Cindy Juncaj, 52, is a Milford resident and Michigan native who has gone from a representative to president of one of the fastest-rising companies in the country. Juncaj is the president and CEO of Demarle at Home, a direct-sales cookware and cooking instruction company that she joined in 2002 when the company was based in Los Angeles. Since starting as the national sales director, she worked her way up to the highest position in the company due to her hard work and love for cooking. As president, she was able to move the company’s headquarters from Houston, Texas to Milford. The mother of four children and a former Farmington Hills School District teacher, Juncaj sees cooking as not only a business, but as a way to bring people and families together, something she tries to incorporate into everything she does.
SCN: Tell us about your company, Demarle at Home, and what kind of products it has to offer to its customers? What do you think separates your company and its operations from other businesses?
CJ: Demarle at Home is a company that presents cooking products and cooking classes and we have some very unique products that make everything simple in the kitchen.
Our main line, our brand driver is something called the Silpat, and that’s a flat baking sheet that you can cook basically anything on — anything from cookies to vegetables to salmon — so you can make a breakfast, lunch, or dinner using the Silpat. We have some other products like Silpat that need no grease, oil, or spray and are teaching people to cook in a healthy way.
We offer classes, and we have independent cooking instructors throughout the United States. In our shop here in Milford, we offer cooking classes. We have several different classes to choose from. If somebody wants to do a private party or just wants to come in and be part of a class, a lot of people come in and buy out the class so they can have 8 to 15 of their friends come in and do the class. We also have cooking instructors that will come in and do it your way in your very own kitchen and just teach everyone some simple ways to create hors d’oeuvres or sweets. We have a chocolate class which is very exciting. We have a bread baking class, and we have an hors d’oeuvre class, healthy meals class, cooking easy meals … just a little bit of everything, whether you’re a novice cook or an expert.
It doesn’t matter the level of cooking, we have products and cooking classes for every level.
I think that what is unique about our company is that we not only have the direct sales, but we have independent instructors and they can actually create a really great business opportunity for themselves going in and teaching people how to cook. They don’t need to be a professional chef in order to teach that. We offer all types of training for our representatives.
What I think is the most unique thing about our business is that I personally built the business in a direct sales company and I know exactly how to teach people to do that and really be successful. We have found that this business model is actually a playground for success for people that want to create a supplement for their income, whether they want to work part-time or full-time, or they are people that just want to have fun and get out and be with their friends.
SCN: We understand that prior to becoming involved in cooking and the sales of cookware, you were an educator. What was that experience like for you and what did you take from it?
CJ: I think the No. 1 thing that I took from education was to teach people to work cooperatively. Working in the classroom, you want to have a cooperative experience where everyone is expected to learn and the expectation is that everyone will learn in their style of learning, and it’s the same thing in the kitchen.
The teaching style needs to be open enough so that the learning style is able to come alive, whether it be in the classroom or the kitchen.
So it’s really wonderful just being able to work with groups of people and teaching them that you don’t have to be an expert to be great, that you can just create the experience and it’s really about that experience around the table that makes everything so spectacular.
SCN: You were also previously involved in a home party planning business and a direct sales company. How did those experiences help prepare you for the role that you now play? There was also a time in which you were unemployed for six months after the party planning business decided to close your division. How were you able to cope during those months and maintain a positive attitude?
CJ: I never dreamed that I would actually be in the role that I am today; however, because I found the direct sales to be a playground for success, the more successful I became, the more experience I created and the more that I felt I would be able to reach the everyday person that was looking at perhaps starting a business or direct sales business. I could actually help them and teach them because I did the exact same thing with four children at home.
There were so many things that prepared me, whether it was going out and trying to juggle my schedule, organizing my office, meeting more people, introducing business to people or creating the best bottom line result for the representative or the company. It’s a culmination of all those things put together that have really been substantial.
Ironically enough, (when the division closed down) I went out and bought a KitchenAid mixer and I was cooking up a storm. As I was keeping busy in the kitchen with my children, I felt that the good thing that I missed most about the party planning business was the fact that I was able to build a great sales team and we had so much fun, all of the women, all of us working together. I really missed that component and I had so many women on the team at that time that were just right to the pinnacle of success and just ready for the highest level in the company, and I thought my work wasn’t done and I haven’t achieved everything that I’ve wanted to achieve. I thought if the business closed because they were bought out by a larger publishing company, I didn’t have to close my heart to that business and I didn’t have to close my experience. That was their choice, but as long as I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing, I wouldn’t allow that closure to be controlling my future and I was willing to take control of my future myself. I figured if someone is not going to allow me to work in an environment that I could teach people to build a great business, then I was going to go out and find another environment and then in the future create one of my own, which I’ve been able to do.
It was really great to have that six months to create my vision and I can still say to this day that I’m living part of that vision and re-tweaking and recreating as we go along, which is really great.
SCN: How were you first introduced to Demarle at Home and what were your first impressions of the company? What do you believe was the biggest factor in you working your way from the national sales director position to now being the director of the company?
CJ: When I was first introduced to Demarle at Home, I was actually called by a headhunter that said that they heard that I was very capable of building a business, such as a home party planning business, and they wanted to talk to me about this cookware company that came from France. The first thing I asked is what kind of product do they have? They mentioned to me that they had some cookware, pots and pans, and I thought I’m not really interested in that, I don’t think that’s for me. Then the headhunter said something to me that was significant. He said they had another product that I might know of called the Silpat, and I happened to have three Silpats in my cupboard. I was buying them for all my friends as gifts and it was a product that I absolutely fell in love with in the kitchen because of the simplicity of using it and there wasn’t any other product on the market like it.
When he mentioned that to me, the first thing I said was if they have other products like Silpat, I do want to go and talk to them. So I went out to (Los Angeles) where the company was based at that time and I recognized that they had a great need for someone to come along that understood this business model and that could actually create a good amount of success.
We had a wonderful launch of the company and were able to build an incredible network just within the first year of doing business, just by doing cooking classes. I actually started those classes right in my home here in Milford.
I think the biggest factor (in myself becoming president) was the performance — it was definitely the performance. If I didn’t have such a great performance in the work that I did, it created great results quickly and as the years went by, the results kept getting better and better every single year, like you want to see not just in this business model, but in any business model.
I came into the company and I promised them that I would do a certain amount of sales and training and coaching and all kinds of things in that first year of the company, and I was very successful in that. We were able to in those first formative years to double the business, which was really phenomenal.
SCN: What factored into the decision to move the national headquarters of Demarle at Home from California to Milford? How is Demarle at Home performing in a struggling economy and what are your ultimate goals for the company?
CJ: We had a stop in between. We went from Los Angeles to Houston and then we moved. We had our logistics also in Houston so they thought maybe having the company headquarters and the logistics in the same state would be great. But when I became the president/CEO and then in 2006, my goal was to move to Milford because I had lived in this area and I wanted to build this part of the United States. I thought if I’m out teaching people to cook at home, it would be great if I was available to do that myself too, to practice what I preach, not just to tell people to do it because it’s great for them, but really to live that art of good living and not just to talk about it.
My goal was to move to Michigan and to really infiltrate this incredible business in this state and actually this city. I knew that when we moved here that we would have great opportunities.
This is a state that’s really been hit hard as far as the economy goes and manufacturing. The unemployment rate was so high and we have a great opportunity for people not just to come in and enjoy a cooking class but to create cooking classes as independent instructors where they can actually build an income alongside of doing something that they really enjoy and have a lot of passion about. It was the goal to move to Michigan and we’re just so happy and feel well grounded having our business here.
When we moved from the Houston area, we had only five employees at that time. Not all of the employees chose to move from Houston to Michigan, so what happened is some of them didn’t want to leave their families and move to another area because it was a really big move across the U.S. The only choice I had was to move the company and basically start from scratch.
I had the same regional sales director at the time that I kept on and I also had someone here that was working on our events. I ran the office from my home in Milford as I traveled around the United States, but they didn’t move with me here so I created new jobs for people that actually live in the area here.
I’m proud to say that our business is performing very well. I am absolutely surprised and excited about the future of the company, I’m really surprised at the response that we’ve had from people about cooking and I see that cooking is the new entertainment. Everyone is watching cooking channels and basically in our business, we come into your home and bring the cooking channel to you. It really comes alive and people love being in the kitchen. If you think about where people are in their home, the No. 1 place people spend the most amount of time is generally the kitchen.
That’s where the heart of the home really is, in the kitchen, and being that we can bring simple recipes and organize wonderful things to come alive in peoples’ kitchens, I believe that our future is very, very bright.
We are not a struggling business. I just found that people are looking for value-added businesses to be a part of or to purchase from. They want something that is going to bring value to their everyday family.
Being that our product is unique, the No. 1 thing that is unique about our product is that it does bring value every single time to the everyday kitchen and as long as we continue to present something to the everyday consumer that brings that amount of value to the everyday kitchen table or to the fun that the family is having in the kitchen, I believe that our future is very bright and I believe our business is just going to continue to grow and supersede probably all of the expectations that we have for the next five to 10 years.
SCN: What is it that you enjoy about cooking and what message do you try to convey through your passion? Outside of the company, do you have any future personal aspirations?
CJ: I believe I have a very important message. What I have found is that everywhere in the world, people are encouraging others to cook. They’re telling them to stop eating fast food, don’t buy all the frozen food, eat farm fresh, support your local businesses and fresh local ingredients and purchase those items.
The one thing that everyone is saying to the everyday consumer is eat and cook at home. But no one is telling them why they need to do that other than they’ll say there’s a house component. To get really specific about it, there are several things that happen when you sit around the table and eat together. First off, if you are the person that is preparing the meal, the subliminal messages that you bring to the table when you serve the food are I care about you, I love you, I’m going to be there for you. When you sit down with your family around the table and you eat together, the first thing that they’re thinking is they have the physical need to be fed because they are hungry, but there is also an emotional need that everyone wakes up every day and everyone has this emotional bank that needs to be filled throughout the day, too. When you sit down with the family together, the subliminal messages that are shared at that time is we love you, we care about you, we’re going to be here for you, we accept you, we’re going to get through everything in our life together.
When people aren’t eating together, children especially are going other places to get those emotional banks filled. Maybe it’s just friends saying that we care about you, we love you, we accept you, and I think that the everyday modern family has become so incredibly busy that they forget to stop and really enjoy the time around the table and make the experience not just something that you sit down and you’re up from the table in eight minutes, but it’s something where you’re at the table and you converse with one another and you talk about the day and the subliminal messages and the emotional banks will be full every single day as you do that.
I think that’s the most important message that we have for the everyday family. If you can’t eat at home every single day, try to eat at home every other day and if your kids are older, make a goal to do a family dinner every Sunday.
Even though all my children aren’t at home right now, my children come back to family dinner every Sunday and I think that’s made a significant difference in the closeness that we feel as a family and towards one another, even on a everyday basis. You just feel very much more connected and not so disjointed as a family just by having everyone together and I think that’s the most important message I can give anyone.
Business is not just about making money, it’s about the difference and the value that you can add to the people that are actually purchasing your products and spending time in the cooking classes with you. In the end it’s true that the only thing that’s left of us when we’re gone is the impact that we’ve created in the world we were in.
Those are the most important things that I can share with anyone and I think that is a gift that I have, that I’m able to explain that and get people to really think about why they need to sit down at the table and eat together as a family.
Outside of the company, I think like everyone else in the world. I would like to walk more, I would like to live closer to town so I can walk.
My goal in the future is not retirement like most people. My goal is to continue the amount of impact that I can have on people’s businesses as a business coach and people’s lives in helping them keep families together.
What’s really nice is I can live my personal goals right along with my business goals and I think I do have that fullness of a very full life because, of course, the business keeps me busy. I meet so many wonderful people along the way that it’s become very personal, as well, and it’s really nice to just get up every day and go to work and just know that you’re living your passion, whether it’s personal or professional. It’s all happening every single day.
SCN: How can someone who wants to learn more about your company find more information about it?
CJ: People can find info at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can send an e-mail to that address, or they can go to our website, demarleathome.com. They can come into our shop here in Milford, they can call us, and they can find us on Facebook at Demarle at Home.
We have multiple ways that people can contact us and whether they want to learn to cook or share great recipes, we have the door open here every day and we’re willing to do whatever we can, whether it’s in the kitchen or in business, so it’s kind of having your cake and eating it too.
Our shop is located at 525 N. Milford Road, Suite 280.