Heather White and Lori Joyce have one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Don’t do what they did. In 2002, the co-founders of Canada’s original all-cupcake bakery sank $80,000 into their first Cupcakes store, in Vancouver—without a business plan. “I don’t regret anything, because we learned so much,” says Joyce. “But don’t fly by the seat of your pants,” adds White.
They could have winged it on the baking side, too—they’re self-professed “non-bakers”—but they opted to hire professionals instead and focus on what they knew they were good at: marketing and branding. That was the first ingredient in this partnership; the second was making sure that business didn’t ruin their 20-year friendship (they met as teenagers, when they worked at the same store). “It’s not always easy,” says Joyce. “But we treat it like a marriage, and it’s gotten stronger and evolved.” The occasional weekend away—”no business talk allowed”—helps keep harmony on both fronts.
Last year, the pair spun off three franchises, and Cupcakes’ three corporate stores now have 62 employees, 61 of them women. “It’s not by choice,” says White. “It’s intimidating in here, because it’s pretty pink. Guys just don’t stick around.” And this spring, they starred in a reality series on W Network, The Cupcake Girls, chronicling the day-to-day dramas of running a business.
Looking forward, the ladies are searching out more franchisees to open Cupcakes outlets nationwide.
Three things to keep in mind...
- Money. “The first thing that most businesses do is stack themselves with rainy-day funds,” says Cupcakes co-founder Lori Joyce. She and Heather White didn’t do that. “As sales came through the front door, we were paying our suppliers out the back.” Now, prospective franchisees must have access to at least six months’ worth of unencumbered cash to get approved by the cupcake girls.
- Marketing. “In year one, we dedicated a tremendous amount of energy to making sure every person in the media world had a cupcake in hand,” says Joyce. “We were top of mind for months, and that was very effective in getting the word out.” How’d they do it? “Picking up the phone and not taking no for an answer.” Keeping it up was much easier, with their faces splashed across TV screens nationwide.
- Marriage. As in, don’t do it—at least not for five years. That’s the “personal distractions” pact Joyce and White made when they decided to go into business together. “No babies, no marriages,” says Joyce. “It was all about Cupcakes.” Joyce is now married, with a baby due in May.
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