A relatively recent entry into the world of franchising is the cupcakery.

No less than half a dozen cupcake franchises have emerged in recent years, and several non-franchised cupcakeries have opened locations in the Short Pump area:  Too Sweet at The Shoppes at Wellesley on Lauderdale Drive and Frostings at West Broad Village.
Franchise systems looking to gain market share in the cupcake world include The Cupcake Station, Gigi’s Cupcakes, Cupcakes, Crumbs, Big City Cupcakes, Magnolia Bakery, and Cupcake Lane Bakery. Traditionally, the primary benefits of starting a franchised business include:

  1. access to an established business model and brand;
  2. professional training and assistance; and
  3. being part of a larger community of business owners all focused on promoting the growth and development of the same system.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of franchising and focusing on the emerging cupcake presence in the Richmond area as a business model in and of itself, these owners—franchised or independent—will need to shrewdly navigate several significant challenges (not including a challenging economy) to achieve long term growth and success:

  1.  Market Saturation. How many cupcakeries can the area support?  In recent years, the West End of Richmond has seen several retail business models quickly proliferate, only to see many of the competitors fizzle out within a couple of years.  We saw this with the “Tex-Mex” fast casual trend that emerged over the last decade.  Franchised brands Baja Fresh, California Tortilla, and Salsarita’s all came and went within a matter of years, while a number of non-franchised brands continue to survive and thrive (e.g., Casa Grande and Mexico to name a few), not to mentioned franchised brands like Chipotle.  Another perfect example of a business model that grew quickly and flamed out just as fast is the meal assembly business model.  Dream Dinners, My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, and Super Suppers are but three examples of franchised businesses who made brief appearances in Richmond’s far west end, but had relatively short lives.
  2.  Flawed Business Model. Can you sell enough cupcakes from a retail location to operate a profitable business?  One would tend to think not, particularly if one studies the history of similar bakery goods and ice cream franchise systems.  These types of businesses often realize the flaw in their business model is their lack of a diversified product offering.  Solutions can range from expanding menus or product offerings to co-branding similar, but distinct products under one roof (e.g., Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts).  The meal assembly industry has tried to survive by selling prepared foods on a ”pick-up” or home delivery basis for customers who do not have time to come in and assemble their meals themselves, a process that can take several hours.

With my sweet tooth, I wish our local cupcakeries all the best in their uphill battle to establish their brands and achieve long term success.