Fast Company: How did you launch your career in the culinary world?
Arleen: I grew up baking and always loved being in the kitchen but it didn’t seem like something that was necessarily going to put dollars in my wallet. In 2008, I was working as a senior vice president at a bank when the financial crisis caused us to be acquired by a bigger bank. I found myself out of a job so I decided to think through how I wanted to spend the remainder of my career. During that time, I reintroduced my passion for baking and immediately knew it was what I wanted to do full-time. It took me a year and a half but in November 2009 I opened our first Sweet Arleen’s store. You often hear about bakers that want to open a business. I was much more of a businessperson wanting to open up a bakery.
What was the motivation behind making your bakery a mobile business?
It is very difficult to have a store in just one neighborhood because you can only attract people around that radius. As a businesswoman, I realized that a retail distribution strategy is at the heart of growing a profitable business. I had seen a lot of buzz around the food truck industry so I decided to research a mobile unit. It took about a year of research to find the right model but we decided upon the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and now we are able to service up to 150 miles.
Why did you select the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter?
What we needed was a vehicle that could transport and serve like a full-service retail store. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter did just that and the icing on the cake–no pun intended–was that they had a wonderful lease program. There was the ability to get the Sprinter custom-built while being able to acquire the right kind of financing around that business. It met our specs and had the full package!
Can you describe your upfit and the inspiration behind it?
Our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter can carry up to 1,000 cupcakes securely in a racking system and provides the basic essentials for the POS systems. From a design perspective, it has some special touches including the cupcake on the front grill, the embroidered seats, and an exterior LCD screen for customers in line to view while they wait, our winning episodes on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. It truly carries the brand all the way through making it the perfect mobile advertisement. Our brand promise is to create a consistently happy customer experience and we wanted the Sprinter to embody happiness!
How do your customers find your business while you’re on the move?
We publish our weekly schedule through our website, Facebook, and Twitter. We also tweet “live” from events, encouraging customers to come out and see us wherever we are.
How has this vehicle helped your business grow?
Because we have enabled distribution to a much wider population than our store market radius, we’ve seen significant growth. The Sweet Arleen’s vehicle accounts for 25-30% of our monthly revenue and helps us service multiple types of events.
From a business perspective, this gives our franchisees another unit. If they buy a Sweet Arleens franchise, they can add a Sprinter to that equation at a 1/3 of the cost of building out the store.
If you could give any advice to an entrepreneur growing their business, what would you say?
Always listen to your customers. In banking, we refer to it as VOC, Voice Of the Customer. We heard very early on that we had to solve the problem of us getting product and the “happy experience” to our customers versus forcing them to come to us. Customers want businesses to bring products to them without sacrificing the quality, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Arleen Scavone, owner of Sweet Arleen’s boutique cupcake and bread pudding bakeshop.