Tiny Austin business wins big Wal-Mart deal

Melissa Blue and Melissa Mehall share more than a first name. They grew up close friends, they are both mothers, and now, they are business partners embarking on one of the biggest adventures of their lives.

The two, who have a 25-year friendship, just secured a deal for their Central Texas business, Meli’s Monster Cookies, to sell their products at Wal-Mart stores. Their two-person company’s gluten-free cookies will sell at about 200 Texas-area stores within the chain starting in May.

The move will take Meli’s cookies from 150 stores, which include H-E-B locations, to a total of 350 stores in the U.S., the Melissas said.

“It’s a little surreal,” Mehall said. “It will be cool.”

The deal is part of Wal-Mart’s January 2013 U.S. Manufacturing Commitment to buy an additional $250 billion in U.S. products over 10 years, said Scott Markley, senior manager of national media relations for Wal-Mart.

Blue and Mehall, who started the company four years ago based on a family recipe, said they are thrilled to have a deal with the world’s largest retailer.

Markley said with changes in energy costs and labor costs overseas, it’s increasingly cost-effective and efficient to have businesses manufacture close to the point of consumption, helping Wal-Mart respond to trends and customer demand.

“And it is just good business,” he said. “Our customers tell us that where products are made is most important, second only to price.”

Mehall works remotely from Fort Worth, while Blue works from Austin. The two moms said they do a lot of their work by phone and meet frequently.

Their history makes growing a business together all the easier, they said.

“We have known each other really our whole lives, and our moms knew each other and went to high school together,” Mehall said. “We’ve always been the Melissas.”

Both grew up in Waco and stayed in touch through college, and even as Mehall took a detour to law school while Blue started a jewelry business. Years later, they converged again when Blue suggested they take a relative’s cookie recipe and make it a business.

“She said ‘I am thinking about doing it, and I need a partner, and I can’t think of a better one,’” Blue recalled telling Mehall.

The business started with just $700 in hand, Mehall and Blue said. Blue added she wanted to find a recipe that suited her niece, who had to eat a gluten-free diet.

“The recipes just happen to be gluten-free, and we just found a niche,” Blue says.

The business was launched in 2012.

Having Mehall in Fort Worth and Blue in Austin means the two can cover a lot of ground, they said.

The two usually start their days by 7:30 a.m. and talk about nine times a day by phone or FaceTime. They get their kids to school and back home and end up working again in the evenings.

Meli’s started out with Royal Blue Grocery as their first client, and from there, the company added new clients such as Central Market and then H-E-B. Soon after, they began going after Wal-Mart, hoping to land a meeting at the retail giant’s headquarters.

By December, they heard back from Wal-Mart, asking “how soon can you get here?”

After a 45-minute meeting in Bentonville, Ark., the two met with a buyer and in the weeks that followed, they were getting questions from Wal-Mart and had a good feeling.

“We had been getting communications back and forth it felt like it was moving forward,” Mehall said.

On Feb. 2nd, they got the news Wal-Mart would sell their product.

So far, it’s been a relatively easy process building up to sell their product the the mega-chain, the Melissas said.

“We are just thrilled about it, and we are excited to partner with the largest retailer in the United States,” Mehall said. “It’s just a big deal for our little company to be recognized by them.”

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