SMB Spotlight: Wanna Cupcake?

As part of a regular series here at the Fivestars blog, we’ll take a look at some of our clients who have achieved success with our one-stop loyalty reward program. We’ve seen proven results for some time – now, we’d like to share them with you to give you a better idea of how implementing our program can help you acquire, grow, and retain your customer base and ultimately, improve your business. At the very least, we hope you will pick up a few tips from these superstar small business owners!

Where can you go to find some of the most unique cupcakes and impressive specialty cakes?

That would be Wanna Cupcake? of course. Owned by husband-wife duo Jim and Karie Romano, Wanna Cupcake? can cater to all your cake cravings and needs. Their store is located in Puyallup, Washington and first opened its doors in June 2012. Their specialty is – can you guess it? – cupcakes and gourmet cakes! They currently make over 100 flavors on a rotating menu with different flavors available each day of the week.

Everything is baked from scratch in-house and the bakery is buzzing each morning by 4am.  Jim and Karie decided to open Wanna Cupcake? after suffering some personal losses during the recession of 2008. After watching their family and friends experience losses as well, they decided it was time for them to take control and start something of their own. Together, they make the perfect business team – Jim handles all the business and finance aspects, while Karie is the creative mastermind behind their shop.

Unlike many other small business owners, the two didn’t just acquire loans and sign a lease right off the bat. Instead, they took a non-traditional route and rented some commercial kitchen space they shared with a few other businesses. They knew they had to start out small – they did this by selling their baked goods at farmer’s markets first and doing a few wholesale orders. Slowly, people began to recognize their brand and that’s when they decided to do retail. Today, their shop has an open-kitchen concept that’s much like walking right into the kitchen of a bakery. The design works well for the duo because their customers love getting a behind-the-scenes look at the baking process and experiencing a real kitchen every time they walk in.

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“What do I have to do to stay in business?”

Prior to opening up Wanna Cupcake?, Jim and Karie did a ton of research. They wanted to make sure they were 100% informed before making this business venture. Although they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into, Jim tells me there are still challenges, one of which is understanding the growth cycle. Knowing when to ramp up business is key to sustained growth – as he tells me, you always need to devote a certain amount of money into buying more supplies and hiring more employees to grow your business.

But then there will come a time when you have a greater capacity than you do sales, at which point you will need to start chasing the sales again. The cycle is unavoidable, and knowing when to scale up operations and when to stop is key.  Although scaling up operations is a start-stop-start challenge, growing sales is a 24/7 proposition, which is where a partnership with Fivestars comes in.

To those who are considering starting up your own small business, Jim wants you to keep two things in mind: one, being your own boss is harder than working for any other boss and two, know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Many people start their own business because they want to be their own boss. According to Jim, nothing could be further than the truth – when you’re working for someone else, you can always request a vacation, have sick-days, etc. When you have your own business, however, the customers and marketplace control when you can get time off. “Yes, you get to call the shots on a lot of things, but you don’t open a business just so you can put your name on the front door.”

Finally, Jim encourages everyone to take the time to really look into what kind of business they want to start. Many people tell him they’d love to open up their own cupcake shop too, but when they realize that they would need to get into work by 4am every day to start baking and be on their feet for 12 hours at a time, they pause.  Oftentimes, people jump in and quickly realize that when they must do whatever they’re passionate about for hours and days, they lose that passion. “And when you lose your passion, you’re doomed.”

Keep in mind that when starting a small business, there are no internal partners or experts on staff that can handle the multitude of questions or issues that inevitably arise.  You must surround yourself with external experts who can help and one key partner is one who can cost-effectively focus on marketing your brand and building a loyal customer base.  So Jim’s advice is to stay focused on the business and passion that you know, and partner with experts who will accelerate you to where you want to be.

Wanna Cupcake? and Fivestars

Just like their business has evolved over time, Jim and Karie’s marketing techniques have as well. When they first opened up shop, they frequently did coupons, mailers, and ads in print media just to get brand recognition. They did it so often that people began to see it over and over again and actually visit. Once they had a sizeable customer base, they began to focus more on social media. The current state of their Facebook page ,was grown organically without the help of any ad campaigns.

Jim & Karie knew that keeping an existing customer is a lot easier than losing one and finding a new one. Based on this understanding, a customer loyalty program was a must because they understood that people like being thanked and rewarded. Although the old-school punch cards were an option, he wanted something a little more modern and user friendly. Fivestars was a good choice for Wanna Cupcake? because it was an upgrade from paper cards and was simple to use. Jim likes that there isn’t a whole lot of information a customer has to give up and there’s nothing crazy fancy about it.

Signup at checkout is quick and easy!  As Jim points out with a chuckle, “People don’t want to deal with technology when they’re buying a cupcake!” Since starting with the program, Fivestars has led to increased customer frequency and traffic for the business. Jim loves the AutoPilot feature because marketing often becomes a second-rate concern when there are so many other things to worry about.

Autopilot takes care of the complicated things and automatically does everything for you.  They train their staff that Fivestars is an added benefit for our customers.  Signing up customers at checkout is considered as important as taking their payment.  It is just a natural part of the conversations and customers love it.  Their mission has always been “Every Customer Leaves Happy!”… Signing up every customer on the Fivestars program is just another way for us to fulfill that mission.

Great Aspirations

Jim & Karie’s favorite aspect of running Wanna Cupcake? is getting to share special moments with their customers and being a part of happy occasions.  People come to the shop when it’s a special time in their life (birthday, wedding, etc.) or just when they have that spontaneous craving for something sweet.  Seeing the smiles on his customers’ faces when they see their custom cake or even just when they take that bite into a cupcake is a driving force for Jim and Karie. They also really enjoy helping their employees develop and grow. Whether it’s improving their baking and decorating skills or honing their people and customer service skills, the couple loves being a part of the learning process.

When you hear the name Wanna Cupcake?, you probably don’t think of cakes. Although Jim and Karie did start out specializing in cupcakes, they slowly expanded their repertoire to contain specialty cakes as well. They went from baking four to five cakes a month to baking four to five cakes a day!, along with countless dozens of their scrumptious gourmet cupcakes and hand rolled & dipped cake pops! They’ve received a lot of great feedback on their cakes and hope to expand that horizon. The two also want to expand beyond their walls and eventually begin to ship their baked goods all over the country (they currently offer local delivery services). Looking even further into the future, there will probably be additional locations in the next five years. When Jim tells me, “As long as the product and service is good, anything is possible!” I, for one, second that. 

Learn more about Wanna Cupcake?:
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Follow Wanna Cupcake? on Twitter: @wannacupcake


Tracy Gao
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Tracy Gao

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