Erica Tucker – A Sweet Story
If you’re looking for an excuse to tune into “Cupcake Wars” on the Food Network later this month, look no further than Erica Tucker, owner of Sweet E’s (www.sweetesbakeshop.com). Erica took matters into her own hands after moving to Los Angeles. The baker extraordinaire perfected her recipes, built a website to serve as her storefront, and relentlessly emailed Daily Candy (www.DailyCandy.com) until she was answered. The outcome? A glowing review on Daily Candy led to calls from Citysearch and Yelp, and orders galore poured in. Erica is a proactive, entrepreneurial woman who built her business with talent, moxie, a sweet tooth, and tons of personality. Oh, and she’s never refused an order.
eMinutes: Would you say the write-up on Daily Candy changed everything for you?
Erica Tucker: Absolutely! That was my very first piece of big press!
eMinutes: That’s a really good first piece of press.
Erica Tucker: It put me on the map, 100 percent. The day that went up I just sat on the floor next to the window in my apartment where I got the best reception on my phone taking orders. Citysearch and Yelp called.
eMinutes: Citysearch and Yelp called you?
Erica Tucker: Yes! I took a meeting with them and figured out the best kind of profile for me to have and now I’m on their web sites.
eMinutes: And they found you because of Daily Candy?
Erica Tucker: Yeah.
eMinutes: How did Daily Candy find you?
Erica Tucker: Daily Candy found me because of me. I absolutely stalked them until they would let me drop off samples.
eMinutes: So you called, “Hi, I’m Erica, you have to try my cupcakes”?
Erica Tucker: I had two friends that sort of worked in conjunction with Daily Candy, and they tried for me but I never heard a thing. It wasn’t until I wrote the emails myself to the Los Angeles editor every two weeks until she emailed me back and finally said, “Sure, drop off samples.”
I dropped off samples and I never heard back. I made a cake that had the Daily Candy logo on it and everything. And then a week later I got an email on a Thursday saying, “Hey, we’re posting about you tomorrow.” The post went up less than 24 hours later.
eMinutes: And how many orders did you take the day the post went up?
Erica Tucker: Oh, I think I took around between 30 and 40. Usually we take between 3 and 8 a day.
eMinutes: And you got all the orders out?
Erica Tucker: Yeah. They weren’t all same day orders. Most of them were for over the weekend, the next week, or questions about future parties. There were a lot of other things I got from Daily Candy that created continued success. For instance, I now work with KISS FM. And I did the Teen Choice Awards gift room. I did the Sunset Strip Music Festival gift room. I’m doing Jingle Balls.
eMinutes: What’s involved with that?
Erica Tucker: I’m doing their gifting suite and backstage. So I cater with cupcakes or cookies and give them out to the celebrities and take pictures with them, which generates a lot of business. I’ve gotten some things on air with Ryan Seacrest because of them, all because of this one amazing woman — Amy from KISS FM.
eMinutes: Wow. And do you find yourself giving a lot of freebies in hopes of getting more work?
Erica Tucker: That’s been a learning process for me.
eMinutes: Can you talk about that?
Erica Tucker: At first I was just excited by the names of things, Teen Choice Awards and Hollywood Weekly Magazine and all these great things that I provided anywhere from 100 to 500 cupcakes with a tower. I would personally go, so my time was involved. But a lot of times I would get nothing in return. Maybe a few emails back, and I’d meet a few people while I was there.
eMinutes: That costs a lot of money. You thought of it as an investment?
Erica Tucker: Absolutely.
eMinutes: Sometimes the freebie investment is worth it, sometimes it’s not.
Erica Tucker: Right. I wasn’t saying no to anything at first. I was just yes, yes, yes. I will do whatever I need to do to get my cupcakes in front of people.
eMinutes: And now are you a little bit more conservative with that?
Erica Tucker: Yes. I will have 500 cupcakes somewhere if I think it’s gonna be worthwhile for me. If I’ll be hitting the right kind of people. If it’s gonna be a bunch of men over the age of 30, that’s not gonna help me out so much. If it’s an event with moms or young women and children, that’s worth it.
eMinutes: So the pictures with the celebrities like Jennie Garth helped you?
Erica Tucker: Absolutely. Right now I’m my own PR. I don’t have PR taking that picture and putting my name attached to it and getting recognition.
eMinutes: So the problem is Jennie Garth could be eating that cupcake and nobody ever credits your cupcakes.
Erica Tucker: I’ve learned a lesson there. At first when I was taking these pictures, but there was no logo anywhere. Now if you look at that picture, Jennie is holding a bag that says Sweet E’s on it. I was there when that picture was taken.
eMinutes: Who took it?
Erica Tucker: A press photographer. I literally stepped in and said, “I’m sorry, can you turn that bag around?” She turned it around and now the Sweet E’s logo is in the picture.
eMinutes: Was she cool about it?
Erica Tucker: She was sweet and adorable and very, very cool about it.
eMinutes: So no PR because you can’t bring that on your team just yet?
Erica Tucker: It’s something that will happen very, very soon — probably in the next month or two. It’s just a huge expense. And I’m getting so much on my own that I think I can handle it for another month or two. I did cupcakes for Extra TV for Puff Daddy’s birthday and got that on my own.
eMinutes: And what about the social media aspect? The Facebook and Twittering – let’s discuss what you’ve decided to put your energy into and why.
Erica Tucker: That’s a huge thing, Twitter and Facebook and all these things.
I’ve just been learning that. I’m not a Twitter kind of person so I’ve had to become one. I have a Post-Its that remind me to Twitter every week or so. And I post a lot of pictures.
eMinutes: Do you take them yourself?
Erica Tucker: I do and I don’t. If we have one cool order, I’ll take it myself. If we happen to have three really fun custom orders, then I’ll have a photographer come in. And it’ll be worth it to me. If you look at the gallery on my website, a lot of work and money went into that. But I think it’s worth it.
eMinutes: What else are you doing? Are you doing Facebook?
Erica Tucker: I am. I update that a little less than I do Twitter.
eMinutes: Do you have a fan page?
Erica Tucker: It’s all connected now. I have a fan page and my personal page.
eMinutes: Any others?
Erica Tucker: I’m trying to do LinkedIn. It seems to be something people talk about. But Twitter and Facebook are pretty much the biggest ones.
eMinutes: I saw that your blog is coming soon.
Erica Tucker: I’m not a blogger-type person. I’m going to learn to become one. So it’s really just me finally writing something down and getting it up at this point.
eMinutes: Do you advertise at all?
Erica Tucker: I advertise on Google, Yelp, and City Search. I’ve done some other advertising, but I’m just learning what works and what doesn’t. I did a Val-Pack, but that did nothing for me.
eMinutes: Val-Pack gets mailed to homes. It’s not a click on the computer. But paying on Google and other online advertising helped you?
Erica Tucker: Absolutely. When you Google, “Los Angeles Cupcakes”, I come right up.
eMinutes: And that’s because you pay for that advertising?
Erica Tucker: Yeah. It makes the phone ring, so it’s worth it.
eMinutes: Sounds like you paid close attention to Google analytics. How did you make sure you would come up in a Google search for “Hollywood Cupcakes”?
Erica Tucker: It’s a huge process. My web designer coded my entire web site. So when people type in “Mardi Gras Cupcake”, even as specific as that, it’s coded somewhere, and it’s gonna come up in a Google search. Google and Yahoo, but mainly Google. We have all these keywords that I advertise with.
eMinutes: So DailyCandy.com brought you a lot of traffic because it’s online and people can go to your web site right away. Did you find it brought you more traffic than, say, being on Extra?
Erica Tucker: Absolutely. You know, the plugs are great every once in a while, but they really don’t do as wonderfully as you think they are going to. People are much more visually inclined to click.
eMinutes: Rather than hearing or seeing something on TV and then going to the computer to look it up?
Erica Tucker: Right. Most of my customers are people searching for what I do.
eMinutes: Do you have family out here with you?
Erica Tucker: I don’t. My parents are in Houston. My sister is in Chicago, and she’ll be moving to New York next year. She is getting her MBA at Kellogg right now, and she’s been handling my Google ad words for me.
eMinutes: She works with your web programmer?
Erica Tucker: Yes. She also works with Citysearch and Yelp. She does all the Google optimizing. So if I wanted to add “Holiday Cupcakes” to a keyword, she’ll add that for me. She’s really helpful and we’re working so well together, I’m hoping she joins the team. I didn’t want a partner in all this unless it was a family member to run the business part and I’ll do the creative part. I’d love to make it a family business.
eMinutes: It sounds like your family offers you a lot of support.
Erica Tucker: My parents are extremely supportive. They helped me financially. And they wouldn’t have done it unless they saw that this is something that has amazing potential.
eMinutes: Did you move to Los Angeles with the baking business in mind?
Erica Tucker: Well, opening a bakeshop has always been in the back of my mind. But I moved out to L.A. originally to be an actress. After two years of fighting the acting word, I loved acting and I really disliked auditioning. It’s not a fun process.
eMinutes: Do you think you’d ever want to go back to acting?
Erica Tucker: Well I’m gonna be on the Food Network (www.foodnetwork.com) in December. It’s either December 14 or 15, it’s a new show called “Cupcake Wars.”
eMinutes: You shot it already?
Erica Tucker: I shot it about two months ago. I had the greatest time. The Food Network is definitely somewhere I could see myself going. I want to keep my name and my face out there. So when you think of Sweet E’s, you attach my name along with it. And I would love to be able to go the hosting route with the whole food concept.
eMinutes: Have you thought about getting representation for hosting?
Erica Tucker: I’m working on that right now. I think an agent or manager would probably be a really good next step for me. Probably even before PR happens.
eMinutes: You want to tell me about your employees and your selection process?
Erica Tucker: I really value my employees. I have a really nice rapport with everyone. I want them to be happy. I treat them as if they’re family, which is kind of the Jewish way.
I chose them based on whether I think they can do the job how I would do it myself. I am such a perfectionist and I like things done my way. When customers have specific custom decorations, I do all the designing, mainly because I like to. I still want to be very involved.
eMinutes: When you started the business, did anything come up where you were like, oh, my god, I did not expect this?
Erica Tucker: Everything. It has all been a learning process for me. I don’t understand where all the money goes. I look at the monthly statements and payrolls and I’m like, oh, my goodness. And I get down on it for a second and then I pick myself up again.
eMinutes: What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned running this business? Did you get any fabulous advice?
Erica Tucker: I have my parents’ support emotionally, and they’re helping me finance the whole business. Many of my friends order from me for their businesses. They’ll take my stuff to parties. It’s so gratifying that my friends and family are excited about this whole business that I’ve created. It keeps me going.
eMinutes: Did you read any business books that really helped you out when you were starting?
Erica Tucker: Oh, god. Well, there was a stack of business books given to me by my father. I don’t know that I touched them. You know, there’s all these things that you can and should do, but when I’m already in the process of doing it… The orders are coming in, and I don’t have a chance to read a book. I’m figuring things out as I’m going.
eMinutes: What would you say are some of the misconceptions about your job? People think it’s glamorous, you’re so pretty, you have these adorable cupcakes.
Erica Tucker: People always say, “How fun, you’re baking cupcakes all day!” Yeah, I mean, it ‘s fun. But sometimes I’m sitting there making little ducks out of fondant. And if I have 500 cupcakes to get out the door, the fun kind of goes out the door also. It’s hard work.
People also think with all this press, I must be making bank right now. I wish I were.
I mean, I’m doing okay for having this business since May. But I’m spending extra to create the image. Every single box of mine has a pink bow on it. Someone sits there, cuts ribbon, turns them into bows and hot glue guns them to every box. So, that’s something that I could save money on but I don’t want to.
eMinutes: Where did you learn how to bake?
Erica Tucker: I grew up baking with my grandmother and my mother. I made everything from brownies and pies, to fudge and cheesecakes.
eMinutes: After you decided to start the business, what steps did you take?
Erica Tucker: For four to five months this past year, I was in the kitchen every single day refining recipes. I had hundreds of cupcakes. I’d give them to the two homeless guys across the street.
eMinutes: How did you take that and turn it into a business?
Erica Tucker: I basically just made everything my own. I realized until I have a storefront, my web site is my storefront. So I had to make it eye catching. I put a lot of money, heart, and thought into that site.
I have a college education from the University of Texas, and I consider myself a rather intelligent person. It’s so nice to be able to use my knowledge and the brain that I grew to have. I knew I had it in me to do this.
eMinutes: You must have needed a space because you couldn’t keep baking out of your apartment.
Erica Tucker: I was in a studio apartment, but I moved to a larger apartment.
eMinutes: And you were delivering the orders yourself?
Erica Tucker: At first it was just me baking, washing all the dishes, and delivering. That got really difficult.
eMinutes: So you got some help with deliveries?
Erica Tucker: Yes. I wanted them to be fun loving, happy people. They all have good working vehicles with reliable GPS. No Mapquesting.
eMinutes: I heard you start your day at 5:00 a.m. Why so early?
Erica Tucker: The baking world starts very early. When we have an order that needs to be out the door at 8:00 am, we have to start at 5:00 a.m.
eMinutes: What’s a typical day for you including business and baking? How much time do you devote to business and promotion?
Erica Tucker: It’s so difficult to foresee things. Often we get same-day orders. We’ve yet to say no – to turn down an order.
eMinutes: You’ve never turned down an order?
Erica Tucker: Never turned down an order. I will whip on the apron myself and figure it out and get those cupcakes made if need be. But on a typical day I am equally in the office, in the kitchen, and out in the world marketing and promoting. I personally go around to different stores and cafes bringing products for them to try so they might carry our items.
eMinutes: Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you’d like to talk about?
Erica Tucker: Well, the next steps for the business. I’m hoping that we have a really busy holiday season. And I’m really hoping that being on the Food Network in December will make the phone ring off the hook.
Also today I will be sending in the paperwork for a truck — a cupcake mobile. I’m customizing the entire truck and it’s going to be a Sweet E’s Mobile that will drive around Los Angeles selling cupcakes and brownies and cookies and everything we do.
eMinutes: Do you need to have a permit for that?
Erica Tucker: Yeah. I’ll have permits in any city. We’re in Los Angeles County, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica — you need all the different permits. It’s quite a process, so I’m just hoping that I can have it up and ready before February.
eMinutes: It’s a process
Erica Tucker: It is definitely a process.
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