The Johnny Cupcakes Story
Customers like and appreciate the story and work ethic behind my brand. I started this as a joke from the trunk of my beat up ’89 Toyota Camry. A college drop out with a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle, I never wasted my time going out and partying but instead focused only on brainstorming and sketching up my wacky ideas. I turned down investors and took countless risks like keeping my shirts out of chain stores.
When I was growing up, I’d always notice my mom being stressed/bummed out about her 9-5 job. Ever since, I’ve been coming up with little ways to work for myself. Lemonade stands to yard sales, magic tricks at kids birthday parties to selling tricks and pranks in high school.
I used to be a class clown. I’d buy and collect tons of pranks from this one joke shop. I bought so many that the owner gave me a catalog so that I could purchase the pranks wholesale. I’d buy whoopie cushions, trick candy, and itching powder in bulk to make little ‘prank packs’. I’d then sell these prank packs to the kids at my high school. One day I sold itching powder to this kid Dan who put it all down his friend’s shirt.
I graduated high school and tried out college. I wasn’t sure it was the right decision as the time. I have borderline A.D.D. so focusing was always an issue for me. Also I can’t really participate in the most common college sport (i.e. partying) because I don’t drink or do drugs.
Less than a semester later I decided to take a break from school. I then started up a pin business designing pins, buttons, and badges for bands and businesses. I made random designs and sold them at hardcore shows and various shops. I even had a small crew of kids that would buy them from me wholesale and sell them at their schools. I began keeping a nice little database of all my clients.
Wearing my Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt to work caused quite a commotion. Not only did everyone I work with want a t-shirt but most of the customers wanted one as well! While at work, I’d get heaps of compliments, questions, smiles, and requests for my t-shirt (even from the slightly miserable or quiet regulars!). “What’s Johnny Cupcakes?,” “Is that a local bakery?,” “Is that an adult movie store?,” and so on.
Supply and demand! I ordered a couple dozen Johnny Cupcakes shirts and sold out of them the day I took them off the press! One person would tell ten people and ten people would tell one hundred people.
Packing my suitcase with 98% cupcake t-shirts, I began to start selling them at a lot of the shows we played from the back of our van. At some shows I’d even sell more Johnny Cupcakes t-shirts than the band did with their merchandise. Without advertising or anything like that, these kids knew who I was and what I did. They’d search for me at every show. A strong Johnny Cupcakes following developed in just about every state. I’d call it a cupcake-cult following. Some kids would collect every shirt, every colorway, etc…
I continued touring, hustling, and building a slightly bigger database of quality shops to sell my shirts in. Nearly half of the stops asked me if I’d be at the Magic or Pool trade shows. I had no clue what these trade shows were all about, so I did some research. Turns out that twice a year these fashion trade shows take place in Las Vegas. Thousands of buyers and owners of boutiques all over the world fly out for the weekend to pick up new brands for their shops. A lot of magazines go to do write ups on new brands as well. These trade shows cost an arm and a leg…but you gotta spend an arm and a leg to make more arms and legs.
I had two months to get ready for my first trade show. Since first impressions are everything, I had to prepare myself. I decided to order chef outfits for my friends and I to wear and to give out real cupcakes to buyers. I also threw together a quick little catalog with my photographer and good friend, Dave. I finally flew off to Vegas where I met many great people and learned a lot. The trip was very successful– I ended up getting carried by shops in Japan, Europe, and Canada in addition to a few other U.S. locations. I was really excited to have something I created and worked really hard on be seen all over the world!
I opened my very first Johnny Cupcakes shop in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts. My dad and I completely refurbished and transformed an old boat garage into a little boutique store, offices, and a warehouse. At first it was going to be for just storage so that my parents could actually live in their house without having to climb over boxes of t-shirts. But I ended up killing like three or four birds with one stone to make use of all the space I had.
Next I opened up shop on “Boston’s Rodeo drive”– 279 Newbury Street. The same street as stores like Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Armani, Nike Town, Burberry, Urban Outfitters, French Connection, H&M, and lots more. Opening this store was a dream come true.
In 2007 everything was growing at a comfy level. The new store on Newbury Street began doing way better than expected. Internet orders were growing. There was increasingly positive feedback from people all over the world. Hundreds of people would line up for my releases, camp-out overnight, and travel from far away places (and still do!). The few negative, clueless people who hate that I don’t sell real cupcakes don’t know what to think about this kind of enthusiasm. What they don’t know is that I often give away actual cupcakes at my releases. These people walk by and say, “What the heck, Johnny Cupcakes doesn’t even sell cupcakes!”
Both before and after being voted America’s #1 Young Entrepreneur of 2008 by BusinessWeek magazine, I’ve lectured at big universities, small colleges, high schools, and at non-academic seminars all over the world. These lectures focus on how to start and maintain an original business without any startup money or other resources. I have a lot of generally useful advice– like how to use both the web and retail space effectively, the importance of art, graphic design, creative packaging and other often overlooked details, how to create a lot of word of mouth excitement behind your business, and brand longevity.
In my new warehouse there are tons of random objects laying around, including lots of Johnny Cupcakes stuff that never made its way out the door. Thinking about how some of my diehard fans would love to get their hands on the rarer, limited, and vintage items we have laying about, I set up the Johnny Cupcakes Ebay Vault. Every week I post up new random stuff from the warehouse on Ebay. So far I’ve received really great feedback from cupcake fiends looking for deals or rare items. I post up things like one-of-a-kind window displays, promotional t-shirts, samples, and last pressings. Checking it out could be very worthwhile– you can find stuff in the Vault you can’t find elsewhere for anywhere between 99 cents and 99 dollars!