You might be surprised to learn that the cupcake industry is actually a pretty competitive--and sometimes cut throat--space. At Inc.'s Women's Summit, founders of Georgetown Cupcake, sisters Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman, shed some light on how they grew a small-time cupcake shop into a national brand.
Launched in 2008, the first location was in Washington D.C. The cupcakes, which touted rare, high-quality ingredients, were an immediate success, according to the sisters. By 2010 (perhaps when the cupcake craze reached a fever pitch), the sisters landed a reality show with TLC called "DC Cupcakes". They were also featured on a slew of other TV shows, including the "Martha Stewart Show." Today, Georgetown Cupcakes has 400 employees and five locations across the country that sell a combined 20,000 cupcakes a day.
So how did this growth happen? The sisters outlined a few simple priciples for rapid growth.
Always put the customer first.
The first Georgetown Cupcake opened on Valentine’s Day five years ago, and the sisters packaged the cupcakes in pink boxes for the holiday. They planned to serve white boxes once the holiday was over. The next day, they found that customers didn’t want a white box for their goodies. They wanted a pink box. Today, the pink box is an identifiable part of the brand.
“If you listen to your customers, they will tell you what you need to know,” said LaMontagne. “If you spend time at the counter packing up their cupcakes and ringing up their order, you learn a lot.” Even today, LaMontagne and Berman clock hours behind the counter to better understand their customers.
Focus on your employees.
For the founders, hiring is one of the most important aspects of growing a business.
“It’s like running a little army. If someone is not in sync, then something else can go wrong and in a business that can lead to a chain reaction,” said LaMontagne.
The founders use social media to recruit people who are already passionate about the brand.
“It is so important to find people who can represent your company and your brand in the way that you want to be represented because when those customers come through the door they are the face of Georgetown Cupcake,” said Berman.
Berman also stressed that it is important to show your employees that you understand their job--another reason to work behind the counter occasionally.
Never take a short-cut.
Starting the company from their grandmother’s recipes, the duo said that even though they can save money by using cheaper ingredients--that’s not what it is all about.
“When we started, you could get cupcakes anywhere. You could get them at your grocery store but we said that we wanted to make the best. We wanted to use the best ingredients and bake them fresh. Those were our principles and we haven’t changed them in five years.” said Berman.
And despite a staff of over 400 employees, the sisters still bake cupcakes--and eat them.
“During my pregnancy I almost got gestational diabetes because I ate so many cupcakes,” said Berman. “The doctor told me I needed to lay off but it’s a part of quality control.”