Leadership

3 signs you need to focus on your personal and career strengths

When entrepreneur Erica Barrett was in her late 20s, she quit her full-time job as an HR executive to pursue her passion for cooking.

In 2012, she started Southern Culture Artisan Foods and successfully broke into the multibillion-dollar packaged mixes industry with her all-natural, southern fare.

In this week's episode of CNBC's "The Profit," Marcus Lemonis says he eats fried chicken almost everywhere he goes, but Southern Culture's seasoned fried chicken is the best he's ever had.

After spending time at the headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, he learns that Barrett's personal and professional decisions have set the company back.

"If I can't get her to understand that she can't do it all on her own," Lemonis says, "Southern Culture will be cooked."

Great Chefs always taste their food.

A post shared by Erica Barrett (@iamericabarrett) on

Barrett, who runs her business alongside mother, Larmarinette, designed the company's recipes, packaging and sales process. Among Southern Culture's most popular items are Barrett's chicken seasoning, cornbread, grits, waffle and pancake mixes, which earned placements in supermarkets across the country.

While Barrett's company was raking in nearly $500,000 a year in sales just a few years into the business, its success slowed down as sales slumped, Barrett overspent company money and took on more debt than she could handle.

As a result, Lemonis decides to put Barrett and her team to the test.

He will only invest in the company on this condition: "If you can prove to me that you could have financial discipline and the inventory, the assets all get sold off and every debt gets paid down, paid off or a payment plan put in place," Lemonis says.

Along the way, Lemonis coaches Barrett to help her understand how she is impeding her own success.

Based on Lemonis' advice, here are three signs you need to focus on your personal and career strengths.

You're not making great money decisions

Over five years, Southern Comfort's sales and losses broke even. When the company was struggling, Barrett asked her husband, Andre, for financial help. Although he had helped her in the past, Andre now refuses.

"She's been running the business for nearly five years and the profitability has been close to zero. It's not ran (sic) efficiently and the margins are slim," Andre says.

Barrett then turned to alternative lending companies to purchase inventory and pay workers, despite the shockingly high-interest rates of 40 percent on the loans. Her debt totaled about $500,000.

After Barrett's husband repeatedly tells her she needs to be more frugal and spend her money wisely, Lemonis points out that the solution isn't to keep throwing her bad money habits in her face.

"Andre, your wife, who you love, who you're frustrated with right now," Lemonis says, "needs your support."

Lemonis also notes why he believes in Barrett and her business.

"The reason I want to take a shot on you Erica is because with a couple of products you've created a real appeal and the fact that you generated $500,000 in sales is a big deal to me," Lemonis says. "The problem here is that this business looks like it's dead on arrival because of this debt mess."

To move forward, Lemonis challenges the team to liquidate assets to pay of Barrett's debt, which they successfully take on.

"There's no doubt that Andre possesses more financial literacy, but what he doesn't possess is some of the creativity Erica possesses," Lemonis says. "I'm hoping that Andre takes his financial literacy and her creativity and they can work together so they can improve the business."

You're not meeting your goals

When Lemonis asks Barrett to show him all the products Southern Culture has to offer, she shows him a selection of 26 different items. Out of those, over 95 percent of the company's sales came from just two types of products.

Lemonis finds that Barrett isn't focusing on her greater efforts of making Southern Culture successful and profitable.

"There doesn't seem to be as much thought as there could be in terms of streamlining and organizing their lineup," says Lemonis. "I think the way she developed the other products and the way she connected them together is probably why they didn't take off."

Lemonis runs into yet another issue with Barrett's plan for growth when they take a trip to the supermarket. The two visit the pancake mix section and Southern Culture's mixes, to Lemonis' surprise, were not there. They are instead in the Latin American food aisle with the rest of the local area's products.

"Part of the reason Erica's in an oddball aisle is that her products don't have a cohesive story to them," Lemonis says.

Constructive criticism annoys you

To get a sense of how Barrett works in a collaborative environment, Lemonis takes her and her mother to visit celebrity chef Art Smith, who has cooked for Oprah Winfrey and the White Hosue.

"I know that she's proud of having done everything on her own and that's fine, but I'm a big believer that two heads are better than one," Lemonis says.

As Barrett gets ready to cook up fried chicken, her mother recommends that she wash her chicken first. Barrett refuses, saying she never follows that step.

When Smith agrees with Barrett's mother, Lemonis notices a change in Barrett's attitude.

"Erica, I can tell you're annoyed right now," Lemonis says, to which Barrett agrees.

"There are too many cooks in the kitchen and I have my own way," Barrett says, beginning to tear up. "I just love cooking on my own without people telling me how to do it."

Barrett similarly feels challenged when Lemonis takes the team to visit co-packing facility Pelican Bay for some constructive feedback.

"I just want her to be more open to ideas. For me, the only way she does that is by giving up control which could allow for better collaboration, new ideas and taking what she already has and making it better," Lemonis says.

Instead of hearing out a product development expert named Jim, Barrett argues her design has been successful.

"I continue to be disappointed with Erica's unwillingness to listen and collaborate Jim has almost twenty years of experience he's not giving her his opinion he's giving her the facts," Lemonis says.

After letting her guard down, Barrett moves forward with working on a new packaging design and continues following Lemonis' suggestions to get her business out of the red.

"I'm impressed that she was able to tap into what Pelican Bay had to offer," Lemonis says. "That willingness to collaborate is exactly what is necessary for this business and her to go to the next level."

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