Fallon student took entrepreneur approach to pay college tuition
Melissa Coblentz needed money to go to college, but instead of getting a job or loan she started a business.
“It seemed like the easiest way to do it,” Coblentz, a freshman at Idaho State University said. “I took so many classes that I didn’t have time to work at McDonalds. I needed to set my own hours.”
She found out it wasn’t as easy as she thought and she admits she might have made more money working for someone else. But the struggle of building The Bread Girl into a business taught her a lot about time management, budgeting and confidence, all of which are helping her in school.
The Coblentz family and other people in Fallon didn’t find it extraordinary that a high school student would start a business to raise money for college. Melissa’s brother has his own window cleaning business, her younger sister is following in her footsteps and her youngest brother works in the family’s field, like a lot of kids in this community that embraces an entrepreneurial spirt fostered by having the highest number of farms in the state.
But nationally, this isn’t the norm, where college tuitions have been rising and more and more of that is being covered with loans. About 69 percent of college graduates leave with a diploma and debt in America. The average debt carried after graduation is about $28,950, according to a study by The Institute for College Access and Success.
Melissa Coblentz tried a few different businesses, including growing flowers and making bouquets before she started The Bread Girl out of her home in her sophomore year at Churchill County High School. For the last three years she baked and delivered more than two-dozen loaves of white and wheat bread each week in the community.
She learned to grind wheat and bake bread from her mother, Debbie Coblentz, who also was Melissa’s transportation department when the business started.
“At first my mom had to drive me around,” Melissa Coblentz said. But then Melissa got her drivers license and used her Chevy Metro to make the deliveries.
Soon after starting the business, her mother had a conversation with Rick Lattin at Lattin Farms. Lattin suggested they use his health-department certified kitchen on the farm and sell some of the loaves from his stand.
“It’s just a wonderful thing to see young kids take the initiative and do that,” Lattin said. “She takes that wheat and grinds that fresh. You don’t get that anywhere. The bakeries aren’t granite grinding wheat for each loaf of bread.”
Some lessons about business Melissa learned very quickly.
“I got really good at managing my time,” she said. “At first I left it up to the last minute and then something would go wrong and I’d be out until 1 a.m.”
Finding customers and places to sell her bread also helped with her confidence.
“I got used to, and learned how to talk to strangers without being terrified,” she said.
Like any business she had to make some investment decisions, including in equipment. She bought an electric wheat grinder to speed the process and so she wouldn’t have to borrow her mother’s.
As she got closer to graduation, she developed sales targets, tracking her output on spreadsheets.
While the business didn’t make as much as she wanted, it did pay off in other ways. She liked that she could trade loaves of bread for haircuts and other items.
And she got a lot of positive responses when she applied to schools and scholarships.
“It looked good on scholarship applications,” she said. “That’s not usually something you see on a scholarship application.”
Debbie Coblentz said the whole family learned something from Melissa’s business. While the Coblentz do work their own field, Debbie said they have become better budgeters and learned from failures along the way.
Debbie said everyone is a better budgeter in the family now.
The Bread Girl didn’t go out of business when Melissa went to college. Melissa gave the business to her 13-year-old sister Kristen and her mom this summer.
Debbie said until Kristen can get her work permit, Debbie has to work with her. But just like Melissa, Kristen has to do all her own budgeting and cover her costs with profits.
Kristen and Debbie have already made some changes. They increased output by baking in two ovens and they trimmed their costs by cutting out door-to-door deliveries. They instead sell out of Lattin Farms and the new Fallon Food Hub on East Center Street.
While the younger Coblentz is interested in pursuing art as a career she said she had two good reasons to take over the bread business this year.
“Well, I just thought it would be nice to not be rushing when I’m 16 or 17 to get money for college,” she said. “There was already opportunity because Melissa already had it going and there were a lot of customers that were expecting bread. I didn’t want to let them down.”
Like her sister, she said the biggest lesson she’s learned so far is to be organized and on time.
As for Melissa, her commercial bread-baking days might be over. She’s looking to earn a degree in computer science with a minor in business.
She said, “I’m pretty sick of making bread — I do make it once in a while, but I don’t know if I want to make 24 loaves a night.”