We recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Johnny Earle, the devious mastermind behind the uber-hip Johnny Cupcakes clothing brand. If you’ve never heard of Johnny Cupcakes, that’s understandable. The company spends literally no money on traditional advertising. Zero. Yet since it’s inception in 2001, Earle has been able to take his company from the trunk of his ‘89 Camry to a multi-million dollar brand with a cult-like following and storefronts in Boston, L.A., London, and Martha’s Vineyard. And he has done it all based on word-of-mouth generated by a highly devoted fanbase. Now Earle gets to travel the world and tell his tale of success to eager audiences. Whether you are a fledgling entrepreneur or the CEO of a multinational corporation, Johnny has several tips that are sure to help your company grow.
1. Make everything an experience. Johnny knows that people thrive of off new experiences. Everything from his faux-bakery stores to the highly unusual packaging is designed to make every customer feel like it’s their birthday. He’ll even put handwritten notes and small gifts inside of people’s orders. Some people are put off by his company’s prankster ethos but they still relate the experience to others, building brand exposure.
2. Reinvest in your business. This might seem obvious but it’s especially important for new business owners. Johnny learned this lesson at a young age; he started 16 businesses before he was 16 years old. Everything he made, from lemonade stands to selling candy to classmates, went back into funding his next endeavor. He forewent video games, girlfriends, and partying to focus on his businesses and now Johnny Cupcakes is the culmination of years of discipline and sacrifice.
3. Focus on what makes you unique. There are so many choices for customers today, you need to show them why they should take a risk on you. Your company should have a personality. Your website, business cards, and even your mascot should be extensions of that personality. Johnny puts special emphasis on having a great website. First impressions are the most important and your website is usually the first thing people look at.
4. Pay attention to the details. One of the hallmarks of Johnny Cupcakes is the custom-made, often hilarious packaging the product comes in: pastry boxes, ice cream cartons, Chinese food containers, VHS boxes and more, all emblazoned with catchy slogans and fake nutritional facts. Good packaging does not get thrown away, people save it and show their friends, turning what would normally be trash into mini-billboards and customers into promoters. Additionally, if people see you putting that much effort into something as small as packaging, they will trust you more when it comes to the important things.
5. Do more of what you love. “I just like to make funny shirts and trick people,” says Earle. Of course the same can’t be said for everybody, but if you can find a way to inject passion into your work, it will pay dividends. Your customers (and employees) can tell if you care about what you do and they will support you in ways they wouldn’t if they feel you’re just going through the motions.