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May 27, 2012, Sunday


In “Handmade: How Eight Everyday People Became Artisan Food Entrepreneurs and their Recipes for Success” Jennifer Lewis collects the stories of eight entrepreneurs from the thousands of success stories across the United States.

The rags-to-riches tale of an eight-year-old running a simple roadside lemonade stand becoming the leading lemonade producer in America tells us that we too could create something spectacular out of nothing more than a dream or a vision. These stories are perfect motivators for aspiring entrepreneurs. Very few books aiming to inspire can so successfully combine the practical side of business, and very few instructional texts include such enlightening and entertaining real life anecdotes.

“Handmade” has it all: the tips, the motivation -- and the food.

I would like to share one of these success stories and its secrets. Mari Luangrath is the founder of the most popular cupcake delivery business in the greater Chicago area. Luangrath started out studying violin, then international relations. She worked as a legal assistant, a food buyer and public relations professional. She started two companies, and -- due to her husband’s job -- relocated six times. After settling in Chicago Luangrath hit on the idea of starting a cupcake delivery business. The idea came to her while struggling to get a bakery to deliver cupcakes to her house for an event. There were cupcakes stores in Chicago, but none was willing to deliver to the suburbs for less than $150. Realizing that she was not the only person experiencing the problem, she decided to start her own business offering delivery of delicious cupcakes at reasonable prices. Foiled Cupcakes requires a minimum order of a dozen cupcakes, which means most of its customers order for events such as birthdays, weddings or office parties.

Luangrath didn’t have any culinary expertise, and some would describe her desire to enter the food industry as laughable. But being a boss is like being an orchestra conductor: you don’t have to play all the instruments to do the job. Luangrath enlisted her best friend since high school, a trained pastry chef, to train her in food science, basic baking, food preparation and managing large-scale production.

Now Luangrath had the recipes and needed to find good bakers. Hiring people she trusted to prepare the cupcakes freed Luangrath up to focus on the marketing and branding side of Foiled Cupcakes. All cupcakes are basically sugar, butter and eggs; the challenge was in finding a way to make her product stand out from every other cupcake store in Chicago. She built a team including a graphic designer, copywriter and web designer.

A major contributing factor to the success of Foiled Cupcakes was Luangrath’s social media strategy. Right from the beginning she made sure she knew who her customers were. Armed with demographic research, she was able to pinpoint her company’s main customer base: woman aged 18 to 40 living in the Chicago area. She asked herself what these woman had in common and came to the conclusion that almost all women love two things: shoes and chocolate. She scoured Twitter for people meeting this demographic profile with an interest in either shoes or chocolate, or both, and developed relationships with them. Soon her online friendships had turned into more than a search for customers; it was a community.

Luangrath rarely mentioned her business in this social media networking. An absence of marketing in this case worked to market her product. She had become trustworthy, respected and well-known in her local area, and the orders started pouring in.

The secret to Luangrath’s success is her originality. She spent money to develop a strong brand, hired professionals to support her and used social media in a genuine way. Despite having no background in business management, she did everything right.

The narratives in the book are helpful to the aspiring entrepreneur. The reader can witness events, confront obstacles and solve problems all from the comfort of their own home.

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