Why We Love Johnny Cupcakes

We are always excited to see what we can learn from other entrepreneurs and owner-led businesses. Where did their inspiration come from? What makes them special?

We would like share with you some of our favorite examples we’ve gathered over the years in a dedicated series of posts.

In addition, we would also love to have you share with us brands you see as great companies and why. Our hope is that each of us can take away valuable “nuggets” that we can then apply in our own way.

We couldn’t think of a better example to start this series than Johnny Cupcakes.

So, what do you think they sell? Sounds obvious, duh. Surprise! Johnny Cupcakes does not sell cupcakes or any food for that matter! Rather, it is a retailer that sells t-shirts and other clothing accessories in a super creative way.

My mom and I discovered Johnny Cupcakes walking down Newbury Street in Boston about ten years ago. It looked like a bakery and, given our love for sweets, we had to go in. We were so surprised once we walked in. It was not a bakery at all! It was a “bakery” selling t-shirts creatively displayed in glass cases and refurbished refrigerators. The whole place was a wonder in terms of its creative use of displays, colors, and friendly staff. It even smelled like a bakery if you can believe that.

A little history on Johnny Cupcakes:

Johnny Cupcakes’ owner is Johnny Earle; a born entrepreneur, who got the idea for his business when he set out to print some t-shirts for his band, On Broken Wings. I listened to this band when I was in high school and unknowingly had seen some of my other favorite bands wearing Johnny’s shirts on stage and in music videos years before I ever walked into the physical store or knew the origin of his brand’s insignia, a cupcake and crossbones.

Like many startups, Johnny got his whole family involved as the interest and business got going. He relays on his website how his family’s whole house became engulfed in packages to be mailed. When it came time to open up a retail store, Johnny did it with amazing creativity, coming up with the concept of a traditional retail bakery. In addition to the layout of the store, an additional “wow” factor for me was when the t-shirt I bought online came wrapped in a pastry box… just like a real cookie or a pie box. Even the neck tag was shaped like an oven mitt. How cool. His brand was completely consistent from the beginning of the customer experience through to the purchase experience.

As Johnny Cupcakes has grown, Johnny Earle has kept his brand vibrant and evolving. He took trade show marketing to another level by creating a tour where he talks about his story to colleges and university-level students. His inspirational story generates lots of buzz and more fans. He has created numerous partnerships too while retaining a portion of his product selection exclusively to his stores. These partnerships range from Hello Kitty (one of my favorites!) to Coachella.

His marketing lessons are timeless and we believe are applicable to whatever product or business you are developing and nurturing.

I could go on and on about Johnny Cupcakes and its founder Johnny Earle. There are many lessons to be learned by studying up a bit on his story and his marketing strategy. I encourage you to do it. Looking through the website alone will give you a great perspective on his thinking and what he is doing to foster his business. What is most inspiring to me is that Johnny Earle took a simple product–t-shirts–into a highly, highly competitive market, and made it into a successful business. If one needed any evidence of his connection with customers, Johnny Earle says, “To this day, I’ve seen thousands of loyal customers around the world with my brand’s logo tattooed on them!”

Here are our key takeaways and why my mom and I love Johnny Cupcakes:

  • Focus on the customer experience from the beginning to the end of the purchase cycle.
  • Use a creative presentation and merchandising layout to help your product stand out.
  • Take your story directly to your audience using techniques such as events marketing, pop-up experiences, or live demos.
  • Leverage your branding in whatever you do.

We look forward to hearing about your favorite brands and companies and stay tuned as we bring you more “Why We Love” stories in the coming months.

Trade Show Guide

Exhibiting at trade shows, conferences, or pop-up shows is a great way to promote your product to a targeted audience. We share tips and examples about how to make your pop-up show or trade show booth successful in this guide.

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