"People have too many options. Why will they take a risk with you?"
Johnny Cupcakes founder Johnny Earle asked fitness industry professionals to ponder this question at the midpoint of his March 10 keynote presentation at the 36th annual International Convention and Trade Show of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) in Los Angeles.
During his hour talk, "Viral Business: Inspiring Customer Loyalty," Earle emphasized the importance of creating an unparalleled experience for customers, no matter the market. If you want to win your customers' affection, "it should feel like their birthday" every time they do business with you, he said.
Since 2001, Earle's Massachusetts-based company, Johnny Cupcakes, has been not-so-secretly masquerading as a bakery while, in fact, designing and flash-marketing irreverent pop culture apparel. Earle transformed Johnny Cupcakes from an unknown startup to internet-age phenomenon, whose fans routinely camp overnight outside the brand's flagship Boston shop, eagerly awaiting the release of limited-edition T-shirts.
Earle’s success has been lauded by Inc. and Forbes, among others. But why the feeding frenzy over T-shirts? In his IHRSA presentation, Earle attributed his success to selling experiences, not merchandise. His bakery-inspired stores have fooled—and won over—many passersby. “Fake” smells are pumped out onto the sidewalks. Clothing is packaged in bakery-style boxes. Earle has even gone as far as renting real food trucks for selling his latest apparel.
Earle said his prankster side stems from an interest in magic tricks, while his workaholic attitude is more innate. (He said he ran 16 different businesses before the age of 16.)
If Earle owned a health club, he said he would oversee, not outsource, every aspect of the business. He specifically emphasized control over food offerings.
Earle often budgets time in his days to write thank-you notes for online shirt orders. This has proven to be an effective way to remain in touch with his customers and his business. Customers will remember when you go out of your way for them, he said, and they'll probably tell a friend about it.
In his presentation, Earle shared six business tips that have contributed to the success of Johnny Cupcakes:
1. Have a sense of humor.
2. Showcase good design.
3. Target millennials.
4. Never assume you are too old to intern, volunteer or job shadow.
5. Do not underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising.
6. Do not fear failure if you want to succeed.