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In a society with multitudes of choices, uniqueness is essential if a company intends to stand out. Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes, stressed this point as he told the story of his wildly successful t-shirt brand on the 4A’s Centennial stage on Wednesday. The seminar was presented in partnership with Promotional Products Association International. Beginning from his childhood and narrating his journey to success, Johnny paired funny anecdotes with valuable advice on how to create and maintain a connection between your customers and your brand.
Johnny began by stating one of his popular sayings: that he started 16 businesses before he was 16 years old. While this statement almost seemed like a hyperbole, Johnny went on to describe how he already possessed an entrepreneurial drive at a young age, seizing the opportunity to make a buck whenever he could, whether that meant starting a lemonade stand, a garage sale, a haunted house, or a wide variety of many other ventures. As a kid, Johnny already knew the value in taking initial risk up front, and also the value of networking and connecting with people.
Ever since he was young, Johnny said he always had a great sense of humor. He has always loved making people laugh and brightening their day. This theme can be seen in his brand, which is famous for posing as a bakery even though there is not a single baked good in the entire store. He even hangs vanilla scented car fresheners throughout the store and displays the shirts in refrigerators. According to Johnny, “It tricks hungry people every single day.”
The initial idea for the t-shirt company came to Johnny after colleagues of his nicknamed him “Johnny Cupcakes.” He thought it would be funny to make a t-shirt that sported this title, and he liked the idea of seeming to advertise a bakery that didn’t even exist. This concept spread like wildfire, and before long Johnny started expanding to selling totes, hats, and other products. Today, Johnny Cupcakes releases new products every single week on Friday, something which most other apparel brands are unable to do.
Yet, Johnny prefers not to label Johnny Cupcakes as a clothing brand. He explained that Johnny Cupcakes creates merchandise around memories and experiences, such as the unique atmosphere offered at his stores. According to Johnny, humans thrive off of new, different experiences, and the memories created at Johnny Cupcakes form a connection between the customers and his brand.
Another aspect that sets Johnny Cupcakes apart is the way that they package their t-shirts. Johnny explained how many people save packaging from a variety of products, including Apple products and McDonald’s Happy Meals. Good packaging doesn’t get thrown away; rather, it serves as a miniature billboard, said Johnny. For this reason, Johnny Cupcakes shirts are famously packaged in everything from pastry shop boxes to ice cream cartons.
Finally, Johnny stressed the importance of human interaction. He often writes personalized notes to his customers, and he can be seen at all his pop-up shops and events high-fiving customers and meeting strangers in order to learn their stories. This personal touch sets Johnny Cupcakes apart from many other brands. It helps to bring new customers in and strengthen the connection with customers already acquainted with the brand.
This seminar proved that when you put charisma and passion into your brand, your customers will mirror your enthusiasm and connect with it. Johnny’s story about how he started Johnny Cupcakes was a perfect example of this, as he continues to connect with audiences around the world.