John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Paisley & Dash founder Sara Lien.
1. Will you please tell us your Paisley & Dash Bake Shop elevator pitch?
YUMazing cupcakes in a jar! At Paisley & Dash, we create a mobile cupcake. As an e-commerce bake shop, we specialize in making homemade cupcakes, paired with our signature buttercream. Layer upon layer, we nestle it sweetly inside a mason jar that can be customized…and ship it across the entire country.
2. What is your ideal customer demographic and what are your typical order sizes?
At the very core, anyone with a sweet tooth. Specifically, however, where we shine is with corporate clients. Think of Paisley & Dash as an extension of your corporate campaigns and marketing plans. When onboarding corporate clients, we try to make it as easy as possible. As an example, if you want to send birthday treats to clients, closing gifts to homeowners, anniversary treats to your staff… these make a very special gift. When we launch our process, all you do is send us your monthly spreadsheet of lucky cupcake recipients and we take it from there.
One particular client we’ve been working with for over two years now recently sent me a note saying that month after month he receives texts, calls, and emails from clients in appreciation and happiness of receiving the surprise package. We just recently onboarded a new client, a mortgage banker, and after the cupcakes went out, he texted me saying, “The cupcakes are a hit! My phone is blowing up!”. As far as typical order sizes, the “Gift of Four” pack is the most common, especially now that we have four flavors to choose from after recently adding the new Oreo-based cookies & cream flavor. The largest single order has been around 1,000 jars; but one sleepless week we shipped out 3,000 jars in three days!on top of anything new that comes along in our industry.
3. Your business model may look like it started a bit backwards, as you might often see a packaged goods company start out with local markets and popups, and then if things go well, start shipping around the country. You basically started with national shipping but now have a physical storefront for local pickups. What is the origin of this path?
It started with a little pink smash cake. I made one for my friend’s child’s birthday party, and once it hit Facebook, a coworker saw the picture. He then asked if I could creatively design and package something that could be branded with a company logo and that he could ship to his clients all over the country. It progressed from there, and after about a year of juggling a career as a financial advisor and fulfilling orders on nights and weekends, I made the scary plunge into doing this full-time. The visible storefront is a small part of my facility but provides a more convenient way to now serve local customers. Plus, I knew exactly what I wanted the retail space to look and feel like, and I couldn’t wait to share that as part of Paisley & Dash. I created and DIY’d my way through the little boutique-y space from the brick walls, to the warmly lit sconces, to the repurposed furniture-turned-cupcake-cases, to the black and white diamond patterned floor. I designed the entry space to have a warm and French-boutique-y feel to compliment and add to the experience & brand.
4. And, speaking of your space, from working with you on the project, I know this was a big and important next step for Paisley & Dash. Can you tell me more about this decision and process?
After doing this for a couple of years, I realized I was maxed out in what I could produce. I wouldn’t be able to grow without the kitchen space, storage, staff, and improvement to logistics; I was baking out of Square One Kitchen, shipping out of my basement, storing jars at an off-site facility. I knew I needed to take that next huge step. I contemplated renting a temporary space that was available but the needed fit-up costs for a kitchen just didn’t make financial sense to me. And I honestly saw having a building as a goal that might happen in another two years, but someone introduced me to a banker and after some initial discussions, I realized this could happen soon.
One thing I’d tell someone in my small-business-shoes is to have conversations. Even if the answer might be ‘no’, because of what you learn and who you build a relationship with, it will help lay out a roadmap of the possible steps to take to get you to a ‘yes’. This process was such a learning experience for me. I tried doing research on resources but that can be a difficult and time consuming process. I learned by having conversations, that there are people and organizations locally like my banker and the EDC who have the knowledge and experience to support us. Find the people to get on your bus, and make sure they’re in their spot. When the connections and assistance to help me started happening and falling into place, I seriously thought “Is this for real?” It was very validating and reassuring of the willingness of people to help. Thanks to my conversations with the EDC, I became primary sector certified; worked with my bank, my attorney, BND and EDC on special financing; and obtained a property tax exemption through the City of West Fargo for expanding primary sector companies. This all helps a company like me be able to make the investment into a building.
Big picture, this new space gave me my own larger kitchen that was mine to access 24-7, plus no more off-site storage. All processes could be housed under one roof, logistically a dream come true. Without this, the growth of Paisley & Dash would have been stifled. It really expands the possibilities of what we can do and the cupcake customers we can serve.
5. With you packaging and then shipping your product all around the country, what has been the learning process of getting your systems in place?
It’s been quite the journey. I look at Paisley & Dash as two businesses. A baking company and a shipping company. The shipping process has been a learning journey that’s constantly evolving. I quickly learned I needed to find a way to ship more and ship faster. Initially, I went into the FedEx store on 13th avenue to ask some questions and they put me in touch with the local rep. She called me to learn about my business and shipping needs and together we made a plan. We talked about things like which size boxes to use, how to measure boxes correctly and printing batch labels. I became, and still am, a student of shipping. To save time, they added me to their daily pick-up route, and every day at 3:45 they came for my cupcakes. With packaging, I spent and still spend time researching the right type of shipping boxes and gift boxes. I often have a measuring tape around my neck and I’ll order samples to test them out. The look of our signature packaging and how it makes you feel is truly what sets us apart, which is why it’s always top of mind for me.
6. As you just mentioned how important your brand and the customer experience are to you, will you please elaborate more on that?
I never underestimate the power of that first impression. I gave extra thought, attention and emphasis to both presentation and packaging as I was creating Paisley & Dash. Not only is it a way to separate your product from the competition, it’s also a unique and non-verbal opportunity to create and inspire emotion from the recipient. It’s my goal to make the recipient feel special, to create an experience that feels just as good as it tastes. In fact, people are often taken back when they receive our cupcake jars and take it upon themselves to create posts on social media. This is such a huge help to us, as it serves as a genuine testimony of how the experience of receiving our cupcake jars made them feel. We often receive emails, notes and messages from people all over the country with rave reviews of such a unique gift.
7. Sticking with the brand discussion, what type of marketing do you use? and advice you may have?
Being a visual type of product, the cupcake jar and the packaging, social media has been my primary marketing platform since day one. This, in turn, compliments wordof-mouth advertising as well. I maintain profiles on Facebook and Instagram and share images of cupcakes, customized labels, the recent building process, creative ideas, successes, failures, kitchen moments, my dogs Dash & Paisley, you know—a day in the life! Part of what makes Paisley & Dash is the journey, and our Facebook and Insta family has been there through every step. Whether it’s me resigning from my corporate career to pursue my passio,n or watching the progression from the basement to the new building, or a powdered sugar explosion in the kitchen, there’s someone that can relate to every post and that creates a community. And that community is part of what makes Paisley & Dash what it is today. Being the Chief Everything Officer, I do have to remind myself to stay consistent though. As with any marketing—consistency is key. So setting tasks to carve out time for photography, editing, copy and posting is a priority.
8. Have you noticed any trends on how or when word-of-mouth marketing happens?
Yes! I call them geographic surges. In fact, when this first started happening, I thought “ok this is gonna work!” We ship across the entire US; and what usually ends up happening is when we ship to a certain section of the country, we immediately see an uptick in the orders on our website from that area. As an example, we ship a good number of cupcakes out to Washington. If we send cupcakes on a Monday, the treats arrive on Wednesday. Throughout the rest of the week and weekend, we see immediate orders from those customers. So that tells me, people are receiving these, like what they experience, and then they go online to submit orders as they want to spread the cupcake joy. Word-of-mouth marketing with an e-commerce twist.
9. If you could go back in time to Sara from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
Take care of yourself and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Creating, growing, scaling and running a business is hard work. And that’s an understatement. I need to be my best self physically, emotionally, and mentally in order to maintain focus and make sure Paisley & Dash grows into what it’s meant to be. There are lots of ways I do this, and each way serves as an ingredient to my recipe of self-care. Also worth noting in terms of advice, though I absolutely believe the timing of Paisley & Dash unfolded exactly how it was supposed to, I knew 10 years before that I wanted to build a creative company. I always had that flutter in my heart; listen to the flutter and follow your heart.
10. What can we do as a community to help Paisley & Dash succeed?
We love working with companies, of all sizes, and now that we have our new building and improved processes, we’d love to expand that corporate arm of Paisley & Dash. We’d love an introduction to anyone or any business that you think might be a good fit for what we can provide. Our cupcake jars are also a perfect option for weddings—think individually packaged, multiple flavors, party favor + dessert, mobile, customized. When it comes to planning your weddings, we’d love to help! Keep us in mind for corporate events, sporting events, birthday parties or anytime you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. Lastly, in terms of our social media presence, if you come across us on Facebook or Instagram give us a Like and Share. Sharing a small business post might seem like a small thing, but it turns into a huge gesture for us when it helps to spread the Paisley & Dash word. We’d be sweetly grateful!
John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.