Sylvia "Randi" Aud Holm 

(Eastern Washington)

The Chief Toffee Officer | 40 Under 40 Class of 2020

"Do things that make you and those around you happy. Cut through the noise and simplify."

GET TO KNOW RANDI

After working in sports management for a decade, Sylvia “Randi” Aud Holm decided to go into business — the toffee-making business — with her mother-in-law. Together, they own and operate Holm Made Toffee Co. based in Bend, Oregon. Learn about her tasty career transition in her extended interview.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

Happenstance, really. I studied communications in college to prepare me for a career in sports management and marketing. Then, after ten years of working in minor and major league baseball, I moved to Bend, Oregon to be with my (now) husband. There are no professional sports teams within a 3-hour radius, so I found myself at a crossroads in my career. At the time, my mother-in-law was making small batch candy in her home kitchen and the business really showed promise. We decided to form a partnership in 2013. And, with my sales and marketing experience, we branched into retail and wholesale channels. Back when I was working in the Seattle Mariners front office, I never could have guessed I would be operating a candy company with 10+ employees and counting, but life is funny!

 

What challenge did you overcome to get where you are today?

As a growing small family business, with little capital, we seem to run into challenges nearly every day. Early challenges included navigating city, county, state and federal food regulations and codes while building out a commercial kitchen space. We tackled that, but it took almost nine months to become operational in the space. We have since expanded and doubled our production facility to 2,400-square-feet. However, at the time it was a challenge that nearly sunk us! Each day brings new challenges to problem solve, especially as we work on scaling the business. On any given day (or even hour) I am sales, marketing, IT, human resources, customer service, janitorial, accounts payable/receivable, shipping, production, delivery driver – you name it! And they all come with a learning curve.

 

Did someone help you get to where you are today, like a mentor?

The Bend business and maker community is truly amazing! I reached out early on to larger and more established businesses. Almost all offered support. Bend has a large number of food and beverage businesses that are taking off (craft beer, kombucha, specialty foods). Everyone is very giving with their time and knowledge. We share mistakes and milestones, as both are equally important in growth. I have also found more structured programs with the Small Business Development Center, Economic Development of Central Oregon, High Desert Food and Farm Alliance and S.C.O.R.E (just to name a few). And I am a board member for a nonprofit women’s networking group in town called the Bend Boss Babes, which has been life changing. It can feel very isolating as an entrepreneur trying to boot strap a small business, so joining groups and making connections with like-minded people has been the key to staying sane.

 

What do you love most about your job?

I love the connections I can make within my community! We started our business with multiple weekly farmers markets and festivals. So, it gave me an ample amount of time to really immerse myself within our community and get valuable face to face interactions with customers and other small business owners. I am so lucky that the people of Bend really celebrate and support small makers and the idea of community and collaboration over competition! 

FAST FACTS

  • Boss Lady Icon
    Dolly Parton
     

  • Favorite Color
    Yellow
     

  • Can't Live Without
    Coffee
     

  • Vacation Destination
    Nashville
     

  • Style Icon
    Jessica Biel

Early Bird or Night Owl

Cats or Dogs

Mountains or Beach

Left Brain or Right Brain

Physical Book or Audiobook

Describe yourself in three words.

Driven, caring and tired. 😊

 

Your life philosophy is…

Happiness. Plain and Simple. It started as a tagline for our business and mainly noted the quality ingredients we use. However, I really have tried to use this as a life tagline as well. Do things that make you and those around you happy. Cut through the noise and simplify.

 

What is the best piece of advice you received?

“Learn to say the word no and use it often!” Early in the business, I absolutely feared saying no. “Yes” just seems much more pleasant and necessary when trying to grow. But always saying yes was stretching me too thin and hindering growth. Mainly because I was completely exhausted! I am working on quality over quantity these days. And “no” has become a valuable part of my vocabulary.

 

If someone handed you an airline ticket to a place of your choosing, where would you go and why?

We are in the thick of busy season right now, so this scenario sounds like a dream come true. A ticket to anywhere warm with a hammock and cold beverages would be marvelous. Bonus points if no wi-fi or cell service, and I could completely unplug.

 

What’s something you cannot live without?

Coffee. ALL the coffee.

Name a book you read that positively shaped you.

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. I first read it in middle school, and it has been a constant re-read for the past 25 years. My dad passed away when I was little, and I was raised mainly by my mother and grandmother. The protagonist is a young woman, overcoming struggles in her family life, and it resonated very strongly with me. The themes of perseverance, hard work and education have stuck with me to this day.

 

If you weren’t working in the industry that you are, what would you be doing instead?

I believe I have caught the entrepreneur, self-employment bug. It may not be the easiest road but at the end of the day offers a lot of room for creativity and growth. I always have a few ideas up my sleeve for future endeavors but need more hours in the day to make them happen.

 

How do you unwind or relax after a long day?

Lately, relaxing evenings are few and far between. I am trying to get better about coming home and unplugging instead of hopping on my laptop to answer more emails. After long days, I like to hang out by the fireplace with my dog and husband and just decompress.

 

The most rewarding aspect of your job is…

Being so involved in our local community and giving back as much as possible. I love that I have the ability to donate to charitable causes, take staff on paid volunteer days for local nonprofits and be a part of local events and festivals. This community has supported us from the beginning and as we grow, I love to return the favor. In the future, I would love to create internships and scholarships for local students interested in culinary arts and small business ownership. 

 

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?

“Be you, unapologetically.” In this fast paced, online, Instagram/Facebook/Blogger/Influencer world, we often lose sight of our true selves and our own story. Life is not about picture perfect squares, pleasant filters and witty hashtags. Life can be messy, and that’s ok. Be yourself, tell your story, make real connections.

 

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

Honestly the past six months are where I have found the most personal growth and created habits to improve my life. The past five years, I have treated myself poorly for the sake of the business. Far too many years of 80-hour weeks, rare weekends and the mentality that one must always hustle to succeed nearly ruined me. I started to crack physically and mentally. Rest and saying no were just the doctor ordered (literally!). Changing that hustle mentality is hard, and I am still working on it. It’s ok to work hard, but it is also ok to rest, too.

 

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

In the past three years, we have experienced significant growth. It's exciting, but also exhausting and at times completely overwhelming. I tend to fall into a negative “the sky is falling” funk that makes even the small things feel insurmountable. When this happens, I reach out to friends in the business community. Grabbing coffee or even just a quick text conversation can work wonders. A fresh perspective and a quick pep talk are sometimes all I need to get back on track.

 

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be money, time, energy, etc.)

Honestly, joining Gamma Phi Beta! I arrived at college shy and a bit uncertain about finding my place on campus and six hours away from home. I didn’t initiate during formal recruitment as I was uncertain about Greek Life and the stereotypes. As luck would have it, quite a few freshmen on my dorm floor went Gamma Phi. I started attending events and eagerly accepted a bid. I jumped in headfirst and never looked back and eventually served as president of Zeta Alpha. My experience has taught me to not judge a book by its cover and to take chances. Because something you thought was ‘not for you’ could end up being exactly what you needed.

Name a confident woman of character who you look up to? Why her?

My maternal grandmother, Sylvia. She exuded confidence and pure grit in a generation that did not celebrate such characteristics in a woman. She made tough decisions that may have been frowned upon by society at that time but were best for her and her children. I keep a photo of her on my desk and on hard days I look to it for inspiration. She raised eight children (mostly on her own as a divorcee) while working full time as an ER nurse. If she can do that in the 1950s, I can do anything.