SPECIALTY BAKERY IS GROWING AT AN INCREDIBLE RATE
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
The dramatic growth of opening four Gigi’s Cupcakes locations in 39 months is really more about protecting the first site than a torrid spurt.
Co-owners Jennifer Cooper and Patrick Cooper opened a Gigi’s franchise in Auburn after stumbling on one during a vacation in Nashville, Tennessee, when the company was in its infancy.
Jennifer Cooper said they realized that Auburn “was not that far from Montgomery or not that far from Columbus, Georgia.” They lacked the cash to open two more franchises, but asked for and received the first right of refusal for those territories. “If this (Auburn location) goes well, we want to protect our back and territory,” Jennifer Cooper said.
So, it was more of a case of self-survival that the Coopers opened a Gigi’s Cupcakes in Montgomery about 15 months after the Auburn site. The Columbus, Ga., location opened eight months after Montgomery and the Prattville site opened about 16 months after Columbus.
Gigi’s Cupcakes has been growing at an incredible rate. The Auburn store was the No. 17 in the chain and Montgomery was No. 51. Gigi’s Cupcakes now has 100 locations and is expected to open 25 this year, according to Jennifer Cooper. Patrick Cooper handles the financial side of the business.
The Coopers have 31 employees and are looking to hire managers at the Auburn and Columbus, Georgia locations. They need 35 employees to be fully staffed.
The Montgomery store opening on Vaughn Road could not have been any better with $20,000 of revenue from Friday and Saturday. And that was from selling $3 cupcakes. The Auburn two-day opening generated about $8,500, Jennifer Cooper said. Of course, sales at the Montgomery store slowed, but the first-year revenue of $850,000 in 2012 was the overall company’s top performer compared with an average annual revenue of $350,000 per unit.
Montgomery was churning out those dollars despite a very limited selection. “The product line was cupcakes and cupcakes alone,” Jennifer Cooper said. “There were no mini cupcakes. No cheesecakes. No birthday cakes.”
Cooper said that now her top performer is the Columbus, Georgia, location.
Unlike the Montgomery site, the Prattville store “thrives on the interstate business,” she said. A billboard promoting Starbucks brings travelers to the strip shopping center, where Gigi’s Cupcakes is located. She would like the Prattville site to remain open Sunday to catch the church crowd. None of their locations are now open Sunday.
The Prattville site features the company’s new-store concept, which has new tables and lighting. That build-out cost an additional $50,000, Jennifer Cooper said.
This year, the company launched a national promotion for gluten-free cupcakes, and in the past, Gigi’s has promoted its minis, cheesecakes and custom cakes. “When you look at competition in the marketplace, we have more to offer,” Jennifer Cooper said.
Now, Gigi’s is selling loaves of bread – banana nut and blueberry among the selections. They have cookies stuffed with frosting.
“What sets us apart is our product quality – the level of integrity that we uphold with our product,” Jennifer Cooper said. “We have a very high standard.”
Cooper also talked about “the whole experience. You walk in and it’s not just the normal bakery with the white case and the white boxes. You come in and smell it. You’re using your eyes and you’re tasting it. It’s a privilege to get a Gigi’s cupcake.” The cupcakes are placed into what looks like a gift box with a bow as part of the design.
What’s next for the Coopers is better utilizing the four locations and increasing their outside sales for weddings, bridal showers, teas, luncheons, birthday parties and open houses for Realtors. “We have the capacity both here (Prattville) and Montgomery – any of our stores – to put out a lot more volume without having to invest in more brick and mortar,” she said.
During an interview one morning, she said, “We have a huge kitchen that is now shut down. We need to have venues that we are partnering with.” One of those venues could be Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic in Prattville at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill.