I Met Brand Master Johnny Earle, CEO of Johnny Cupcakes!

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Look at that cute lil cupcakin’ family. ;P Here’s my hub-hubs Jeff, Johnny Cupcakes CEO Johnny Earle, and me.

As a longtime fan of cupcakes and t-shirts, my world changed 5 years ago when I found out there was a company that sold t-shirts with cupcakes on them. Not just any cupcakes. But COOL cupcakes. With his iconic cupcakes-and-crossbones logo, Johnny Cupcakes CEO and “Head Baker” Johnny Earle brought this cutesy little frosted pastry to the masses by integrating bold and rockin’ design with humor and playfulness.

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The Johnny Cupcakes van. According to the video they posted on their site, they slept in it when they arrived the night before.

If you haven’t read his story, I strongly encourage you to read it on his website here. It’s extremely inspiring, and it will put a smile on your face. Johnny Cupcakes is a company that values high quality products and loves its customers. Despite his phenomenal international success, Johnny Earle continues to give the brand a homegrown feel by taking the time meet and chat with his fans. So he hits two of the basic elements of a successful business: great product and great customer service.

So years ago, I bought my first Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt and was hooked. Ever since then, my husband has been giving me a steady stream of JC gear as wonderful gifts. ^_^

As a part of Johnny’s tradition (and genius brand formula), he does tours of pop-up shops around the country. Since he only has stores in Boston, L.A., Martha’s Vineyard, and London (haha, “only”), this is quite a treat to his fans around the country and the world. To celebrate Halloween this year and promote his latest line, he’s doing what he’s dubbed a “coffin tour” called Cupcakes From the Crypt.

I was so excited when I saw Chicago was one of the stops on his tour!

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Chicago! Yaaaaaay!

I was even more excited when I found out he was setting up his Chicago shop in one of my favorite stores in the world, Rotofugi, a designer toy store and art gallery in Lakeview. Having never been to a JC tour, Jeff and I were anxious to see how it went down.

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Rotofugi’s signage. According to their site, the name comes from a combo of the owners’ beagle-shihtzu puppy (his name is “Fugi”) and the vaguely Asian-sounding word, “roto.”

Having heard that there are usually lines for Johnny’s tour stops, we decided to get there early, and it’s a good thing we did! There was quite a line already, at one hour before the official event start time. But the line system was well organized. To avoid petty line fights, someone behind the counter at Rotofugi handed us each a ticket with a number on it, which represented your place in line. (Jeff was #85, and I was #86, which I was excited about, due to my fandom for ‘Get Smart.’ :D)

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My line number: 86. As in, Secret Agent 86. ;D

It was a chilly wait, because this was the day Chicago decided to officially click into fall weather. Oh yes. We endured wind and cold for about an hour. But Jeff and I and everyone in line were in good spirits! That’s what we noticed about Johnny Cupcake’s fans. Everyone was there to have fun. No stressin’.

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It’s a good thing we got here early. Check out the line the formed behind us!

Jeff and I developed a playful kinship with a group of girls next to us who were cracking jokes during our wait. “Let’s all play a game!” one of them chimed, “Maybe it’ll help us warm up!” (We didn’t end up playing a game, though. Maybe we were just too excited to get in.)

The event organizer was letting in people from the line, ten at a time, so we had fun counting down to our turn. “Oooh, we’re getting closer!” someone would say.

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It’s cold as heck, but we’re happy as clams! (Speaking of which, who determined that the default state of clams is ‘happy’?)

When we finally made it inside, we were greeted with a menu of our t-shirt choices. It was literally a menu! Ah, another one of Johnny’s great attention to detail and strong branding. It was also a smart idea to keep the line flowing smoothly, so by the time you got to the pop-up shop, you knew what you wanted and could order right away.

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Menu cover for the freshly baked goods.

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The menu presented a fun array of different Halloween-themed designs, but Jeff and I had our eyes on one particular design, which proved to be quite popular.

It was another hour until the line took us to the actual pop-up shop and we were able to make our purchase, but it was a fun experience, which is what I imagine Johnny wanted for his fans. There was excited chatter amongst those in line, so good spirits and camaraderie continued inside.

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Line inside. We were happy to be in from the cold… and to see Johnny, of course!

Also, Rotofugi’s gallery displayed a wonderful exhibit with fun, colorful pieces, so we kept ourselves occupied by pointing out the various works of art.

When we finally got to the pop-up shop, we saw each of the t-shirts were on mannequins that seemed to have risen from their coffins, and each mannequin head was covered with a creepy mask, which really pushed the creepy Halloween feel and more importantly, kept within the theme of this tour. Love!

Every aspect of Johnny’s brand oozes with creativity and consistency. I was delighted at every turn. The friendly lady behind the coffins took our orders, and I was psyched to have gotten the last t-shirt design of my choice in my size. Whew! The checkout process was smooth as well. I added a limited edition Coffin Tour Pin Pack and Johnny Cupcakes Brand Book to our purchase.

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Great display presenting the t-shirt design of our choice. The display was decked out in Halloween-ness, complete with fake webs, that kept getting caught in my jewelry. 😛

Then we hopped back in the line to actually meet Johnny himself. But then I was starting to get nervous. I’ve been such a longtime fan, that I started to worry about whether or not he was actually as nice as his press portrays him to be. What if he can smile and be playful for the cameras as his website shows, but what if he’s actually aloof and annoyed and tired? (While on a 21-city tour with back-to-back days, wouldn’t you be tired? Wouldn’t that be hard to hide?)

Other worries popped up in my mind. If you’ve attended a standard meet and greet before, you’ll know that your time with the featured person is usually rushed (although understandably so), there’s a bodyguard that tells you not to touch anything or anyone, there’s a limit on how many times and what items the person can sign, and there’s a limit on pictures… if you can take pictures at all.

Basically, I was worried that my pristine and childlike view of the Johnny Cupcakes brand would be tarnished. (I know, maybe I have issues. 😛 But you can see where I’m coming from, right?)

After a little more of a wait, it was finally our turn! When Jeff and I stepped up, Johnny was the first to say hi. My first thought, “He’s so cute and little!” With a soft spoken demeanor and baby face, it was crazy-awesome to think that he’s the grand master – ahem – Head Baker 😀 – of an international retail company.

He asked us our names and shook our hands and asked where we were from. We told him how big of fans we were of his, and he thanked us graciously with a sweet smile. Then his eye caught my pinup tattoo, and he was wowed by the detail and was lavish with his compliments. I thanked him, and then he noticed I was wearing a Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt, which he expressed appreciation for with a smile.

He also noticed I was wearing my Johnny Cupcakes dangly silver earrings, and I told him Jeff gave them to me for Christmas a couple years ago, which he enjoyed hearing.

Then I told him how much we love his designs and how inspiring his story and his brand are, and how much of an inspiration he’s been to Aerial Ardour. I told him I make it a point to work with clients who value their brand and brand look, and I see he does that with Johnny Cupcakes.

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Johnny was so cool and signed my shirt from a previous printing!

He then asked about my design work and gave me some great advice about working with more clients I want to work with. I responded with my own thoughts, and then in the midst of it, I realized, “Holy crap, we’re talking about business right now! There’s a whole line of people waiting to see this wonderful guy who’ve already waited 2+ hours, and he’s taking the time to talk to me about what makes a successful business.”

Wow.

I then offered him my business card, and he was impressed with the heft of the paper weight. (Yay!)

Then he said, “Ooh! Let me see if I have mine with me, so I could give you one.” (Double yay!)

His business card also had some nice heft. 😀 And of course, it was impeccably designed. He also presented the card in the great Japanese tradition of presenting with both hands, card facing me, and with a slight bow. Wow. This guy knew his stuff.

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Johnny’s designs are spot on, right down to his business card. LOVE.

He also took the time to sign the shirt I was wearing, as well as the JC brand book we had purchased. He wrote our names and had a great message to go with his signature. (There was a slight slip-up with the spelling of my name at first since, you know, my mom decided to spell my name as “Irene” but with an “A.” 😛 But Johnny saved it and made a great font from it.)

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Here are all our goodies, including the Johnny Cupcakes Brand Book that Johnny signed. “Keep positive,” he signed below our names and his signature. He keeps his overall message consistent in every touchpoint of his brand.

Then we took a picture with the help of the person who was next in line, and it took a couple of tries to get it right, but we finally got a great shot. Johnny even took the time to change our position in order to get better lighting.

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Johnny took the time to shift our positions so we could get the best lighting. His attention to detail and consideration for his fans are just two of the infinite elements to his success.

Feeling we were taking up some time, Jeff and I started our good byes, and even as we were leaving, Johnny stopped us to offer me more words of wisdom for my business. Wow. This was surreal! I thanked him graciously, wished him luck for the rest of his tour, and he gave me a hug and we were on our way. Wow.

So all my worries were unwarranted.

Mr. Johnny Earle IS as sweet and IS as genuine as everyone says he is. Jeff and I walked away feeling so special and even BIGGER fans of Johnny Cupcakes.

THIS is why Johnny Earle has sustained a successful business. He really truly absolutely values his fans. He invests his time with his fans, and they give back tenfold.

For the rest of the day, I had such a great high from the experience. I felt special, and I felt happy, which is what Johnny wants his fans to feel when they experience his brand. (Note that I said, “experience his brand,” and not merely, “buy his t-shirts.”)

And from this, I have resolved to buy even MORE Johnny Cupcakes products.

And THAT is why Mr. Johnny Earle is a brand master.

What do you think are attributes that a company must possess in order to be a brand master? Share your comments below!

Thanks for reading!

And go buy something from Johnny Cupcakes! 😀

P.S. In Johnny Cupcakes’ video from the Chicago stop below, you can catch a glimpse of me and Jeff behind the window at 2:18 when Johnny takes the time to high five some fans walking by Rotofugi.

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A Brand-Spankin’ New Website

As I smattered all over the Facebook and Twitter on Friday, I am BEYOND EXCITED for the launch of my new website!

THE OLD

What was my old website like? Before Friday, it was simply a Tumblr template redirected to a vanity URL. No diss to anyone who uses that method. It certainly worked for me! (It was free, and it took zero time to put it together.)

However, at the beginning of this year, I had a rash of requests for proposals that ended up with the potential clients not taking me completely seriously. They had found me through my website, and after great initial meetings and phone calls, when it came time to reviewing a proposal, they would be shocked – hell, even borderline insulted – when it came to the sticker price, despite my experience and portfolio containing work for fairly large and reputable companies.

It also strongly struck me when I lost out on a particular project earlier this year. I was so sure I had it in the bag. I had asked the potential client why he chose not to go with me, and said this: “You need to toot your horn a little louder.”

Aye.

He was right. I was too meek for my own good.

Clients want someone who is confident in their work. I am confident… but I needed to SHOW it.

My old site didn’t fit what I wanted to communicate to people. It was clunky and amateurish. It didn’t accurately and fairly represent the services I could offer to potential clients, and it didn’t fairly represent the work I had already done for so many of my amazing clients.

THE EPIPHANY

I did some soul-searching. I looked at my branding, my language. Ah HA! There it was.

I had resolved that my website was… not a real website – at least for a designer who was expecting to be taken seriously. I realized I had been wearing boxer shorts and a flannel shirt to interviews with Fortune 500 companies and then was shocked when the hiring manager asked me to work for less than minimum wage.

Essentially, I wasn’t representing myself the way I wanted to be treated. When I first started freelancing, I had quickly put together a website, naively resting on my laurels, thinking that my portfolio would speak for itself. Boy, what a cocky and foolish thing to think. A portfolio will only take you so far. The right clothes can take you further.

So I got serious and, with a pep talk and the help and dedication from a very talented developer, I got it done!

WHAT GETS IN THE WAY? A LOT OF TIMES, YOURSELF.

Getting the website done was also quite a feat, because after taking this project to a handful of developers already who couldn’t take the project home for me, 3 years later, my custom website is now a real thing. I had always intended to have a custom designed website, but I used my busy workload as the eternal excuse for not getting it done. This whole story is the classic cautionary tale that I relate to potential clients. How ironic that I didn’t heed my own advice.

But now, here I am, excited and proud to refer people to my site, instead of mumbling an apology/disclaimer.

The site was developed by my great friend and fellow lady entrepreneur, social media maven, and WordPress queen, Laura Oldham of El-Be Social Marketing. She brought my vision to life!! 😀 THANK YOU, Laura, for making this magic happen! (Seriously, as I was going through my list of custom plug-in requests and sent her my design, I was sure Laura would come back and tell me that I couldn’t do a couple of things. But no. She told me I could do all of those things. And better.)

THE FEATURES

As you can see, the website features a little bit about me, large images of my work as well as comments about each project, social sharing buttons on each project, a blog, and the ability for anyone to contact me directly through the website.

I’m also excited about the widgets at the very bottom of the website that connect you to my Instagram feed, Twitter feed, and also showcases friends’ and colleagues’ websites in my industry whose work I admire. (Laura did an AMAZING job with those widgets.)

I’m excited about this, because after years of slacking on a decent website (hey, clients get taken care of first!), I am excited to finally have myself look like a legit company. ;D I’ve been blessed with having great clients, and I’m excited to showcase them all on my website. I look forward to many more years of working with fantastic clients.

2012: THE YEAR OF SWAGGER

In January, when I was lamenting to Laura about the pitfalls of not giving my own branding enough attention, we had determined that we both are naturally inclined to hesitate talking too much about ourselves. Humility is great, but not when it’s detrimental. So we resolved to do better this year. As Laura awesomely put it, 2012 would be The Year of Swagger. Laura has been fulfilling her end of the bargain by working on more exciting projects with great clients… and I’m now finally happy to have begun fulfilling my end of the bargain.

Dissecting the Successful Business Card

I’ve been in the midst of rebranding my own look, I’ve been seeking inspiration, and I found this infographic that gives solid, basic pointers, so I thought I’d share. It also covers business card etiquette from around the world. (Note: I saw from comments on the original blog that the flag for South Korea is incorrect.)

What do you look for in a great business card?