Sisters Create Cute Custom Cupcake Towers
Early last year, Jennifer Faris (left) was laid off, and her sister Joy Groblebe had her hours taken down to part time. The sisters had been the main breadwinners in their families, and they needed to find a way to keep bringing in money for their young families.
Inspiration struck one night while eating cupcakes. Their grandfather had custom built a cupcake stand for their younger sister’s wedding after she couldn’t find one she liked at a reasonable price, and they thought, “Why don’t we bring this to market?” The sisters got to work almost instantly, founding their company in March, and making their first sale in May.
They’re now selling high quality, handcrafted stands for cupcake and dessert displays. I used one for my daughters' ice skating birthday party. Other moms approached me asking where to buy one!
We caught up with Joy to hear more about how they developed their idea from kitchen table conversation to a growing business in less than a year…
Mom Invented®: Why did you start this company and when?
Joy Groblebe: One night in early 2009, over four very expensive cupcakes, my sister Jen and I got to talking about the cupcake tower that our grandpa had made for our younger sister's wedding. Since the wedding it had been used for several other family parties and holidays, and guests were always asking where we got it and if they could buy one. We're not sure if it was the wine or the cupcakes -- probably both -- but we came up with the idea to take Papa's original cupcake tower and make them to sell. And just like that, The Cupcake Tower was born.
There were also some personal reasons for starting the business. My sister Jen had recently been laid off from her job as a Real Estate Manager for a portfolio of luxury homes. The economy was in a really bad place and there was just nothing out there job-wise. Not to mention her daughter was 13 months old at the time and she really liked the idea of staying home with her.
I had just had baby number three and had recently had my job cut from full time to part time. We had both been the major earners in our families and needed to figure out a way to take our financial situations in hand and make something happen.
What were your initial goals?
Our initial goal -- not to mention our husbands’ -- was to make back our initial investment. We did that in the first six months which was really exciting.
Second, instead of relying on others to provide a job for us, we wanted to create our own jobs and start to replace the incomes we had lost.
Third, from the beginning we were determined to create something that was a real business, not just a hobby. Between the two of us we have two husbands, three dogs and four kids -- plus one on the way. We have enough in our lives to keep us busy, but we wanted a business that would mean something and make a difference in the lives of our families and those around us.
What was your 'aha' moment when it came to starting your business?
At first we thought that we would buy a bunch of wood-working tools, lumber and supplies and make the towers ourselves. We spent a ton of money, set everything up in Joy's husband's garage, put on our safety glasses and quickly realized three things: 1)We were terrible woodworkers. 2) It was A LOT harder than it looked. 3) When you cut wood you make a lot of sawdust and what on earth were we going to do with it?
All this was learned from just making two towers -- which took us about two days. We quickly realized that if we were going to do any type of volume we were going to have to look outside ourselves.
How did you determine your product’s marketability?
We knew there was a need based on the reasons our grandpa built the first Cupcake Tower. Our sister Jackie looked high and low for a Cupcake Tower for her wedding and couldn't find anything she liked. Either they were too small, made of cardboard and just for a one-time use, or made of forged metal and cost over $300.
The other thing is that cupcakes are hot -- and they're everywhere. Just about every magazine you read these days has a little something about cupcakes. Cupcake cookbooks come out every few months, and brides everywhere are choosing cupcakes over cake at their weddings.
How did you find a manufacturer for your product?
We searched the internet and talked with some people we know in the manufacturing business. We ended up working with a local manufacturer here in Denver, CO. As we grow, that will probably change but it's been a very successful relationship so far.
Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
Finding the right material for our product was a challenge. We initially thought the towers would have a painted surface. Time and cost made that nearly impossible. Jennifer found a melamine coated wood and that has proved to be a great solution that has really worked well for us. It not only cut our time and expense significantly, but made each tower washable, which is very important when working with frosting.
What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?
Inventory control is something that we continue to work through. It's hard to know which of your products -- or in our case, which of our sizes -- people are going to buy. Just when we think we have a formula worked out...it changes. Making sure you have your inventory set so that you have enough to fill your orders but not too much just sitting on the shelves and tying up your capital can be a challenge.
What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product?
We have a fabulous "web-guy" who has really helped us understand how the internet works and how to market ourselves online. Becoming part of online communities and social networking sites is really important. Who knew the online cupcake world was so huge? In addition, I have a PR background, which also helps.
How did you finance your business?
So far, we've financed everything with our own money. We are now looking at taking a huge leap to the next level, which is going to require a significant amount of cash. We have some friends and family who've said they're interested in investing. We are also looking into a small business loan.
Our initial cash investment was around $4,000. We also created some business partnerships, such as with our web designer. He agreed to design and maintain our website for a percentage of revenue as opposed to a set fee. This really helped keep our initial expenses down.
We feel confident in our financial decisions so far and the future looks bright. Our sales have increased every month since we started. In the coming year we expect to significantly grow our business through a new wholesale program and some key relationships we've built over the past few months.
What has been your greatest success with your business?
Our greatest success so far has been the payoff from our concentration on great customer service. We make this our number one priority and so far it's paid off wonderfully. We've had nothing but positive comments on our product from both customers, bloggers and people in the media. That's not to say we haven't had issues with various orders, but we've always made fixing problems our priority, and in the end the customer has been happy with their product and, more importantly, their experience with our company.
Who has been your biggest source of inspiration? What keeps you going?
Our biggest source of inspiration is our parents. Through example, they have taught us that failure is a big part of success. We've seen them live out the principles of perseverance, patience, strong character and hope in their business and their personal lives. It's a great model for us to base our business on.
What keeps us going? Those four -- soon to be five -- little faces that we get to be with every single day. To be able to do something you love and still be there with your kids for every little moment is a huge gift that we do not take lightly.
What advice would you offer other moms developing their businesses?
Go slow! Even if you think you have all the kinks worked out, you will soon learn that there are all kinds of problems and issues that you never thought of. Be open to change, be flexible and be patient.
Also, make customer service priority number one. Especially in the internet age we live in, one bad review or bad customer experience can really make it hard to move forward. Give your customers an A-plus experience every single time and the rewards will come back to you a hundred times over.
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