Yami and Anthony Rosemond are the life and business partners behind Pastreez, an online bakery offering authentic french pastries. The Rosemonds are both Le Cordon Bleu Paris trained chefs and left France to start Pastreez in America. In This episode of Shopify Masters, Anthony shares their recipe for success, which includes a dash of email marketing, a splash of memorable packaging, and a healthy serving of maximizing profit margins.
For the full transcript of this episode, click here.
Why offline beats online market research
Felix: Where did the idea behind French pastries online come from?
Anthony: My wife and I left everything in France to launch Pastreez here in the US. What we wanted to do is mash up both our skills. My wife is a French chef from Le Cordon Bleu Paris, and I’m an expert for online marketing and websites. We decided to jump from Paris to California to pitch the idea. What we found out is that they were missing authentic pastries online in the US. We wanted to bring our experience to the game.
Felix: What were some of the first products that you launched with?
Anthony: The first product we launched was French macarons. We can dig a little bit later on that point, as far as we found out that macarons were the main products. When we first arrived, we didn't know what the American markets would feed into. We tasted lots of different French pastries. We decided to go with macarons first, and now we are launching French crepes as well.
Felix: What kind of market research did you do to validate the idea before the launch?
Anthony: From Paris we checked online, and we saw that there might be an opportunity. You know how it works when you are far away, it doesn't really count as a market study, I would say. You really need to be in the field. So we came over for a few months in Southern California, and our strategy was to meet people in reality. We started with Meetups, the app. We found some groups and we said, "Okay, hey we don't have anything to do with your group, but we can bring free pastries for you to test and give us some feedback in exchange." We started with that strategy.
Then we started going to farmers markets as well, in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Malibu. We arrived with a few pastries. We had macarons, we had a few French cakes, and with the feedback from customers we did really see in the first few days and weeks that macarons were really, really popular in the US. What we decided to do is focus on these products first. The market study on the field was a first move toward a bigger scale after that.
Felix: Were there any findings that surprised you, regarding what was popular in the US?
Anthony: We knew that macarons are a very special product. It's famous worldwide, and it's recognized as French, and it's a very difficult pastry to make. We knew there was a demand here. But for example, in France and Europe, gluten free is not such a big deal. What we found out is that macarons are naturally gluten free. We didn’t even consider that part when we were in France. So the gluten free aspects really surprised us. The popularity of macarons really surprised us. We didn't know there was such a high demand for a small product like that. We really decided to focus first on this particular product to enter the niche.
Felix: I like how you felt that it was important to meet people in real life, and not just do market research online. Why was that?
Anthony: Online, you don't always find all the information you need, especially when you try to research a specific niche. At the time, there were three or four bakeries online, and they weren’t really French bakeries. We knew it was a good niche, because there weren’t many competitors. When you check the different SEO tools–like SEMRush–you can check the different keywords, and you can see that there is high demand and low competition. But that's just things online. Maybe people looked online, but they didn't really purchase after that. We needed to see and meet people to observe the market and what people like.
For example, we didn't know what macaron flavors American people would like. We know what French people like, but we didn't know what the famous macaron flavors were here. The farmers market and the Meetups and all the feedback that we got from early customers was important to narrow our vision to start the business.
Using the Meetups networking app to test your product
Felix: Using Meetups for customer feedback was a great idea. What was your approach for picking the Meetups that you’d go to for customer feedback?
Anthony: That was a fun part because we just arrived a few days before. We found an Airbnb in Los Angeles and said, "Okay, how can we test fast and meet people?" I knew that app, Meetup, was pretty popular in France. I said, "Let's see what our audience would think about that." At first, what we just wanted to introduce was the macarons and the other pastries, but choosing the Meetup was fun because we didn't know what audience would purchase these products. Is it as a gift? Is it for parties? Is it for baby showers, for weddings?
The first ever Meetup we did was a “pregnant with twins” Meetup. That was fun. It was the only one that responded to us, so we just said, "Hey, we have free pastries. We're French chefs. We just came over from France, and we just want to get your feedback on our macarons. That's the deal. That's it." They were very happy to welcome us. So we arrived at this Meetup where there were lots of pregnant women with twins. We arrived with our pastries and let them try everything. We sat for two hours listening to twins pregnancy stuff.
Felix: When you first decided to take this approach of meeting people in person, what exactly were you looking to find out? What would you consider a success from one of these meetups?
Anthony: First, we are a two-person team, husband and wife. We do everything in house, and we control 100% of the business. We have free choice. The first thing we wanted to do is narrow the niche and the products. What is the first product we want to go out with? I knew we couldn’t start with five, six different products. It's not a good strategy in my opinion. It's really better to focus on one main product that you know will work, because there's a demand and people are waiting for it. The first objective was to find the MVP, the most valuable product. It was macarons for us.
Then once we had the MVP we started going to the farmers markets with only macarons to see, "Okay, what are the popular flavors? Do people like salty, sweet, fruity, or creamy?" To try and narrow down the niche further. Once we got all these aspects we started online.
Why a single MVP is all you need to launch
Felix: A lot of people tend to think they need to launch with a lot of different sku’s. Why did you find it was important to focus on just one main product? How do you think that approach affected your success?
Anthony: In my opinion it's really important to be an expert, and nail one product to enter the market. It's much easier when you have one specific product that you control, to be the best and have people recognize the quality. Once you enter the pastry market online with one product, you can launch others because like I said, we are just a two-person team. It's better to focus all your effort on one specific product that you can develop and perfect over time. Once you are recognized, you can start expanding with other products. Which we will do soon with the French crepes that we are launching.
Felix: While you were doing these Meetups to get customer feedback, was there anything that surprised you?
Anthony: The first objective–the main goal–to grow further, was to create a subscription box of French pastries, one pastry a month to your door. That was the original idea. Once we arrived here and we tested a few different French pastries, we realized that they weren’t well known enough in the US to be worth pursuing the subscription idea. We changed that idea based off of Meetups and talking to clients in the farmers markets. We really switched towards the macarons at first because we felt that there weren’t any quality macarons. Every single client always said, "Hey, there's no real French macarons here. We cannot find it. We need to send that as a gift." Or, "I have a wedding to go to." Or, "I have a baby shower to go to." Things like that always come back to macarons. It was obvious that we had to switch our business model to focusing on macarons first.
We actually created the subscription box as well, but all the feedback that we got, either in the Meetups or in the farmers markets, was really telling us to go in that direction.
Felix: Did you learn anything different from the farmers markets, or did they just validate the feedback from the Meetups?
Anthony: The Meetups focused us on the macarons, and then we launched the farmers markets to go a little bit deeper into these markets. The farmers market was more a test to see: Is there enough demand to focus only on the macarons? And if so, what are the flavors we should come out with? We know it's macarons. What is important? Do you really care about the flavors? Do you have specific tastes? We didn't know what people might like here. For example, one big thing that we learned here was from a customer. I remember his name was Kevin. He said, "Hey, it would really be great if we can pick what flavor we want in the box." At the time, what we had was a variety assortment. We had 10 or 12 different flavors. This customer came up and said, "Hey, I just want these two. Is it possible?" We said, "Hey, maybe this is a feature that would be really valuable."
We knew that it was very interesting to add this feature so people could choose each flavor. Sometimes people like fruity flavors, such as passion fruit or raspberry. Sometimes people like creamy flavors, such as caramel, chocolate, or tiramisu. Maybe the fruity people don't like other flavors, like salted caramel and everything. This feedback was really useful for us at the farmers market.
The logistics of having a customizable product
Felix: A feature on your website is that when customers are selecting their box options, the images change based on the selection. Does this customization feature add any difficulties or supply chain challenges?
Anthony: It was a challenge. At first, not that much because we were very small at the time. It was pick and choose from the batch from the day. With our business model, every order is customized. You can't really have pre-packaged, or pre-prepared products before your orders. Each order is different. Looking back to it, that's part of what made us different. We really care about what you care about. If you like a specific flavor, you can order 24 macarons of passion fruit if you are a passion fruit flavor lover. It's difficult for the supply chain, but it's part of how we differentiate ourselves.
Felix: Once you did your market research, what were the first steps you took to getting online?
Anthony: We were attending three farmers markets at the time. It was Malibu, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa here in Southern California, and there were only two of us. My objective as an online marketer and website builder was always to go online at the end. This was part of the phase of market study. Even if we started getting sales with the farmers market–which helped as well–my main objective was always to go online after that.
We used the farmers market to build an email list. Every customer who gave us their email got a free macaron with their order. We started to get a little bit of a community of macarons fans as the website started to grow. Once the feedback started to repeat itself, we felt like, "Okay, I mean that's it. We already know what's important to them. Now let's get back to work online." Through that transition I wanted to stay at the markets while we were building the website, because we can use the feedback for online as well.
We switched from, "Okay, I want your feedback for a macaron flavor," to, "Okay, what is a feature you would like to see on the website? Would a subscription box mean anything to you? Would you care? Do you need a gift box? Would you use a macaron tower?" To inform the online application as well.
Build your email list offline, to optimize online
Felix: A lot of people think that building an email list is something that happens exclusively online, but you started way before. How effective of a strategy was that for you?
Anthony: It was pretty effective. Two out of three customers signed up. We had a piece of paper, and everybody wrote their email address down. What we started to do is email our customers about, "Hey, next week at the farmers market it will be these flavors." We got repeat customers that come every week. We built that relationship with them over time. After three or four years, we still talk to them. It was pretty effective.
Felix: When did you start seeing that transition where most of your sales were now coming online rather than offline at these farmers markets?
Anthony: We started the website, I believe it was September 2017. And we started the business in April 2017. We started the farmers markets in May. The website was fully operative in September. The switch back to online wasn’t difficult because I know a little bit more about SEO and online marketing, and I knew this niche was an accessible niche for us, because there weren't that many competitors, and there weren’t any quality, similar products online. Starting September, sales were only the farmers market people. Then in October we started ranking for “macarons near me,” which is a main keyword. It's something I was advised to do, is to put your name or the name of the product, and “near me.”
The switch I would say was around Christmas time. There were so many orders for us, we didn't have time to fulfill our duty to the farmers market. The first rush was Christmas time. Once we passed Christmas, January 2018 was a little bit slow. We said, "Hey, let's go to the farmers market in parallel and see how it goes." Then Valentine's Day arrived, and this was another rush. After February we slowly walked out of the farmers market, because online was doing much better. For farmers markets, you have to bring your canopy, build everything, and stay there for nine hours. It started to be too much for the both of us.
Managing seasonal spikes for a highly giftable product
Felix: It sounds like gifting is a big part of your business. How did you optimize on that characteristic of the business?
Anthony: The first Christmas, we had a macaron gift box. This was our first custom packages. It was a custom gift box, very smooth, very cool design. It was really designed to be gifted. That worked well. And then for Valentines, what we did is we focused on heart macarons. This actually was the first ever online. It was a heart shaped macaroon with a raspberry flavor, which is a really deep red. It's perfect for the occasion. It worked pretty well at the time. It was really the beginning so we weren’t effective in the shaping. We are not effective in the supply chain. To give you a fun fact here, the first gift box that we ordered, we ordered about 1000. It was too small for the macarons. It was very hard to put all the macarons in the correct way to ship correctly. It was really the beginning.
Felix: Another cool feature that you mentioned is people can schedule the deliveries. How does that work on the back end of things?
Anthony: We actually took advantage of a Shopify feature that wasn’t really made for that purpose, but we tricked it this way. For the shipping options at checkout, you can add different shipping options. What we did is add a shipping option and say, "Hey, this is Mothers Day reservation." Pick this shipping option if you want it to arrive around Mothers Day. That's what we do for every single rush time. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mothers Day, big rush dates. We always have the shipping option to say, "Hey, pick this one if you really want this as a gift for Mothers Day."
It’s a game changer, because it allows us to get presales, even a month in advance. For example, Valentine's Day is February 14. From mid-January we can start getting orders, because people like to order ahead of time. With this option, it's really easy in the back end, because we can put the list and say, "Hey, these people don't want the order to ship right now." And put that on the side, and then we will ship closer to February 14.
Felix: Are there certain features or product add-ons that you feel do well especially for gifting customers?
Anthony: What we had is two specific customized items on the website. On the product page of the macaron gift box, there are two specific custom items that we added, which is “add event date,” and “add gift note.” So add an event date, for example if your wife's birthday is in a month, you can still order right now. You just have to click "add event date" and you select your date on the calendar, and we will ship closer to that date. Same thing for the gift note. You click add a gift note from the product page. You add your note, and it will be printed on the gift receipt along with your order. Those really work well because it completely customized and personalized the experience, like picking your flavor, adding your gift notes, adding your gift date. You feel really cared for when you order like that.
Felix: What have you learned about how to price or display products that someone might be buying as a gift versus products that people would be buying for themselves?
Anthony: If you buy macarons for yourself for dessert, you would pick a simple packaging. You don't really care about the packaging, as long as it ships well and stays fresh. For the gift part, we have some specific items for gifts, like the macaron gift box, and the gift subscription box, where you can prepay for three months, six months, or 12 months. The recipient will receive a box of new macarons for three, six, or 12 months. With the macaron gift box we focused on the smooth packaging to feel special, because when you gift something, especially when you ship, you really want this "Wow" effect when the customers receive the box. Our main inspiration here was the Apple packaging for iPhones. I fell in love with this packaging. It's really smooth, with lots of details. Our macaron gift box feels exactly like that.
Creating a high-quality unboxing experience
Felix: You mentioned a blunder earlier, where you bought 1000 gift boxes that were too small. How did you adapt to that situation?
Anthony: At the time it was a pretty big mistake we made. We learned a lot, so that was part of the process. The boxes came. It was beginning December, no time to reorder or to back order or to do anything. We just had to make them fit. We had to trick the gift box inside, push it closer to the border, and adapt our products to the packaging actually. We had to change the macaron, because they were too big. We changed the recipe to make them a little bit more flat so they can fit correctly in the box. This period was really a nightmare because we spent too much time on each order. It was really day and night. When the 1000 gift boxes were out of stock and sold out, we celebrated because we knew that now we were going to get packaging that fits perfectly with our product.
Felix: What practices did you implement moving forward when it came to packaging?
Anthony: At the time, we controlled the recipe, but from Paris to Los Angeles, it was really different weather, with different humidity and temperature. All these factors affect the macaron recipe. It quickly got out of hand because we had too much demand. We didn't really know that much. That's why we ordered an average sized package, and we said, "Hey, let's see how it goes." When it got sold out, we said, "Before we order new packaging, let's control 100% of the product. Once we have a really specific average size." Macarons are hand made, each macaron will be a little bit different in size. That was tricky. Once we got accurate enough in our product we were comfortable enough to reorder.
"The lesson we learned is that we really needed to know 110% our products and our process before ordering custom packaging."
The lesson we learned is that we really needed to know 110% our products and our process before ordering custom packaging, because custom packaging really fits right for your product. If you order an average packaging that fits product A, B, and C, it's okay. It's not a custom packaging for this product, and it feels less personable. We wanted the product to fit the packaging, and the packaging to fit the product. We controlled the product a bit more before reordering this custom packaging.
Felix: You mentioned the unpacking experience. What were some of the things you’ve added or changed to provide that fun unboxing experience for your customers?
Anthony: The whole idea behind the pastry gift box was like a jewelry box. You order some jewels, or a ring at Tiffany and Co., and you open that with a ribbon. I wanted a soft touch box, like the iPhone packaging. This was really important to us because before even opening the box, you touch it. And you have to feel special when you receive something like that. The first experience is the look and the feel, so the soft touch was the first thing.
The second thing was we wanted to have an embossed logo that fits outside of the box. When you put your hands over it you can feel the logo. This makes it feel special as well. Then the opening. Inside is what's really important for us, the macarons don't move during transit, they stay perfectly so when you open the box you can see the bright colors of different macaron flavors. Then the only thing you need to do is taste them.
The underestimated potential of optimizing for the “near me” keyword
Felix: You mentioned SEO earlier. What are some of the SEO things that you've done to rank highly in your category?
Anthony: The first focus was “macarons near me.” The “near me” is really important because it focuses on the buying intent. People who type anything “near me,” are very interesting and have the purchase intent. I really focused on this. I use the plug in SEO for Shopify to help me with that.You can adapt your page to rank for those. What I used is really SEMRush. It's helpful because you can see “macarons near me,” who are the other competitors that are ranking for it. Then you can analyze and see why they are ranking for it, and beat them at it.
Since it was a pretty small niche, within a few months we were top one ranking for this keyword. To encourage traffic I always advise and focus on organic first. We are not really fond of paid ads. Maybe we can enter into details about that. I really prefer the organic stuff, because organic stays there. You can see it come up and down. You can fix it up. It’s about your energy and your capacity to adapt. What also helped us grow into this top one ranking in Google, was the reviews and blogs.
We started to get requests. "Hey, can I try your macarons? I can make a review." We were very happy about that because at the time, we really wanted to get some more feedback about the macarons. We really focused on organic search and keywords at first. Then once we were ranking for “macarons near me,” I started for all the keywords as well.
Felix: Was this all on-site?Whatwas your strategy for being able to rank for something like the “near me” keyword?
Anthony: It was both actually. It was in-site and off-site. It really goes hand in hand. The first thing I did was adapt the website with the keywords. The main page, of course, but specifically the product pages as well. You really want your customer–especially when it's someone typing "macarons near me," to see a product page first, because they have less clicks to the final purchase. If you send them to your main page, which is Pastreez.com, you still have to click buy, then you select your product and everything. It's more clicks. What I did is adapt a specific product page to the keyword.
The 48 macaron page is really detailed and focused for the “macaron near me” keyword. This is on-site. I would advise that each product is focused on one specific keyword. This way you can rank the same website for different keywords very efficiently. 48 macarons go to “macarons near me,” 24 macarons go to the “buy macaron” keyword.
Then off-site, you are nothing online. It was important for me to find out who the people that give reviews online for these products are, and reach out to them and say, "Hey, I have this product. We are pretty new. We'd love to send you a box for free and just tell us what you think about it." It started like that for off-site SEO. All together, it helped us rank really fast for these keywords.
Felix: You actively reached out to try and get blogs and reviewers to review the products?
Anthony: Yeah. When we started, we were nothing online. There are plenty of websites. We didn't have that much of a reach out. We first reached out and said, "Hey, we can send you free products. Just let me know what you think." That was pretty much it. If they were happy enough, they would make a blog post. The snowball effect was that other bloggers were subscribed to their blogs. Once they saw the reviews, we started receiving requests to review elsewhere.
Felix: So you send the product for review. What’s your level of involvement after you’ve sent off the product? How do you encourage those backlinks?
Anthony: To be fully honest, I'm not a fan of paid advertising, especially when it comes to small blogs. We send you a free product, and if you like it enough, just tell us what you think. We want your feedback. If you really like it, you can write about it. At this point, we will also share with social media, Instagram, and the blog post as well. They give us visibility, we give them visibility. It's a win-win situation. It was more like that. To this day, I work like that, because we are confident with our product. We know we have a good product.
It's better to share visibility together, rather than paying for visibility. It's biased when you pay someone to review your product, because of course if you paid them, they would most likely give you a positive comment. We want to stay flat on that. That's what we did since the beginning. We got reviews from Le Cordon Bleu Paris, Travel + Leisure, even Buzzfeed, and we never paid a single dollar for these referrals.
How to maximize for profitability
Felix: You had mentioned choosing an MVP with high profit margins. What are some ways you’ve been able to maximize your profit?
Anthony: That's a great question because the profit margin was part of the decision making for macarons. Macarons for French pastries is almost the biggest profit margin product. When you look at it, ingredients to make macarons are: Almond flour, sugar, and egg whites. Almond flour is expensive, but it's not that big of a deal, especially in California where we have the best almonds in the world. The ingredients themselves are not expensive. To give you an example, for 24 macarons, it costs $2.40 to make. And we sell them for $49. It's a 95-plus profit margin. The price is actually fair when you compare to competitors, and the secret in macarons is not about the ingredients itself. It’s really about the process. It's very, very hard to get quality macarons. You need to practice. You need to know the techniques. So it's a high profit margin product because of the process, not because of the ingredients.
That's made the whole difference because we control 100% of the process. We make macarons. We package them. We ship them. We don't do any outsourcing. When you control the supply line from A to Z, you can make a good profit margin.
Felix: You mentioned that you’re expanding your product line. Why French crepes?
Anthony: We did the same research, and focused on the same aspects that work for us for the macarons. t I started with SEMRush, SEO, checking the keywords, just analyzing to see, "Is this product a good fit for here? Do American people like crepes? Is it in high demand? What are the competitors? What are people doing and not doing?" To give you an example, “macarons near me” in SEMRush, is about 60,000 volumes of results per month. Crepes is about 75,000 volumes of results a month. The market demand seems higher than for macarons. When you check the competitors for the crepes, there are simply none online. There are none. Except of course for Walmart and Target, but there is no online bakery that focuses on crepes that ship fresh to your door. Of course, there are creperies near you in your city. But if you are not in a big city that has crepes, that's it for you. You can't have access to quality crepes. We did exactly the same process.
Bringing big-city indulgences to small-town events
Felix: Are a lot of your customer orders disproportionately coming from smaller cities that maybe don't have any local French pastries?
Anthony: Yes, we do. A lot. If you don't live in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, or Miami, these big cities, that's it. You don't have access because this is a very specific pastry. Let's say you have a baby shower and you really want to have a special day, where you're enjoying these specific pastries, you have to find it online, because if you don't, if you live in a rural area, or not in a big city, you won't have access to it. So yeah. With Shopify you can get the reports of which states actually ordered, and it's very fun to check that, to see what is the state that ordered the most. Of course for us it's the most populated state. It's New York, New Jersey, California. But it's not necessarily in the big cities. So we make it possible for anyone in the US to get quality French macarons, quality French crepes to your door.
Felix: You are shipping throughout the United States. Are there special considerations for packing and shipping food products that you had to distribute to the entire country?
Anthony: It was the second challenge, right after the packaging issue. Packaging is a really, really important step, especially for shipping food products. At first, we didn't know. We ordered from competitors. We see how they package, because you don't want to reinvent the wheel. Somebody must have done something smart before you. Find out about them, order their products. That's what we did. We ordered from a cupcake company, and we said, "Hey, this is very clever." There was a clam shell container that protects the cookies. There was an insulated part, and then there was an ice pack, and bubble wrap, and all these little details that they came forward with their products. We found it would fit for us as well.
That's what we did. Shipping for food products is one of the main issues. That's why for the crepes that we’re launching soon, we really wanted to get rid of that issue straight away. What we chose to do for the crepes is ship them in vacuum sealed bags. When you ship in vacuum sealed bags, the product is perfect, still fresh. You still have to put ice packs and an insulated pouch, but it won't break. It won't have any problems. So a really important step in the shipping process.
Felix: What do you think are going to be some of the biggest challenges coming your way in the near future?
Anthony: Scaling, because for now, we want to keep it for us maximum amount of time. We’re a husband and wife team. My wife keeps the recipes, and I do the online stuff. Recently we opened the first pick up location here in Southern California. You can order online and select the free pick up at checkout. Shopify allowed that. This was three, four months ago. This was a big step for us this year. And then scaling, because the recipes themselves are really technical.
We would have to hire someone and train them very, very much so they became strong at this recipe. We’d also like to hire someone to help for the shipping, especially during the rush hours for Christmas and all these dates. After that's the production. As long as you can keep the production line, you can ship. So at this point, we were able to do it just the two of us, even sometimes day and night so you get complicated. Soon we'll have to jump higher and get more machines for the recipes, and help for the shipping and the production process. That's the next challenge for us.