Editor’s Note: Lynn Armitage is an entrepreneur, writer, editor and blogger who’s making it in America. She’s the owner of Rockin' Cupcakes and lives in Northern California with her teenage daughter. This is part 2 of Lynn's series about her cupcake business.
Last we left off, I made a bold decision to open the first gourmet cupcake shop in my new town in Northern California – even in the face of a deepening recession. But I wanted it to be more than just a cupcake depot like so many of these other places, where you walk in, buy a cupcake and leave. My vision was to create a destination -- a place where customers could relax and escape their financial worries for a while. Sip some great local coffee. Enjoy a cupcake a la mode. Or just eat ice cream, if that’s all they wanted.
I imagined a joyful place for families that served up salve for the soul.
What I needed, however, was a good theme. Something that would not only pull customers in, but a fun concept that would be a great equalizer between different generations, since cupcake lovers come in all shapes, sizes and ages.
Then it hit me: Music! It’s something we all have in common, right? From the Beatles to Justin Bieber, nothing defines a generation better than that era’s music. Besides, what could make people happier than music and cupcakes?
And “Rockin’ Cupcake Café” was born -- a musically-themed cupcakery where patrons could “eat, rock and be happy.”
Like Starbucks Coffee meets the Hard Rock Cafe.
The dream comes to life.
Coming up with a very marketable idea was the fun part. But now I had to get down to brass tacks: How would I pay for it? I am part Native American, so I contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs and they referred me to the Small Business Administration. The SBA offers a great service to the public where they match you with business mentors, retired professionals who volunteer their time and resources to help the dreams of entrepreneurs, like me, take flight.
My objective was to secure a start-up loan to pay for some upfront costs and provide operating capital. For five months, I worked with two S.C.O.R.E. mentors – selflessly brilliant men, I might add -- on my business plan, a crucial outline that all investors want to see before they decide to take a chance on you. Rob and Ted helped me craft a business plan so impressive, I imagined investors throwing money at me. In fact, Rob said it was “the most vetted plan he had ever seen.”
A big fish actually took the bite, but in the 11th hour, just days before signing loan papers, the bank wiggled off the hook. I didn’t have any culinary experience, and it spooked them.
True, I wasn’t a professional baker. But I was learning. While crafting my business plan, I simultaneously developed my homegrown recipes. Every day, I baked, tested and tweaked cupcakes and buttercream frosting – from scratch, mind you! I even hired a few pastry chefs to help me perfect my recipes along the way.
My kitchen became a laboratory; I was possessed by my vision! My daughters were sick of cupcakes and wanted real meals. But if customers were going to pay $3 a pop, the cupcakes had to be ROCKIN’!
Sizing up the competition.
During this research and development phase, I also visited a number of other cupcake shops in Northern and Southern California to observe their operations and pick up on some workable ideas. Surprise,
surprise . . . I discovered that many of these other cupcake shops didn’t bake from scratch. They used packaged mixes supplied by a wholesaler.
Yes, in the long run it is more economical not to buy your own flour, sugar and leavening ingredients. But customers deserve better than that. Who’s going to pay $3 for a cupcake they can make at home from a mix? It seemed to defy all the laws of professional baking.
So baking from scratch it was.
In keeping with the musical theme, I named all my cupcakes after songs. My daughters are creative souls, too, and gladly helped with this part. We came up with “Stairway To Lemon,” “Lady In Red” (red velvets), “Cooler Than Me” (mint), “Paparazzi” my take on the Zingers from my childhood, and “I Think I Love You” for the chocolate\chocolate. (You can read the full list of our musical names on our website.)
My goal was to have 12 killer recipes on tap by the time the shop opened, and I figured I would just grow the menu from there. Nine months – and 10 pounds (YIKES!) -- later, my cupcakes were ready for market.
By that time, I had made a very daring – and risky -- decision to invest my own money. My father (bless him!) contributed generously, too.
To hell with a bank. Nothing was going to stop me now.