Kimberly Aya is the founder of FunCakes: stunning rental cakes for weddings and parties at an affordable price. She's been in business for over 10 years and has appeared on Shark Tank.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn how she scaled her online success by going offline with grocery stores, working with brokers to offer her products at 1000 locations.
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"Now they’re selling $400, $500 orders at a bakery in a grocery store. Those are numbers they never saw before and that’s on one order."
Tune in to learn
- How to grow a business that does not have a lot of repeat business
- How to encourage customer testimonials and reviews
- How to get your product in to nearly 1,000 grocery stores
- Store: FunCakes Rentals
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Felix: Today I’m joined by Kimberly Aya from Fun Cakes. Fun Cakes offers rental cakes for weddings and parties, stunning cake designs for an affordable price starting 2007 and based at Grand Rapids, Michigan. Welcome, Kimberly.
Kimberly: Thank you for having me.
Felix: Excited to have you on. Tell us more about these rental cakes and your store.
Kimberly: We have a website on Shopify where you can choose a cake from there. We have like 150 cakes I think online. Then if you don’t see anything there you like, then you can send us a picture and then we can make a custom order cake for you.
Felix: Very cool. Where did this idea come from to create a product like this?
Kimberly: I’m a baker and that’s what I was used to doing. I owned a bakery in Europe. Then I moved to Michigan and decided to go to a bridal show. Every good baker display cakes to show their work so that the bride can understand what quality of work they have. Those cakes are all fake. In 2007, I went to a local bridal show with I think I had like five or six cakes and all the brides kept asking if they could just choose my display cake. I’m like why would you do that? How would that work? They taught me my entire business in a three day bridal show. They taught me how to kind of cut it and what they’re going to serve to their guest. I decided that I might as well give it a try. I always believed in listening to your customer because that is the person who’s going to be purchasing from you.
I had like 99% of the brides asking if they could use my display cakes. I had been working. I’d get in the bakery and actually the day of the show the realtor called me on the building and started cussing at me and cussing at me to sign the beep beep lease and what the beep beep was I waiting for. It was like this is called Fun Cakes. This isn’t called grumpy cakes, pissed off cakes. He ranted on and on and I just said, “I don’t want your shop.” I actually went to the bridal show without a location. Then after 99% of the brides for three days asked if they could use my display cakes and my fake cakes, I’m like, “Well, let’s give that a try.” Let’s give it a try and then you can always convert back to a bakery if it doesn’t work. That was 10 years ago. Obviously it worked.
Felix: Yeah, obviously. You were getting this feedback from customers at the show and you decided let’s give it a shot. What was the first step? How did you begin about creating a business around these fake cakes?
Kimberly: Actually my husband was stuck in a lease in a building. He’s like, “You can set up office there.” I went and set up office there and then started calling the brides back from the bridal show because I had gotten their information and started making appointments for them to come in and order their cakes. I only had six cakes. I had no inventory. Then I wrote an email to my local newspaper and told them that there’s a new business in town because they have to cover that in their business section. They kind of didn’t answer me and I kept after them. What they had done because the bridal show was in March they kind of held me off and they held me off and then they did a June story because everybody gets married in June so they think.
I got the front page of our local paper and then that got sold off to all the newspapers and radio stations they own. Within six weeks I was on The Today’s Show. I’m like okay. I guess this is the avenue I should go is doing fake cakes and give up on the bakery idea which was really hard as a baker to give that up. I don’t even have an oven. I’m a baker without an oven. I do cakes without an oven.
Felix: Yeah. That’s funny. You are writing out these emails because you wanted to try to get some local coverage at first? Is that where most of the customers early on came from? Were they local customers?
Kimberly: That’s what I planned on. Yeah. I planned on just doing the brides from the bridal show. I was contacting back to them. Then just wrote that email to my local newspaper which I have to say I had to keep after the local newspaper because they weren’t responding. I was like, “Well, even if you don’t like the idea of a fake cake, you still have to cover the story. That’s what newspapers do. You cover local new businesses.” I did keep after them and even invited them out to my new shop which is my husband’s business office area he was stuck in a lease with. I actually worked out of there for two years until his lease was done and then moved into my own location.
Felix: I think that’s a good idea to start local like that because a lot of times when entrepreneurs are launching businesses online, they think global immediately, “How do I get this out into the entire world,” but the local businesses, the local newspapers are very interested in covering what’s going on in their area. You’re going to have a much better chance of getting that kind of coverage. Do you remember I guess your approach to reaching out to these local newspapers? What do you think helped get their attention?
Kimberly: That I never let up because literally I sent them an email like, “There’s a new business starting in Grand Rapids called Fun Cakes and we’re going to rent wedding cakes that are fake.” I got zero response back. Like zero. I waited a week and then I sent it out again. Then I waited a week and I sent it out again going, “Even if you don’t like this idea, you still have to cover it.” I just never let up on them not knowing I was going to end up on the front page of the paper. I didn’t plan on that. When they finally wrote the article they’re like, “Okay. You’ll be in Tuesday or Saturday’s paper.” I got Tuesday and Saturday nothing happened. The next week Tuesday and Saturday nothing happened. I actually wrote her an email going, “So why haven’t you covered my story yet?”
She just wrote back like, “Current business keeps happening.” I’m like what kind of answer is that? Of course, current business keeps happening. Then the next day I was on the front cover. Who would have thought?
Felix: This is a contagious snowball where other press picked up on and then eventually like you were saying it got picked up by The Today’s Show at a month and a half later. Talk us about that experience.
Kimberly: Well, newspapers, they’re owned by a major company. What they did is once they ran it in June, everybody needed a June story. They owned many newspapers and they owned many radio stations. They spread it. I was on the front page on Wednesday. On Saturday I had emails from all over the country. I’m thinking well, how did they learn about me? They had sold it to the newspapers out in California and in Seattle so everybody could have a June story. Looking back I was really fortunate that my local newspaper made it a June story so that other newspapers wanted it. From there it just spreads to radio stations and it was literally five days later I had The Today’s Show calling, Good Morning America, The Early Show, CNN. Then I got to pick and choose who I wanted to cover my story.
Felix: Now the decision is in your court this time. What about the product, what about the story do you think made them choose to make it essentially the story of the month?
Kimberly: I think personally just they’re looking for a June story. They’re looking for a wedding story. I think that was 95% of it. I think that’s why I was so fortunate that my newspaper because I must have contacted them in April and they didn’t print it until June 7th. Looking back that was really clever of them to hold it off and make it a June story. I think that’s why everybody else wanted it. How do you rent a cake? I mean that’s the number one question. How do you rent a cake? That got a lot of publicity as well because they had never heard of renting a cake ever. It was a whole new idea, but it was best listening to my brides and what they wanted.
Felix: I’m assuming after 10 years there’s obviously competition coming in. By this time no one else was doing this?
Kimberly: No. Nope. There was one company that … They had maybe five models you could choose from a cake and then you had to get your sheet cakes from them. Where I’m shipping it all over United States and I don’t care where you get your sheet cake because obviously a bakery … Their sheet cakes going to be like $100 where Costco it’s $20. Obviously the bride wants to go to Costco. They want to pay $20. Where I had none of that stipulation. I’m still the only one who ships. Nobody else ships. The people who have copied me in 10 years it’s just for their local area and still a lot of them don’t do custom designs where that’s what we mainly do is custom designs.
Felix: Got it. I think going back to the press coverage early on, it sounds like obviously you had to have an interesting and interesting question basically that gets raised. In your case it was how do you rent a cake, but then this kind of happened to you but looking back on it one of the key I guess alignments was that there was a major kind of topic that they wanted to cover for each month and June was weddings and July maybe who knows what it is. Basically you try to find out what is going to be that major topic and try to line up your story with that. Then of course, it also needs to have an interesting I guess angle and yours was how do you rent a cake. Having those two things in line I think makes a big difference in getting what kind of level coverage you end up getting.
Felix: Now that kicked off. A bunch of press. You got to have your pick and choosing of which shows you wanted to go on. Talk us about that. That must have been like a whirlwind of all these shows wanting to work with you, all these major publications now wanted to talk with you. What was those weeks like?
Kimberly: It was crazy and it went on for six weeks. It wasn’t just like one week. It was six weeks and they’re like, “Well, you’re on the AP.” I was so new I’m like what’s the AP? They’re like, “Associated Press.” I’m like of course. All right. Now I get it how everybody’s got it. I was doing interviews in New Zealand, in Australia, in London, in Paris. They were calling from everywhere. Obviously my phone battery couldn’t keep up with anybody so we had to go get all new phone systems to keep up with it. It lasted for six weeks. It was truly amazing.
Felix: Was there any way to manage all of this? It sounds like it could be disruptive too, right? You’re trying to run a business and all of a sudden for six weeks straight everyone wants to talk to you.
Kimberly: Yes. It was nuts. I had no inventory. I only had the five, six cakes that I went to the bridal show with. Now I have people taking orders and now I’m having to work 24/7 to get the cakes done. Do the interviews during the day and get all the cakes done at night because I had no inventory. I was brand new. I mean I was literally two weeks out the door. Didn’t even have my business title Fun Cakes and all that registered for only a month. It was amazing. It hasn’t stopped. It’s been 10 years and it hasn’t stopped. I mean we just did a big coverage in November with Inside Edition. They’re always looking for stories for weddings and they’re always looking ways to save money. Who rents a cake? It’s been very, very fortunate.
Our cakes, they’re made of styrofoam on the inside which would be the cake part and then the outside is real fondant. It’s exactly the same materials as a real cake would be except for the inside. It looks real.
Felix: I’m curious now now that we’ve talked about this question of how do you rent a cake. How does this all work? Does someone return the cake? I’m assuming that they do send us a rental, but what’s your process like for getting out a custom cake and then I guess getting it back?
Kimberly: We’ve worked on that over the years. I used to send a return label for them to send it back, but then with weddings they’re so busy they don’t always get it back in time and the label has expired and all that. Now we just put a between $99 and $250 security deposit on the cake, depends on how elaborate the cake is, but the majority are $99. Then we ship it to them on the Monday before their wedding. It’ll arrive on Wednesday. Thursday at the latest. Then they can have a choice if they want to pack it up and return it back to us and get their $99 back or they can just keep it. Now it’s about 50% come back and 50% don’t because we’re not giving the return label and all that. We have worked on that over the time.
If you go to my Shopify site on CakeRental.com, it’s literally a cart and you put it in your cart and you pay for it and then we just get notice that we have an order and then get your wedding date down and we’re ready to go.
Felix: I love that idea of giving them the option to return it or not because that’s just essentially a new product for you to sell. Not only rentals, but now that they have them maybe there’s some sentimental value and they decide to keep it rather than returning it or maybe they just don’t have the time and rather keep it and since they already paid for it go with that. Now is that hard for you to manage on your end, the inventory, because you kind of don’t know?
Kimberly: You see after a wedding they’re off to a honeymoon. This way at $99 a lot of them are like I just don’t care for $99. It’s not worth it. Now the ones at $250 because they’ve got zillions of sugar flowers or different things on it, the price can go up on the security deposit. Then those are more likely to be returned, but not all of them are returned. That was good for us because we need to store 150 cakes. By doing it this way we don’t have quite as much inventory because that takes a lot of space to store that many cakes in your office.
Felix: Right. Now for a business like this where it sounds like it’s very heavy on the wedding side, is this like a business that you can have repeat customers? Is that possible when you have a business tied to specific events? How do you get these customers to keep coming back?
Kimberly: I probably don’t. I’ll be honest with you. I will have a couple who gets married and then they’ll have their first baby and then they’ll order maybe a cake for their first birthday party and where they do a sweets table and they want a really pretty cake for that or for when they get baptized. I would have to say the majority of my customers are not repeat. I’m constantly after new customers versus repeat customers. We do a lot of corporate cakes as well for cakes like it’s their 50th anniversary of their business and they’re having a big party up on stage. Then we’ll make a big huge cake for that function. We do a lot of corporate cakes as well.
Felix: Now when you do market or talk about your business, when you go on podcast like this or talk to newspapers or shows, do you speak mostly about I guess the wedding side of it and then other people might think, “This is a wedding cake rental company, but I could also see this being in use for my own purposes, for corporate reasons or for a birthday.” How do you I guess create the messaging or the marketing behind that when it can be used for different events or different purposes?
Kimberly: I think you have to look at wherever there’s a cake, how many functions are there where there’s a cake, that you need a big cake. Not just a single tiered cake, but you need a three tiered cake or a five tiered cake or a big cake so it’s seen up on stage. We’ll do corporate cakes that are 18 inches tall each tier and then stack those up so they’re 40, 50, 60 inches tall. I think just by having the generic site Cake Rental and then when they go to the site, yeah, the majority they see will be weddings, but then they’ll see birthday cakes and they’ll see other designs. You have to let them know, yup, we do all that. We have a corporate tab at the top so corporate knows we can do their cakes as well. It’s a mix of both, but it’s all usually first time customers which is tough.
Felix: Okay. Got you. Yeah. For sure. What’s the best way for you to I guess use your existing customer base to get new customers? Are referrals, word or mouth, are those popular traffic drivers for you?
Kimberly: Yes, definitely and their testimonials. Because I think you have to look at the person getting married or even the corporate cake, this is probably like their most important cake of their life so they want it perfect and I don’t blame them. It should be perfect. Through testimonials and talking with us, through emails or if they call, they can be reassured that that cake will be absolutely perfect. They don’t crash when being shipped because that’s the other concern. Will it be crashed being shipped? We’ve been doing this 10 years. We’ve shipped as far as Australia and we’ve never had an issue with the cake not making it there 100% perfect. You do have to reassure the people for sure.
Felix: Yeah. Let’s talk about that reassurance because like you’re saying, this is not like a t-shirt that you’re selling that if doesn’t come perfect, no one blinks an eye. This is for a one specific event tied to a specific time period. They need to get it by a certain date and there’s very little I guess wiggle room for returns and exchanges and all that. Talk to us about how you make sure that the customer feels comfortable enough to essentially buy something so important online and not be able to hold in their hands essentially when they first make that purchase?
Kimberly: Exactly. It’s a lot of emails. Some people might call that a bridezilla. I don’t call that a bridezilla. I call that somebody who’s concerned. They’re trying to save money. We’re all trying to save money. This is such a great option for them, but they have to make sure it’s perfect. Just through lots and lots of emails, talking with them on the phone, reassuring them, letting them see all the cakes on the site because the cakes are absolutely perfect on the site and then through all the testimonials that we get. I have to say in 10 years we’ve never had an unhappy bride. Never.
Felix: That’s amazing.
Kimberly: They’re all thrilled. I’ve had some call me up like when the cake arrived crying. That’s like, “Oh my god. Why are you crying? Is everything okay?” They’re like, “Yeah. It’s just so beautiful. I can’t believe it. It’s better than I thought.” I’m like, “Okay. Good. Cry. All right. Just don’t cry for a scary reason.”
Felix: Yeah, for sure. You mentioned that there’s a lot of emails and phone calls. For most of these sales, would you say the majority of them are going to want to talk to somebody first before making a purchase or is the majority of them just going to browse a site then make a purchase without having to contact your business?
Kimberly: Well, originally our website was not through Shopify. We had no prices. We had no carts. Everybody had to contact us and say, “Okay. On page three I saw this cake or I’m sending you a picture of a cake.” We had the guarantee that they spoke with us. I think people are more comfortable these days just buying things online. I’d say it’s about 50–50 that half the people I’ve never ever talked to them. I’ll just get “you’ve got an order that came through.” I think that the website has to be good enough to convey that comfort. I think also then when you look at all the shows we’ve been on, everything that we’ve done, they also feel comfortable that those businesses and TV shows would not be contacting you if what you weren’t doing was perfect.
Felix: That makes a lot of sense. Now a big part of that trust as well you mentioned was testimonials and these reviews that you’re getting from past customers. How do you get these reviews? How do you encourage people to write in and give a testimonial about the product?
Kimberly: Well, that right now any bride who’s getting married they go to The Knot or they go to WeddingWire and they leave reviews there. We’re just starting to bring it over. Like why send them off to somebody else’s site? Just do it right on our site. That is something new that we’re doing. We’ve got about 50 to 60 testimonials on The Knot and also on WeddingWire.
Felix: Were you driving them to these review sites like The Knot and the WeddingWire previously?
Kimberly: Yup. I’ll send them an email like, “Your cake came back. It’s absolutely perfect. We’ve refunded your security deposit. If you could please take a moment and go to these two sites to leave a review on your experience, we’d appreciate it.” It’s all part of the return process and the return email.
Felix: Right. That makes sense.
Kimberly: If I don’t get the cakes back, then we usually don’t contact that person. I’m tired of sending them off my sites to leave their reviews. We are working on that now with my web designer where they can leave it right on our site versus going off.
Felix: Do you find that you do get a lot of customers from these off site review websites?
Kimberly: Oh, definitely. Definitely. 100%. 100%. Because it is their most important cake. They’ve got to be sure. I mean I would be doing my due diligence as well and looking everywhere and reading everything to make sure I can trust them.
Felix: Right. That makes a lot of sense.
Kimberly: It is a trust issue. Like you said, it’s not a t-shirt.
Felix: Yeah. Other than these testimonials, you mentioned of course being the press makes a big difference too because a lot of these major publications are covering you. By having that coverage it’s kind of vouching for the validity of your business and that they can trust your business.
Felix: Now on the site itself do you have to do much I guess explanation or education for especially first time cake renters that don’t even know that this product or this service exist? How do you teach them about your product?
Kimberly: We have one tab that just says how to rent a cake. If you can go there to read or how the process works, why is it good to rent a cake, why would you want to rent a cake versus going to your local bakery. Your local bakery might not be talented enough to work with fondants, might now know to create the pictures you want. Plus from a bakery that cake is just usually five days old by the time it gets to your wedding. They’ve cooked it on Wednesday and they coated it on Thursdays. Decorated it on Friday and you’re eating it on Saturday. It’s been sitting out all that time so your cake isn’t fresh. You have to explain by using our cake, you’re serving fresh sheet cake to your guests. Also, venues now are charging $1 to $2 to slice your cake and plate it and serve it.
With the sheet cake, they don’t have that fee so you end up saving a lot of people just that way that you’re serving sheet cakes versus a real wedding cake. You have to explain all that to them on the website so there is one tab of just why rent a cake or how do you rent a cake. I’m not quite sure how it’s worded.
Felix: Right. I did see that pretty prominent on your site. Of course, we’ve been talking so far about press being a big boon for your business. Other than press, are there other ways that you find is helpful for driving traffic? Do you do any paid ads or anything like that?
Kimberly: Yeah, I do. Google Ads. Google AdWords. I’ve tried the different bridal publications, things like that, and I have found that Google AdWords work the best. Shopify gave us like $100 off for our Google AdWords. You’re not getting out so why not use that just to find out? I know in the very beginning that’s all we use was Google AdWords. I also have my cakes in grocery stores now. That helps as well. Just the customer walking by sees my cakes there and then that leads them to my website. They either buy it from their grocery store or they come to us at the website. That’s been beneficially as well.
Felix: Do you target or try to go after people that don’t know anything about cake rentals and are just shopping for I guess a “real cake” to buy?
Felix: You go after those people too? Okay. Do you have to educate them in the ads themselves before they hit your site? Do you try to teach them about cake rentals and the pictures on the ads? How do you make sure they understand what your business is about as soon as they see your ad for the first time?
Kimberly: I would say that I use “As Seen On Shark Tank” because everybody loves Shark Tank. When they see “As Seen On Shark Tank” wedding cake, they’re like well, what the heck is this? That usually just out curiosity leads them to my website.
Felix: Got you. Now let’s talk about your Shark Tank experience now. How did you go down a process of getting on that show? Was this an intention of yours admittedly or did they reach out to you?
Kimberly: No. I reached out to them. I watched the show for many years and just thought it would be fun to be on the show. I knew my avenue in growing my business was to go into grocery stores. There is not a grocery store shark. I knew my chances in getting a deal was not very big, but I still felt like it’s still good exposure. It’ll be a lot of fun. I’ll learn a lot. I still want to do it. In doing all the research I did on Shark Tank, the hardest thing is to get your company noticed out of the hundreds of thousands of people who will apply, how does your company get chosen? If you can’t make that step, you’re never going to make it on the show. That was my main goal was how do I get recognized so they would choose me.
I just downloaded the application form ABC.com and filled it out and then I made a cake. I made a cake based on Shark Tank. I had the shark fins in the water and I had all the sharks actually sitting on the cake. It came here in my own phone that it was delivered through FedEx and two hours later they called me. They were like, “So who are you working with here?” I’m like, “Nobody. Just downloaded the app and sent it out.” They’re like, “Okay. Well, you made it.” Then we started the whole process of learning our pitch and actually getting ready to go on. It was really fun.
Felix: You mentioned that you wanted to of course make your application stand out. Talk to us a little bit more about this. What were you doing exactly again to make sure that I guess the producers notice your application?
Kimberly: Because people come to me now who want to go on Shark Tank and they ask me for any advice that I can give them and I always say send your product because what you’re mainly showing on Shark Tank is your product. When you send in that application, if you haven’t gone to one of their call days and gone in front of them, you’re just doing it blindly from wherever you live. Send your product as well so they can see your product because that’s what they’re going to be making the display for. That’s what the whole focus is going to be is your product. We also did a video of us and sent pictures of us so that they have the whole package when it arrived. Here’s the people. Here’s their voices. Here’s their mannerism. Here’s their product. Should we accept them or not?
Because they’re also looking for company. It’s not like they’re so inundated they’re holding people off. They’re also looking for companies. I just say send it all in the one package. I sent a five tier cake that I had made up all in Shark Tank. It was a big box I sent out and I had the application and I had the video and everything right on top so when they opened it up they would know who the heck I was and it worked. It took two hours. I would just say whatever your product is send it and send a video. Send a video of showing that you’re fun because it’s an entertainment. At the end of the day Shark Tank is entertainment. They need people who are entertaining, that can talk, that aren’t shy in front of the camera.
Felix: Right. Now when you did get selected and you had to start preparing to appear in the show, what was that process like? What was the preparation like?
Kimberly: It was really, really well done. I mean I have to say they know exactly what they’re doing. We were assigned to two producers. They told us like to start out was what would your pitch be if you could write it. We sent that and then they tweaked it. Every week we would video ourselves giving the pitch and then they would tweak it and it went back and forth for like three months. Every week we would have a new tweaked pitch until we got the final pitch, until we were called to go out to film. It’s very, very well organized and very easy.
Felix: On the show you didn’t end up getting a deal, but of course, the kind of press coverage is amazing to be on national television on Shark Tank. You’ve obviously used the appearance on Shark Tank through your marketing. What was the results like of the traffic and sales to your site once the show aired?
Kimberly: It was nuts. It’s just like they say. We had four telephone lines that we brought in and we had I think eight computers. Then had brought staff in. I pulled cake decorators out and okay, you’re going to learn how to do emails and then write out like an answer, like a generic answer, and then take it from there and tweak it. Part of where I was so pleasantly surprise was how many people just wrote to wish you good luck. They said, “Wow. I loved your presentation. I love your idea. You didn’t get a deal, but that’s okay. Keep up the good work.” People would take the time to go and find our website and leave an email like that. I thought that was amazing.
We had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those. I thought that was very special as well. As they say on Shark Tank, they need the people who get the deals and the people who don’t get the deals. They can’t be everybody who gets a deal because then it wouldn’t be fun to watch the show. We didn’t plan on getting a deal because there is no grocery store shark there. We just went for the fun of it. Get five days in LA. Learn a lot on doing your pitch. Learn how to pitch your business better. Then see where it goes afterwards from there.
Felix: Has your episode re-aired multiple times since the first showing?
Felix: Do you still get the same big influx of traffic? Do you know when it’s going to happen?
Kimberly: Yeah. They used to tell you. The first time it re-aired they send you an email to let you know it’s going to re-air at this date. Then after that they don’t let you know anymore. All of a sudden you’ll be at work and then your phone’s just blowing up and you’re like, “What the heck’s going on?” Then somebody will say like, “I saw you last night on Shark Tank.” You’re like, “Okay. They did a rerun. Awesome.” They were really good to do like they did one I think in January of me because it’s the beginning of the new year. The new brides are coming in. Everybody’s looking for a wedding cake. They’re really good about targeting when to carry your company again. I mean I have to say everything at Shark Tank is done perfect. I would recommend to anybody to try.
Felix: Now you mentioned before that the goal or the avenue that you saw your business going down was to get into grocery stores. I think when you came on the show you already had grocery stores that you were in at that time. What was that process like? How do you even get into a grocery store to carry your product?
Kimberly: Well, actually I wasn’t in a grocery store when I went on. I was supposed to be. I had just contacted a grocery store in Chicago. I had heard great things about them. I’m in Michigan so we don’t even have that grocery store here. We had been leading and we were all the way up to the CEO accepting it into their stores and the CEO got fired. Then I went and filmed Shark Tank two months later. I had two months to think about should I hold off going on Shark Tank to get in because I knew I couldn’t get in once the new CEO came onboard and blah, blah, blah, but that will take like a year or should I just go on. I figured we’d already been working on the pitch. We’d already been working with the team, with Shark Tank, so just go on.
I actually went on not in the store. Now we’re in 300 grocery stores and we’re about to go into another 600.
Felix: How do you manage the relationship with all of these almost thousand grocery stores?
Kimberly: It’s busy. It’s very, very busy. I hire brokers so that the broker works with the grocery store manager and the orders first go to the broker and then the broker sends them to me. I have a filter in between. They do all the busy work and I just get the order. It’ll be like just getting the order off of Shopify. This is for grocery stores that don’t carry wedding cake. Now without having to hire staff, without having to figure out how to make a wedding cake, how to deliver a wedding cake, they just have my three tiered fake cake and they pair it with their sheet cake and they’re in the wedding business. It’s that simple for them. It’s a really win-win for them because now they can offer wedding cakes at their grocery store without having all the staff to worry about.
Felix: Now this broker that you work with, it’s like a broker specifically working on grocery stores or what’s their I guess … How does someone find a broker like yours if they want to get into grocery store?
Kimberly: Well, actually I do all the footwork. I’m the one that keeps contacting the grocery store and contacting the buyer. What I hear back from the stores I’m in is they say, “I never let up. I never ever let go.” Just like I did with the newspaper, my local newspaper, I never let go. Once I’ve met with the buyer, once they want the product, they assign me to a broker. They give me a list of local brokers and they’re like, “Here’s 10 local brokers we work with. Go interview them all and choose the one you want.” I’m not actually out looking for the broker. They’re giving me the list of the brokers. That it makes it a lot easier as you said so that you can handle each store individually. You have one broker for one grocery store, another broker for another one and just contacting one person.
Felix: How do you find these grocery stores and arrange a meeting with the buyer?
Kimberly: I do a lot of different ways. I did have one person that I buy my fondant from. He actually sent me a program of all the grocery stores in America and all the different buyers so that we could go through that program and find the bakery buyers and then start out by emailing them. Most of them I have to say were not the buyer, but they would be kind enough to say, “Well, I’m no longer the buyer. Here’s the buyer.” I’ve also used LinkedIn. LinkedIn works really well. That you can google your grocery store and try to find the bakery buyer and then their names will come up. It’s a lot of work. I will for sure say it’s not easy. The majority of your emails are never answered. If you bug them every week, they finally just want to get rid of you.
Then they’ll answer you and then figure out what you do and then they’re like, “Oh my god. It’s genius. I didn’t even know that existed.” It’s a great way for a store. We’re working with a group of grocery stores right now that does do wedding cakes, but they cannot find confident staff to cover 300 grocery stores. Now they’re going to be bringing our cakes then because they’re all made by us, they’re all perfect, and then they don’t have to worry about staff. That’s like a whole new avenue we’re going to now.
Felix: You’re basically just helping them open up a whole new line of business with very little risk on their part. This program that you’re talking about is this something that’s publicly accessible by anyone that wants to get into grocery stores?
Kimberly: The program that I was sent?
Felix: Yeah. The program that you were sent to help find these contacts?
Kimberly: That was just a nice guy that I buy all my fondant from him and we buy it by the pallet load. We’re buying a lot. He just wants us in more stores so he can sell more fondant. That was just out of the kindness of his heart to send that to us. I don’t know where somebody would normally get that. I really don’t. I do believe just by googling and choose your grocery store if it’s Safeway to Safeway and then your Safeway bakery buyer and stuff will come up and you just start emailing those people and then they’ll let you know, “We’re the wrong person, the right person,” and you just keep moving that way through it. It takes a good six months to finally get to the right person.
Felix: Got you.
Kimberly: To me that’s worth it.
Felix: Yeah. Once you do have this get to the right person, what do grocery stores usually … Based on your experience, what do they look for? I guess what do they look for in a partnership with someone that wants to sell into their store?
Kimberly: Well, obviously they’re looking for how many units will they sell and what kind of profit they’ll make obviously. I mean those are the givens. I think for my instance it’s such a different product. All they have to do is to buy a display for the shelf. That’s their only investment. To them there’s no investment in this. Let’s give it a try. We’re just going to buy a store display and have brochures made up. If it sells, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. What they’re finding is now they’re selling $400-$500 orders at a bakery in a grocery store. Those are numbers they never saw before and that’s on one order. They’re behind it 100%. 100%. The returns for them are amazing.
Felix: Make sense.
Kimberly: We have a bridal show this weekend and the grocery store paid for it all because they see the return on this. I’m going to go help work it, but they paid for everything.
Felix: Do you have to design these displays? How do you get I guess all of the assets over to the grocery stores? What do you actually have to deliver to them, to each individual grocery store?
Kimberly: I design everything. I design it and put it together. [inaudible 00:43:21] original meeting with the buyer, it’s what I take. It’s like this is what your store display will look like and then tweak it if you want something different or a little bit this or a little bit that or whatever. It’s something I designed and I take with me at the first meeting so they know what they’re getting. That’s it. That’s what we do. We design wedding cakes. That’s pretty simple for us.
Felix: Now do you have just like one fake cake at this grocery store or how many do you usually give to …
Felix: Got you.
Kimberly: Each store carries one cake display with an acrylic cover to keep it clean because that’s one thing that … Back in the 1950s when you used to go into bakeries then they have all these fake cakes and they’re all filthy. It’s like no. You have to have an acrylic cover. It has to stay clean. I’m a clean freak. We have acrylic cover. We give them like 45 designs to choose from and then they make up their brochures for the guest to take to learn about the program. They train all their staff so the staff knows how to sell a fake cake. For $159 in Chicago, you can get a three tiered fondant covered fake cake with a sheet cake. For $159. Who can beat that price?
Felix: Yes. Are they renting then directly from the grocery store or what happens if someone rents out that fake cake and another customer comes along and wants to rent at the same time?
Kimberly: At the grocery stores they’re buying. There’s no renting. That is one of the reasons it took me so long to get into a grocery store because in the beginning, so seven years ago when I was presenting it, I was presenting as a rental cake. Well, the only thing that rents at a grocery store is that machine that cleans your carpet. They don’t know what to do with a rental program. Then we did an order for MAC Cosmetics and we had to make 350 cakes in three weeks and then ship them worldwide. Obviously we sold those. I was like okay, da- da, that was the bell. You need to sell these. We sell them to the grocery store. They sell them to the bride. We don’t ever get those back. They don’t have to give them back. It’s a one time shop and they’re out the door.
Felix: Got you. Make sense. It does make sense that you identified that they don’t have a kind of process to handle returns and rentals so don’t try to force them down that route.
Kimberly: Yeah. They don’t even have paperwork. They don’t even have rules on how to do that. They were like, “No, this will never work.” It took me awhile to figure out what I was doing wrong, but as all great entrepreneurs that’s what we do. We learn every day and we try to grow from that learning. That’s when I was like okay, let’s just sell them then it’s easy for everybody. Stores that I had met with five, six years ago that I go and met with last year they’re like, “Okay. You figured out the program. Fantastic. Let’s do it.” I figured it out.
Felix: Right. Remove all the kind of work that they need to do from their side. For everybody else, CakeRental.com is the website. C-A-K-E-R-E-N-T-A-L.com. Where do you want to see the business go over the next year?
Kimberly: More grocery stores. Of course, my brides. I mean I love my brides. I love my corporate events because that’s the personal and we’re creative. That’s why we started this business because we’re creative. We want to make things. Crafty people. Whatever you want to call it. My brides are my favorite because they keep me on my toes and they give me new designs to make. Of course, they’re the bread and butter that keeps the business running. As far as growth, just every year I want to add one more grocery store and one more grocery store. I want to see it across in every grocery store in America. That’s my goal. Just a little one. Just a little goal.
Felix: Very big for a little goal then. Thank you so much for your time, Kimberly.
Kimberly: Okay. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek of what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 1: If you don’t do something different or if you just offer the same thing that people can find elsewhere, they’re going to go elsewhere.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.