Building A $200K/Year Pie Business From Our Home Kitchen
Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hello, I’m Marcia Wiggins and the founder of Cape Whoopies. We are small batch whoopie pie bakers who love creativity in the kitchen. Our mission is to share the most delicious Maine whoopie pies made with the highest quality ingredients with people all over the country.
From the moment we tasted our first whoopie pie, we dreamt of endless flavor combinations with unique ingredients in a true gourmet indulgence. We believe in using only the freshest and finest ingredients, remaining chemical and preservative free, and making everything from scratch.
Baking is our passion, and so is sharing our creations. We sell our product on our website capewhoopies.com, Goldbely.com, and Amazon.com if you want to order for friends and have them shipped!
We'd love to hear from you, and hope the quality and flavor of our pies exceed your every expectation.
We have over 80 flavor combinations and these babies hold in the freezer for a year, in the fridge for 3 weeks or just on a shelf for 14 days.
We share a 5,300 square foot space with a coffee shop. Partnering with Rwanda Bean Coffee Company has scaled our total sales up by 40%, at this point of the year. One can only wonder where we will be by the end of the year since the fourth quarter is our busiest season.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before Cape Whoopies was conceived, I was enjoying being the mom of two kids in high school, the wife to an airline pilot, and an aerobics teacher at my local gym.
When my kids had gone off to college and my husband was in the air, I had much time on my hands. There was only so much time you could spend at the gym, so with the newfound extra time I splurged in one of the things I always loved doing: making delicious baked things for friends.
My husband and I spend time a local restaurant as a hangout when he was home, so we would go to DiMillos and take our server friends whoopie pies. Why whoopie pies? I had tasted the Maine creation and thought, "good idea, not great execution".
As I had traveled much with my husband, tasting the most delicious foods all over the world, like Belgium street food with the most indulgent chocolate, I realized one of the recurrent themes was more flavor can be tasted with less sugar.
So I made these whoopie pies my own with different flavor combinations and would bring them to our favorite restaurant employees. Thus entertaining my guests and friends with delightful homemade treats became a real joy… for both parties!
There was some divine intervention when Cape Whoopies stepped on the scene. The recipe just came to me! I decided to follow the inspiration and to date we have come from my home kitchen, to a commercial kitchen I built in my basement, to a shared communal kitchen to our own space that is 5,300 square feet and shared with a coffee company.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
Have you ever had a brilliant idea pop into your head out of nowhere? I call that God. In creating the whoopies, I was in my own kitchen baking when God planted in my head the recipe I use to this day.
I was making the whoopies for DiMillo’s and thought, "*What would make this better?" *With the thought plopped in my noggin, I made the product and kept making it.
I went from scooping and baking all the cakes sheet pan by sheet pan myself, to having my husband help me. Now we have a team of five, scooping, baking, and filling to bring together what we call Cape Whoopies Gourmet Whoopie Pies.
Each cake is uniquely its own, with all having a baseline diameter. Scoop some filling between two cakes and press together, and there you have a pie. You can see how we have a handmade product, similar to your grandmother’s homemade treats.
This is something we love about our pies. Yes, they are gourmet, with ingredients like Bensdorp Chocolate from the Netherlands and Bourbon Vanilla Paste from Madagascar, and still they are handmade, with each having their own unique character.
I use what local ingredients I can, and I love that! For me, I want the best tasting, not the cheapest, even if the means shopping far and wide.
I have gone from making whoopie pies in my home kitchen, learning how to design packaging because I needed packaging...then learning how to pack and ship and what I could expect from my product by trying it to finally making my way to borrowing money for an entire kitchen of equipment and doubling our business last year.
For packaging and shipping, initially the challenges were to make sure that the product would make it in heat and in the cold. I contacted a packaging specialist. The specialist conveyed to me everything from how to package the pies tightly without the package being too snug to what packing materials to use for protection from crinkle paper to bubble wrap.
You need to understand that the amount of push and hustle that you will need to have to make this happen is far greater than you can even imagine, today.
Our greatest resulting experiment was testing the temperature for shipping. Placing temperature-tracking computer chips in the packages, we sent pies in heat to a hot place and pies in the cold to a cold place. Upon arrival, we asked the recipients how the pies were- they were delicious and undamaged.
The recipients then sent the computer chips back, allowing us to review the temperature during shipping. This reflected the temperature moderation was under control. After four trial runs and no failures, we knew what size box to buy and ship in, temperatures that would results and maintain the product, and packing materials to use.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
My start up costs were in the neighborhood of $20,000 which my friends gave me because they wanted me to be making the whoopie pies they loved. They wanted to buy them for their friends and that was reason enough for them to help me get Cape Whoopies started.
Thus began the journey of moving the business from friends to Internet community. The process of launching the business online was relatively simple. I found a software called Shopify and hired a company, Inspire Studios to help me do the initial design of the site which took maybe two days.
Through this process, I wrote all the content and plugged it in. I photographed my beautiful pies and plugged the pictures into the site, as well. The entire process from start to finish was six days.
Periodically I stumble across a problem that I can’t solve but Shopify is so great that it has Help you can contact to guide you through tough spots. With Shopify you can go to the site and click a link with a chat option and these help gurus will talk to you on the spot. They will explain what to do if it’s a problem they can solve. If not, they have a page of different sites to which they can outsource your case. All in all, Shopify and its Help are great.
Even though I don’t have a business background, I’ve realized there isn’t anything I can’t learn as long as I can find a point person to walk me or lead me through the issue. When I look back over the past six years, I recollect how much I’ve learned and I am so grateful for these awesome resources that have helped in the launching of my online store.
Gearing up for the launch of our brick & mortar site required a different type of hustle. At this new space on Cottage Road, Cape Whoopies would share the building with Rwanda Bean, a coffee shop. Via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we shared about the building being bought, painted, baked in for the first time, and a bit of the journey it had been setting up.
We started advertising the purchase of the place three months prior to doors opening. Between that month of February to our soft opening in May, we advertised only through Social Media and opened the doors May 18, 2018 to our warm and excited South Portland Community. We sent out a press release the week of for our soft opening to local newspapers and TV stations.
The week of the Grand Opening in June, we sent out a press release to all the newspapers from weekly local, to the Currier, to the Portland Press Herald and the Boston Globe. We also sent the release to TV stations such as WGME, WBI, for example.
For our Grand Opening, which included a celebration of Rwanda Bean stepping on the scene, we had the mayor in for ribbon cutting, the Director of Economic Development, the Consulate from the Rwandan Embassy from Washington D.C., and Rwandan dancers.
Cape Whoopies had samples of pies available all day. We made a new whoopie pie and had a naming contest, with the prize being a free dozen pies of your choice. My whole family and friend clan of twelve came and helped the whole day through. It was a really incredible celebration.
Initially in sales, we had a big increase and we have indeed been able to keep up with that. Comparing sales the month of May 2017 to sales the month of May 2018, they have increased 81.16%.
We kept up with the rise in demand of pies by tracking what is in highest demand and supplying more of that product. Pretty simple. Launching the business via our brick & mortar site has yielded a great increase in demand and sales.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I worked with a SCORE mentor that taught me that to run a good business you only need three things:
A good product
A clear voice to get your story out
The ability to gain capital or borrow money
He told me that you only need two of the three items to make it but that I have all three in spades. I have taken what he taught me and worked hard.
I started my SEO and social media by posting twice a day, myself, and making sure to use the same words to describe products, over and over. Now, I pay my daughter to do it for me and it’s even better than when I did it myself.
I don’t do any formal marketing or advertising. I just print cute tee shirts and baseball caps and ask everyone I know to wear them. I ask them to take pictures of themselves in amazing places, wearing the swag, and post the photos saying #CapeWhoopiesAreEverywhere.
Now I have customers coming in to buy the tee shirts and hats because they want to be part of the fun, too!
In retaining customers, I just think about what engages me, what I think is clever in other companies and then recreate an avenue for myself. It’s not rocket science, it’s much easier than one would think.
What are some of the metrics of the business?
In the case of my business our margins are in the neighborhood of 50-60%.
I am constantly checking my numbers and factoring in how much volume I need to make everything work well. This last year we grew by 150% which was great, until our biggest account decided to cancel their program with us. At first I had some heartburn over it, but as soon as we opened the doors on our new space, sharing with the coffee shop, we are now 42% ahead of last year’s numbers even without our biggest customer from last year.
Going into brick & mortar, we really had no choice. It was difficult carrying the batter downstairs to upstairs to bake it at Fork Food Lab communal kitchen. Then also difficult bagging and tagging tray after tray and carrying them downstairs to freeze the pies.
Fork is a communal kitchen, which is focused on small businesses. We were outgrowing the kitchen, and the price we had to pay for two tables was not worth the amount of work that was required in maneuvering in the space to create and store our product.
The opportunity to move into 185 Cottage Road arose in November of 2017.
We looked at the building and tried to rent it. The owner said no. Two days later, our church shared a video about the Cape Whoopies business, which was on generosity.
That same Sunday, the owner wrote me a letter saying "I felt like God was hitting me in the back of the head today at church when I saw your video." So in this way, I learned that the owner not only goes to Eastpoint Christian Church as well, but also, a way was opening up where this man would come to rent to us what is now our beautiful new commercial kitchen.
Thus our brick & mortar business model began to flourish all the more.
Currently, our biggest account is our own front door with Rwanda Bean. Besides this, Amazon.com and Goldbely.com take 2nd and 3rd place. Goldbely.com, a food gift website.
Since January 1, 2018, 47% of our sales have been online, with Amazon.com and Goldbely.com adding to the majority of the mix. Since opening up 185 Cottage Road on May 18, 2018, to date 53% of our sales are from our brick & mortar storefront. This is pretty remarkable.
We landed an unspoken partnership with Rwanda Bean as we worked side-by-side with White Cap Cold Brew in Fork Food Lab for 2 years. After White Cap partnered with Rwanda Bean, the six of us began joking of finding a place together where we would have coffee out front and whoopies out back. Now the Rwanda Bean brick & mortar storefront is our top account.
As for Amazon, they called me in July of 2016 asking to sell my whoopies. As soon as I heard from them, I realized I need to move out of my basement and that is when I found Fork Food Lab.
As for Goldbely, we wrote to them and asked if they’d consider reviewing our product. Once we sent it, they loved it. That was now six years ago and they continue to be one of our top accounts.
Current operations include daily making 2-3 80 quart batches of filling and sometimes as many as 4 80 quart batches of cake batter and baking, filling, bagging and tagging all of it. We get it into the freezer within an hour and it’s ready for shipping.
We are always adding new flavors to our line and constantly receiving interest from potential customers over what we are doing. I continue to have a long term goal to get our product into Dean and Deluca, but am very happy to be sold at Whole Foods Market and Goldbely.com, along with Amazon.com and my own website.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned that there isn’t anything I can’t learn. I keep my focus on the business and remember that the divine intervention that started the business is still firmly there. Keeping my mind on my goal of making the best tasting, most delicious, and creative whoopie pie that I can... I find I am golden.
I don’t worry about what others are doing or saying...I just stand tall in my own aim to be creative with pure food, no preservatives or fake foods for me. I want what I make to be something totally amazing in taste and just like my grandmother would have made.
I keep my focus there and don’t fall for mixes or products that may make things easier but ultimately affect the taste. So, my tip for anyone is to keep your focus on your original goal...it’s always the best.
In terms of partnerships, I am quite lucky in that I have met an amazing group of people in Rwanda Bean Coffee company and we both had the goal of a great coffee shop with whoopie pies being baked in the background.
We do not have a formal legal partnership but we have a great deal of trust in one another and generally the same basic ethic as we all go to the same church. It is my belief that finding those you can partner with is always a bonus. Working together makes things more interesting, more creative, and more fun!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Shopify because it is truly the easiest software to use. I did not grow up using computers but even I can maintain my site on Shopify. I also have apps that automatically contact my customers to ask for feedback, give discounts after a year of being a customer and follow them as they leave my site. It’s easy to set up and gives the customer the feeling that we are a full service site, rather than a smaller company striving to grow.
We also have an app that allows our customers to purchase swag that is individually printed with our logo, for them. We have not sold very many items but again when a customer sees swag they automatically think bigger company, offering more items… it’s a good thing with no extra cost.
I do all my own shipping set up because I partner with goldbely.com. Goldbely allows me to be a third party on their shipping account with FedEx which gives me a discount that is deeper than I could get on my own.
Back to the partnership item in the last question, this has been an excellent partnership as Goldbely does a lot of nationwide marketing for me. Pick your partners well and you will cure a lot of problems before you even encounter them.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have loved the E-Myth series. They also allow you to sign up with them and they send you free booklets about important topics as you scale up. Things like company structure, how to create a meaningful work environment, how to source the best people for the job...they really help set up, scale up and grow your business, and much of it is free.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you want to get started in your own business, you need to truly love what you are doing. Have a passion that is so deep that even on the days when its 2:00 am and you are still working, you are loving what you are creating.
You need to understand that the amount of push and hustle that you will need to have to make this happen is far greater than you can even imagine, today. Understand that it’s going to be hard in the beginning and be willing to say no to certain things so you can continue to say yes to keeping your business going.
I have been creating my business for six years and I love it more, today, than I did even in the beginning.
For me, I feel like Cape Whoopies is my alter ego, my child, my creation. It’s all the goodness I have, expressed for others to enjoy. Sometimes people don’t appreciate what you are doing...its okay, just think of a duck and how the water runs off his back and that’s how you let the negative comments go, so you can continue creating your perfectly divine business!
If you’re just starting out, keep tuned in to that still small voice that’s inside you that’s quietly roaring about your passion. Forge on! Success requires walking on water while keeping your eyes on the ultimate goal.
You will fail and doubt, but keep on. You have to believe in yourself even when others do not. My Cape Whoopies dream, (that is now far greater than I ever imagined), is fueled by keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, my passion, and lots of hustle and push.
Certain attributes I find helpful is having a really clear voice and being outgoing about your product or service. In addition to this, that same attribute aids me in borrowing money as well. The lack of procrastination in my mindset helps in getting things done well.
Where can we go to learn more?
Our new whoopie pie cafe is located at:
185 Cottage Road South Portland, Maine 04106
or at Whole Foods Market here in Portland.
If you'd like to get to know us better:
Our website www.capewhoopies.com
And I invite you to contact me, anytime, should you have questions, concerns or just want to express some whoopie love!
Cape Whoopies has provided an update on their business!
3 months ago, we followed up with Cape Whoopies to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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