Although some have argued that the cupcake craze is over, for Gigi’s Cupcakes it appears to be alive and well.
With growing interest in these miniature desserts, it becomes increasingly difficult for cupcake brands — many of which are small businesses — to stand out from the crowd, says Gigi Butler, founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes.
We recently spoke to Butler, who opened her first store in Nashville in 2008, about how she sets her business apart from the competition.
Butler was running a small cleaning business in Tennessee when the idea to open a cupcake shop came to her.
“I never thought of cupcakes as a career,” she tells Business Insider. “At least I didn’t until I received a call from my brother about seven years ago.”
She was cleaning a bathroom in a client’s home over Labour Day weekend in 2007 when her phone rang. “My brother was in New York City and said to me, ‘You won’t believe this, but people are waiting in line for hours for cupcakes! And they’re not even as good as yours.'”
Something clicked, and she decided to take a chance. After visiting her great aunt Bennie who owned a bakery in Texas, securing a location for her own store in Nashville, and taking $US100,000 in cash advance loans from her credit cards, Butler opened the doors of Gigi’s Cupcakes on February 21, 2008.
“I didn’t have much competition in my local market when we first opened,” she explains. “But as time went on, that changed.”
Nonetheless, standing out was a concern from day one, she says. “And of course it still is.”
Today there are 92Gigi’s Cupcakeslocations in 23 states — all of which are franchised — and this year Butler expects $US35 million in annual sales across all stores.
“I’ve learned that to be successful, you have to be different; you have to offer something unique,” she explains. “We do a few things to accomplish that.”
First, she says, “we have to continue to be innovative and in touch with what our customers want. To continue our success as a local gourmet bakery, every location must meet the quality standards that we set from the beginning. That’s what our customers expect from us, and that’s what we work so hard to deliver.”
Second, she says, Gigi’s Cupcakes’ recipes are “unique and rich in family history.”
“Each recipe has a story behind it,” she says. For example, when Butler was in the cleaning business, she would bake loaves of banana bread and wrap them up to give as Christmas gifts to her clients. “It was all I could afford at the time,” she says. “Once I started Gigi’s, I used that same recipe to create a cupcake, which is still on our menu today. Every time I serve that cupcake to a customer, I think about how far that recipe has come. It’s so special to me.”
Most of the Gigi’s Cupcakes recipes came from Butler’s grandmother, her great aunts, her mother, and other relatives, many of whom were (or are) bakers.
“Our products and recipes also have a Southern flare, and that makes us different as well.”
To further stand out, the look of the stores and actual cupcakes are different than those of most popular chains.
“The frosting is piled high, giving our cupcakes a distinct look,” Butler says. “And the shops are all bright and colourful, with hot pink walls.”
The Gigi’s packaging and branding is also “special and unique,” she explains. “I wanted people to instantly recognise a Gigi’s Cupcakes box (much like a Tiffany box) and get excited knowing that there is an incredible dessert waiting inside.”
Finally, she says, to really set her brand apart, Butler decided to offer a more diverse product line than the typical cupcake shop. In addition to cupcakes, Gigi’s makes and sells custom-made cakes, cookies, muffins (gluten free), and specialty coffee.
“It can be difficult to be different,” Butler says. “But I took all my creativity and put it into creating a unique brand, and it’s definitely paying off.”
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