Saturday, March 10, 2012

Johnny Cupcakes

He's also a joker and prankster.
Last month, Johnny Earle was a guest speaker at my home community college.  His shop, Johnny Cupcakeslooks and smells like a bakery, but he sells tee shirts instead of edibles.
In 2008, he was named #1 entrepreneur 25 years and younger by BusinessWeek. Although I do not plan on running my own business or clothes line, I still found Johnny inspirational.

I will write multiple posts of Johnny Cupcakes including his advice. This post will be the longest of three or four.

His Story
Because Johnny's mother often came home upset from long hours of work and commute, Johnny decided, “I'll work at a cool company or be my own boss.” Everyone wishes for this outcome, but Johnny did more than wishing.

Johnny has been a salesman throughout his life. When he changed to a charter school, he was sad to no longer school with his friends. However, there were benefits to a small school such as easily finding the young salesman. When Johnny saw that the charter school had no yearbook, he put his scrapbook to good use. He didn't have the money for mass production, but he learned that pre-orders provided the funding.

Then Johnny learned about wholesale from buying whoopee cushions in bulk for the price of four whoopees.  Selling just four whoopees would cover the cost. 

He invested the profit into other gag products such as itching powder. Unfortunately, a student was allergic to an herb in it. When faced with expulsion, Johnny argued, “If a kid buys a pencil from a supply store and then stabs another kid, you don't blame the supply store.” Thus, he was suspended for a few weeks instead of expelled.

Because his better selection of candy sold better than the school's candy, Johnny was told to focus on the internship requirement for graduation. He looked through a phone book and chose printed shirts. At the assembly line, he was inspired him to make his own designs.

Johnny worked more internships for hands-on experience. His attitude was, “work now, play later. Put 110% into business.” As for games, Internet, and parties, Johnny said, “Don't do anything excessive.” He had to break-up with a girlfriend and one friend disappointed Johnny by not putting as much effort into a shared business. However, he still had fun with friends such as putting oral gel on their drinks so they drooled when talking to a girl.

Johnny's parents wanted him to give college a try. If he needed more time outside of school, then he could take less classes. If he took a few classes, then choose the ones he was passionate about. His parents were fine if he stopped, which Johnny did do in his first and only semester.  He was distracted by business opportunities. Johnny stated that he had Borderline ADD. He had intended to take a break from school for these ideas. 

The classic cupcake with crossbones.
His Cupcakes
Johnny randomly slapped a cupcake on a shirt. He thought a hard-core rock band member  wearing a cupcake instead of a skull would be amusing. And because people gave him Johnny-this and Johnny-that nicknames, he came up with Johnny Cupcakes.  His shirts caught the attention of coworkers and customers at a comic store. Because of all the inquires, Johnny made more shirts and sold them from the trunk of his car during work breaks.

Nickelodeon  was a dream come true
for Johnny!
His shirts became popular because there were no shirt brands focused on food. Johnny played with pop-culture by substituting characters and icons with cupcakes. Weapons were replaced with cupcakes too. The profits were invested in better supplies and equipment.

Currently, Johnny is known as not selling his product to stores, but he had done so at the beginning. He benefited in seeing store labels, tags, and packaging. Packaging alone can attract and keep customers. Johnny has spent money and time on detailing the packages he uses now to make them special. If a customer hangs onto a tag, then you get free advertising.

Johnny hard at work.
From the stores, Johnny heard about trade shows and risked his savings on a table at one. He discovered that a year's worth of networking could be done at one trade show. To stand out, he gave away cupcakes, had his team dress as chefs, and placed products on baking trays.

Johnny noticed the advantages of online shops. People buy more on the Internet than in person because they don't see each dollar leave their wallet. Customers also want to make the shipping cost worth it. In addition, items and purchases on the Internet can be shared easily. Based on a survey box, 90% of customers heard about Johnny Cupcakes from a friend. Some new customers found Johnny Cupcakes from searching “cupcakes.” Even if these people felt tricked they still spoke of the shop because the search result was different.

I got a Bobby's World vintage card.  
Because word of mouth was effective, Johnny kept people talking. Sometimes he places a random item in a purchase such as a bag of sand, a vintage sticker, batteries, or even a $20 bill. Customers share about these fun surprises and buy more shirts for more surprises. In addition, a random battery serves as free advertisement for Johnny by reminding the customer of the shirts at the sight of batteries. In his blog, he stated his excitement for when a customer finds a fake skull in their purchase. 

At the lecture, Johnny taped a little surprise under each seat. Attendees found a little bag
(like the one in the image) filled with his business card, candy wrapped with the Johnny Cupcakes logo, and a vintage trading card. One bag had $1 while another had $20. A code was also given for a 20% off discount. Johnny stated, “It's okay if you return the shirt. I just want you to see the packaging.”

This shirt that I bought had a hidden message.
Another one of Johnny's kooky strategies is a hidden message on the inside of most shirts. The shirt printers hate this extra step because most customers do not know about it. Johnny muses over a customer possibly finding the hidden message on laundry day. Johnny thinks the customer will then check other purchased shirts, call friends to check their own purchases, and buy more shirts. 

Johnny then tried a new shop location for better foot traffic. It was a risk, but over 400 dedicated customers stood in line for the grand opening. People slept 12 days on the street to buy a shirt. I will share the grand opening video in another blog post.

He got a trade dress for his shop, which means a trademark for store or product display. He won't sell cupcakes to keep his shop weird, strange, and unique. Nearby bakeries have been saved because Johnny sends the tricked, hungry customers to these shops. Another person who benefited is Johnny's mom. He hired her as CEO and she's happy now. =)

Thank you, Johnny!

I thought this real life Willy Wonka was worth standing in line three times for the lecture, shirt purchase, and face-to-face on my birthday.

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