On the morning of every childhood birthday, Laurie Blakey, co-owner of Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, recalls going to her grandmother’s house where her favorite cupcakes were awaiting her. Blakey explained that her grandmother, Pearl, made every birthday special by having a house full of fresh flowers, a present and cupcakes waiting for her grandchildren when they arrived early on the morning of their special days. She said that Pearl made miniature orange blossom cupcakes, her favorite, for every birthday. Now Blakey features the same cupcake at her shop, Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe.
Co-owners Laurie Blakey and Laura Condrey opened Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe March 1, 2010 at 5812 Grove Ave. Blakey and Condrey had worked together for years in the real estate business before they ventured into the world of cupcakes. Blakey had retired and was at her beach house. She explained that she was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life when a show about cupcakes came on T.V. While she was watching the show and contemplating her next move, Condrey called to catch up with her friend. Blakey then told Condrey about her idea to start a cupcake shop. Condrey immediately said she wanted to be a part of creating the business.
Blakey and Condrey said they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Condrey explained that for the most part, they make up for each other’s weaknesses. Blakey said Condrey is very task-oriented and focused on the job at hand, whereas she is focused on the bigger picture.
Condrey said Blakey is their marketing person. Blakey uses social media sites- such as Facebook and Twitter- to engage with customers. She said she is focused on spreading the word about Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe and bringing more people in to try their cupcakes. Condrey, however, is responsible for the bulk of the baking.
“Have you ever seen the movie Field of Dreams? Well that’s a great movie, except it’s kind of a fantasy. You know [the saying], ‘You build it and they will come?’ Well, if you bake it and just put it in the showcase, you’ve got to get them [the customers] in here somehow or someway,” Blakey said.
Blakey said Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe had a Facebook page three weeks before the shop actually opened. The goal of the Facebook page, she explained, was to build a fan base before the shop opened. Initially, the fan base was Blakey’s age or a little older, but now Blakey and Condrey are making strides to engage the younger crowds as well.
Every Tuesday Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe offers their followers a “Pearl of Wisdom,” through posts on their Facebook page or Tweets. Blakey and Condrey said they try to come up with quotes or something to help them engage with school-aged children. Blakey explained that when the new sign was hung outside, they also added a sign with chocolate raspberry cupcakes. The “Pearl of Wisdom” for that Tuesday asked school-aged children to find a chocolate raspberry cupcake. Blakey said parents like the “Pearl of Wisdom” because it encourages their children to try new flavors that they wouldn’t necessarily consider otherwise.
Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe also uses its social media sites to engage with other customers. Blakey and Condrey explained that using social media sites gives them a chance to find out what everyone wants. Blakey said a woman wrote on the Facebook page the other day asking about Fall Fancy and Figgy Goat because she wants to try them.
According to Blakey, Facebook helps Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe get a better idea of what its customers want daily, which helps the shop produce cupcakes to satisfy the customers. Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe usually posts the flavors available that day on its social media sites. Blakey said social media is the best form of marketing because the business can control what they put on the site and then get feedback directly from the customers.
“We can’t place an ad [advertisement] and get any kind of response like that,” Condrey said.
Blakey added that once the shop gets customers in the door, the product should sell itself. She explained that like anything in sales, the sales person is just there to offer the customer an opportunity to buy a product.
William Dunbar, a self-proclaimed amateur baker, said he found out about Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe through a friend, but his daughter helps him check out local businesses online. Dunbar explained it is faster and easier for him to learn more about local businesses if he gets his daughter to look them up on social media sites. As for Pearl’s Cupcakes, Dunbar said he likes the icing and the cake from Pearl’s better than other shops in town.
“I’d say their cupcakes are almost as good as my cakes,” Dunbar said.
Sarah Byrne, the manager of Sally Bell’s Kitchen on West Grace Street, however, said Sally Bell’s has been in business for nearly 80 years without using social media. She said Sally Bell’s Kitchen does have a website, but most of their customers come by word of mouth.
On the other hand, like Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, Michael P’Pool, operations manager at the Virginia Book Company, said social media definitely plays a role in his business. He explained that he too is trying to connect with his audience, which includes a younger group of people, just like the group Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe is trying to target
“The amount of money I spend on Facebook and Twitter is significantly less than if I put an ad in The Commonwealth Times. It’s easier to directly gauge how effective it is. If I put an ad out, I don’t know really who’s responding to it,” P’Pool said.
Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe has used contests on Facebook to get feedback from customers. One contest allowed 60 people to suggest a new flavor. After the flavors were posted, Blakey and Condrey individually made a list of their top five flavor suggestions. When they finished making the list, they compared them and only two flavors overlapped, so they chose the seasonal flavor, the Deep Dish Apple.
Blakey and Condrey said their goal is to accommodate everyone in the showcase daily. Blakey explained that Pearl always had something for everyone, so that’s what she wants the shop to mirror. Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe offers gluten free and vegan cupcakes every day to ensure that people who can’t have certain ingredients are still able to enjoy a cupcake.
In addition to providing a variety of cupcake options, Blakey and Condrey said they are always experimenting to come up with new flavors. Condrey said they test the cupcakes by putting several different frostings on the cake and dividing the cupcake among all the employees. She said everyone votes and the cupcake with the most votes makes it to the showcase.
“We try to come and go with the consensus of what everybody likes, but I think we definitely try a lot of things,” Condrey said.
One of their earliest experiments was performed before the shop opened. Blakey was working on a cupcake someone had requested for a Christmas party. The person throwing the party wanted a vanilla-based cake with white chocolate ganache and crushed peppermint on top.
As Blakey was tweaking her recipe, her son walked by and asked what kind of cupcake she was making. She explained to him that it was a modified “Plain Jane,” which is a vanilla based cake with vanilla butter cream frosting. Her son then decided to take a bite of this so called “Plain Jane.” Blakey said that after taking a bite he said, ‘there’s nothing plain about this Jane, she’s a bombshell.’ From there Blakey called it the “Marilynn Monroe.”
“Then I found out after the fact that Marilyn’s favorite thing to eat was white chocolate,” Blakey said.
The newest additions at Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe are the Figgy Goat and the Vino Cup. The shop offers Red Velvet, Top Hat, Carrot, Double Trouble, Black & White and Pearl daily.
Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe is also in the process of “going green.” Blakey said that Pearl’s now uses an iPad system to trake orders, which cuts down on the paper trail. In addition, the delivery van the cupcake shop uses is energy efficient. Blakey said they deliver up to 5 miles free for orders of a dozen or more.
With shows like D.C. Cupcakes on TLC and the rising popularity of cupcake shops across the nation, Blakey and Condrey said their homespun look and the quality of their cupcakes sets them apart.
“A lot of people try to make it so institutional and so unique to them that it can be anybody’s. That’s one thing D.C. Cupcakes is really hung up on- their swirl,” Blakey said.
Blakey said that at Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, the frosting is up to the decorators and that makes their product unique.
Blakey and Condrey are hoping to keep Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe on the cutting edge of technology using social media to promote their product, but hoping the sight of “homespun” cupcake will be the driving force behind consumers.