From chocolate chip cookies to CRM: one customer’s drive for success
What happens after you buy a car from an auto dealership? Or just stop by for a test drive and a few questions? Often, the answer is “nothing.” That missed opportunity led Judy and Hugh Hathcock to gourmet chocolate chip cookies, and from there to developing the nation’s #1 automotive call center and customer relationship management (CRM) technology—with Synovus along on the drive.
It started when Hugh Hathcock, owner of a specialty advertising company, was puzzling over how to help his car dealer clients boost their customer satisfaction scores. He contacted Judy Aigen, a New York marketer he’d met at a conference. She sent him some fresh, soft and moist chocolate cookies from a nearby bakery—and the concept of Fresh Beginnings Cookies was born. Auto dealers realized that by sending out these gourmet cookies, they could say “thank you” in a way that generated goodwill and engaged customers and prospects more deeply.
Soon the whole family was in the cookie business: parents, kids, nephews, nieces, in-laws. (Somewhere along the way, Judy came to Georgia and married Hugh.) “We were spread out in four rented facilities in Valdosta, baking cookies in one place, packaging them in another, tracking inventory in a third and running the office in a fourth,” Judy says. “We needed a good business loan, a strong banking relationship, and a building where we could have everything in one place.”
Enter Synovus (formerly known as First State Bank & Trust) initially with financing for a new building, then a working capital line of credit and loans for equipment, vehicles and staffing. “They’re very smart and very customer-oriented, extremely interested in our business and what makes us successful,” Judy says. “We have a great relationship.”
The strength of that relationship became vital when Judy and Hugh recognized a new opportunity to develop CRM technology for auto dealers and other service providers.
"The strength of that relationship became vital when Judy and Hugh recognized a new opportunity to develop CRM technology for auto dealers and other service providers."
“We took two years writing software—two years without income,” Judy explains. “It was an industry that no one understood then, and it took a lot of trust for Synovus to understand where we were going with this. But they were very supportive.”
In 1999 the Hathcocks introduced ELead One, a comprehensive customer acquisition and retention platform that helps build loyal relationships, grow market share and increase profitability. It quickly spread nationwide. Today Fresh Beginnings/ELead One is the largest private employer in Lowndes County, with over 1,200 employees in Valdosta servicing 7,000 automotive clients in the U.S. and Canada, including top auto manufacturers and dealer groups. “We are the premier provider for CRM and call center services for car dealerships,” Judy says. “We could never have done this without advice and support from Synovus.
“Our relationship with them has created an unparalleled sense of support within this community and nationwide,” she adds. “And it continues to increase our opportunities for growth and success long-term. We appreciate and enjoy our very comfortable relationship with everyone at the bank, especially Market President Bill Cowart and his team.”
Who knows when the next great chocolate chip cookie idea will pop up? If you’re looking for a farsighted bank to partner with, give us a call.