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Food Entrepreneurs: Johnny Cupcakes

Posted on Saturday, Dec 19th 2009

By Guest Author Erika Valdez

If you’ve already had your fill of holiday sweets, the next installment in the food entrepreneurs series is for you. Today’s post is the story of Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle, the founder of Johnny Cupcakes—a kitschy and fun food-themed merchandise design business. You might be asking yourself how this story relates to the food entrepreneur series. Even though Earle does not own a food business, his company incorporates the theme of cupcakes, a classic American baked good that has been enjoying a resurgence, in its business model.

Earle grew up in Hull, Massachusetts, and after attending college for only a few weeks, he decided to pursue the dream of owning his own business. Working at a record store, Earle was given the nickname Johnny Cupcakes and began making cupcake-themed t-shirts as an inside joke with friends. People began to pay attention to these unique t-shirts and starting buying them from Earle, who began selling them from the trunk of his beat-up ‘89 Toyota Camry. Soon the word began spreading and sales began to increase, and seeing the growth in demand for his t-shirts, Earle launched Johnny Cupcakes.

From the start, Earle has been extremely involved in the development and growth of Johnny Cupcakes. Earle is the salesman, promoter, and viral marketer. Aside from running his business, he lectures at schools across the nation and abroad, offering advice to young start-ups. He is able to relate his passion for entrepreneurship and his motivation for discovering new ideas every day. The lectures focus on how to start and maintain an original business without any startup money or other resources (which was the case for Earle, who funded the company with limited personal savings and the support of his mother).

There are a number of Johnny Cupcakes stores across the nation. The first opened in Hull in 2003, the second in Boston’s famed Newbury Street in 2006, and the third in Los Angeles in 2008. Today, Johnny Cupcakes has about 30 employees, and since its foundation in 2003, the company has grown 914% and business revenue has exceeded $8 million. The company grew from word-of-mouth marketing and closed relationship networking.

So what has helped Earle grow his business to its current position? Dedication to the product quality, creating something unique, and building personal rapport with customers. Earle took an idea and molded it into an “experience.” Not only did he incorporate a well-loved food theme into his merchandise, he created a brand that was as much about the experience as the product. His stores look like old-fashioned bakeries and smell like frosting. T-shirts are displayed in vintage bakery equipment such as refrigerators, baking trays, and curved glass bakery cases. Window displays read, “0% carbs, 0% fat, 0% sugars,” or “Freshly baked!—No cupcakes here, though!” It all forms part of the customer experience.

Johnny Cupcakes continues to grow and expand, in part due to its unusual business model and the idea that has made it stand out. Earle’s message to those with the entrepreneurial spirit is to take risks, start your own business, and do what you love.

This segment is a part in the series : Food Entrepreneurs

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