the astounding number of orders that were coming in.
Barnes recently completed an expansion of the Luverne bakery that doubled the plant size and more than quadrupled its capacity. Now, more than one million rolls a day ‘roll’ through the 57,000-square foot bakery. Her rolls are distributed to frozen grocery cases in 28 states.
Last year, her products brought in $20 million and Sister is literally ”rolling in the dough.’
But it didn’t come easily and it didn’t come without taking risks.
"My story is about determination, enthusiasm and hard work," she told the Girls State delegates. "It’s about believing in yourself and your product and it’s about surrounding yourself with good people. I don’t like to use the word ‘I’ because I haven’t done anything by myself. I owe the success of Sister Schubert’s to the people who have helped me, encouraged me, believed in me and been faithful friends and employees. And, where would we be without our customers? For us,
it all happens in the grocery store."
Barnes said there are many reasons for the success of her company.
"But there was one reason that I didn’t even realize when I began," she said. "Without knowing it, I brought a product to the marketplace for which there was really no competition – a fully baked frozen yeast roll. I filled a niche on the grocery store shelves which made it much easier to gain distribution for my product."
Barnes challenged the Girls State delegates to go out and find their niche and fill it.
"Try your ideas and your dreams," she said. "Believe that you can do it and have the faith to make it happen. You are our future."
And, for the future of Sister Schubert?
She has added a cheddar cheese roll to her product line and another shift has been added to keep up with the demand.
Recent rumors are that Barnes will sell out to a conglomerate. Other talk is that the company has outgrown its recent expansion and is going to expand once again.
"Yes, we’ve had offers but, I’m not finished with what I want to accomplish. Until we have Sister Schubert’s rolls in every state in America, I can’t walk away," Barnes said.
"What I want to do now is be a good steward of what God has blessed me with."
And, what she’ll do next is expand.