Johnny Cupcakes is a multi-million dollar clothing brand. The brand was founded in 2001 by Johnny Earle. One of Johnny’s acquired nicknames was Johnny cupcakes. He “thought it would be funny to make a couple random shirts that said ‘Johnny Cupcakes’ on them for the fun of it” (Earle, 2012). After massive interest in these shirts, he decided to continue to make more and change up the designs. In 2001, Johnny stated, “the band I was in, On Broken Wings, finally got signed to a record label and we began to tour full time” (Earle, 2012). This opened up Johnny and his t-shirts to a larger crowd of customers in different parts of the country. This boosted the brand’s popularity and Johnny decided to quit the band and focus all of his time, effort, and attention on his t-shirts. Johnny ended up going to trade shows in Las Vegas and eventually “ended up getting carried by shops in Japan, Europe, and Canada in addition to a few other US locations” (Earle, 2012).
Johnny had a turning point moment at that very same trade show later on that year. He realized people didn’t like having the same things as others and that they enjoyed uniqueness. At this point Johnny made the decision to pull all his shirts from retail stores. Earle 2012 stated that he “decided to make all of his t-shirts limited edition and exclusive, only selling them through his website” and later on in his own retail stores. As the Johnny Cupcakes brand grew, Johnny opened up stores in Hull, MA; Boston, MA; Las Angeles, CA; and London, England. Johnny states that “Above all, I’ll continue to focus on enhancing my customers’ experiences through my stores, events, website, designs, and packaging. I will never ever sell my brand to investors for all the money in the world. I think you’ll find that things will only get more interesting from here…” (Earle, 2012).
The Johnny Cupcakes brand to some can be described as streetwear. Hundreds, 2011 defines streetwear as “a genre of contemporary apparel, united between sportswear and military looks, and is one that speaks to a spectrum of subcultures (skateboarding and hip-hop mostly).” Some of Johnny Cupcakes major competitors are also streetwear brands such as Us Versus Them, Reason, Benny Gold, Situationormal, Flying Coffin, Clot, Diamond, Fuct, Alife, The Hundreds, A Bathing Ape, Supreme, and Rebel8 among others. These companies not only produce unique designs and clothing, they have a fan base, and what some might call a cult following. They represent more than just a t-shirt. They differentiate themselves by their designs, material, limited edition collections, and the customer experience. Johnny Cupcakes top products are his limited edition t-shirts, but the company also sells sweatshirts, hats and accessories. One of the things that make JC stand out is their packaging. The supplies the company needs and uses are not just clothing/accessory based, but just as important is their packaging.
Johnny Cupcakes uses bakery style boxes with their cupcake and crossbones logo on it. The company also uses specially made tissue paper to wrap the bought goodies up in. The tissue paper is also marked with the JC logo. The are two major external factors that greatly influence Johnny Cupcakes as a company and those are the economy and trends. Since Johnny Cupcakes offers “luxury” items (those items that consumers don’t need, but rather want), the economy can play a significant role in their profits. When times are tough, like in an economic recession, the majority of people watch their money more closely. These people may choose to only buy things out of necessity rather than splurge on things they want. Another big obstacle that JC has to stay on top of is the trends of their market. Clothing styles and designs come and go, therefore, Johnny Cupcakes needs to stay at the forefront of what their target market likes otherwise they could easily become extinct.
One way JC battles these two external factors is making every shirt limited edition. The limited edition status gives the feel of exclusiveness. People not only crave exclusiveness, but will pay top dollar for it. “Because they’re collectibles and not just apparel, customers are willing to pay $60 for a Johnny Cupcakes shirt–and even stand in line for a new release like kids waiting for concert tickets” (Spaeder 2007). This exclusiveness plays off of our cultures social classes. Most Americans want to be in a better social class. Exclusiveness is a trait that is common in the highest of classes. The limited edition shirts not only sets the standards for someone’s social status, but also keeps inventory at a low, making sure the products that are produced are sold. Having limited edition shirts erases much of the risks and fears of the changing trends of JC’s market. Since there are only a handful of the shirts available, they are long gone before the design and style gets soggy. Also, this allows the company to be very flexible with the changing market.
The two major internal factors that impact the organization are how they enhance the customer experience and their product packaging. These are two very important factors that help create the Johnny Cupcakes brand. They are part of the JC culture and without them, the brand wouldn’t be what it is today. Part of the customer experience lies in JC’s three retail store locations. “They’re set up just like bakeries, complete with glass display shelves, employees wearing aprons and the smell of vanilla frosting in the air” (Spaeder 2001). During big releases or setting up weekend pop-up stores, Johnny himself will be there to greet and talk with everyone of the customers that walk through his store. This again is part of the experience and connection he wants his fans to feel when they think of the Johnny Cupcakes brand. Johnny thinks “nice packaging sets an experience, a memory, or a safe-keeping that is sometimes just as important as the product itself.
I’m a sucker for nice packaging” (Earle, 2012). When conducting a SWOT analysis of Johnny Cupcakes, some of the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats have already been discussed. JC’s major strengths are the exclusiveness it personifies by selling limited edition shirts and the customer experience it provides. One of its major weaknesses is the fact that it only has three retail stores and an online store. If it were to grow (and being a multi-million dollar business it has the resources to do this) it could reach more of a customer base and increase not only its fan following, but its sales as well. A huge opportunity that Johnny Cupcakes has is the fact that it has done several successful collaborations with other companies including Nickelodeon and Hello Kitty, which expands its customer and fan base. As with all companies, a threat is competition. If JC can stay authentic to its audience then it will overcome the competition.
As stated earlier, since JC is a luxury brand, the economy and trends are another threat. Listening to their market will definitely help subdue these threats. One of Johnny Cupcakes biggest resources and assets are its customers. Johnny Cupcakes has not only been able to acquire customers, but also fans and audiences (which is much more powerful). The reason the JC brand has been able to do this is because of the experience a customer gets when going into a store or a pop-up shop. When a customer sees their Johnny Cupcakes shirt they remember an experience they had when purchasing the shirt. I personally have two JC shirts (one was given as a gift so I don’t have an experience to associate with that but my parents, who bought the shirt for me do). I do have a vivid recollection of an experience I had when purchasing my first Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt at a pop-up shop on Martha’s Vineyard. There was a line of people waiting at a small bakery for it to open its doors.
Everyone was unsure of what the t-shirts would look like because the designs had not yet been released. Not knowing what shirts will be sold definitely gives a little sense of excitement and surprise; and being excited about a brand goes a long way with customer loyalty. The waiting fans were given diner-like menus to see what shirts would be available. This definitely embodies the Johnny Cupcakes culture and experience. Once the doors were open to the bakery only a few people were allowed in at a time. This also gave the impression of exclusiveness. The limited edition shirts available were all Martha’s Vineyard related. Not only is MV a huge tourist location, but being a resident of the island I had a sense of pride and being able to wear something relating to the island meant something to me, as I am sure it did to others, whether they were residents or tourists gaining a unique souvenir.
After purchasing the shirt and leaving the bakery, I was greeting outside by Johnny Earle himself who not only took a picture with me, but also signed my shirt. My parents had a similar experience, telling me what a meaningful conversation they had with Johnny. Every time I pull out my JC t-shirt, I remember my unique experience of t-shirt buying. Johnny Cupcakes is a differentiation strategy user that sells an experience, along with his products. The way the business is run creates fans. JC leverages the company’s resources, the customer experience, to create fans and a following of the brand. There are a handful of such loyal fans that fly out to all his releases to be able to experience them and not miss out on any product or “show.” JC, on a smaller scale, reminds me of the cult following of The Grateful Dead.
Deadheads knew each show was unique and didn’t want to miss out on any one of them. There are many Johnny Cupcakers who feel the same way. On March 24 of 2011, Johnny Cupcakes went international and opened up a store in London. Johnny had previously tested the waters in London by way of pop-up stores. His store in London was a huge hit, and he plans on a huge one-year celebration. Johnny opened up his store in London the same way he started is brand and opened up his other stores in the USA, with no investors, partnerships, or alliances. He started off small and threw his profits right back into his brand. One of the things Johnny Cupcakes prides itself on is not having to use investors or other companies to grow their brand. Part of this is what makes the brand who and what they are today. By staying authentic and listening to their market, Johnny Cupcakes will be continue to be successful in the years to come. With more years of success under his belt, Johnny may want to further expand his brand in the global market.
Earle, J. (2012). Story. Retrieved from: http://www.johnnycupcakes.com
Hundreds, B (2011). The 50 Greatest Streetwear Brands. Retrieved from: http://http://www.complex.com/style/2011/06/the-50-greatest-streetwear-brands
Spaeder, K. (2007). By Popular Demand. Retrieved From: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/177912