Gigi Butler – Founder, Gigi’s Cupcakes
The Cupcake Queen
By Caroline Cox
The day Gigi Butler opened her first store, her account balance was $33. Unable to get a loan, she cleaned houses to pay contractors and had family members working the counter. Where many would have thrown in the towel, Butler’s fierce entrepreneurial spirit motivated her not to give up – it wasn’t the first time she’d had to work for what she wanted.
An entrepreneur since age 15, Butler started her own cleaning company to support her dream of becoming a singer/songwriter. After a career switch at age 30, she opened the first Gigi’s Cupcakes in Nashville in 2008. It became the nation’s biggest and fastest growing cupcake franchise. By year’s end, her company expects to open its 50th store and reach $20 million in revenue.
Here, she talks to PINK about making a company stand out, her new baby and going with her gut.
PINK: What’s your success secret?
Gigi Butler: Owning my own company at a young age helped me learn about hard work in a humbling way, and it taught me to be persistent. I was motivated and determined to make something happen. When I finally decided to open Gigi’s Cleaning Company, I took a huge risk – you have to take risks to reap rewards. The secret to my success is that I never give up.
PINK: Did you ever feel like giving up?
GB: There were a lot of times I was going to give up. The day before I opened the first [cupcake] store, I cleaned three houses just to pay for the plumbing. The plumber was waiting at the store and I told him not to cash the check yet because I’d just finished making the $300 I owed him. Then the contractor came in and gave me a bill he had forgotten about: a $15,000 drywall bill. I literally had a meltdown and said, “I can’t do this.” I had $33 in my checkbook when I opened my doors.
PINK: What’s the biggest issue for career women today?
GB: The economy is a big concern for women and all Americans. There aren’t as many opportunities out there, and women have to work 10 times harder. It’s also scary starting a business right now. To be successful, we’ve got to set boundaries, learn to say “no” and be careful to not be taken advantage of.
PINK: What’s the secret to making a company stand out amongst the competition?
GB: We’re branded really well. I’ve taken a lot of time, effort and money to brand myself so we don’t look like a mom-and-pop, yet we have the homemade, home-baked goods. That makes us stand out.
PINK: How many cupcakes does each store make a day? What are some of your favorite cupcake names?
GB:Approximately 750 to 1000 cupcakes. I love the Hunka Chunka Banana Love, Lemon Dream Supreme and Butterscotch Dream. But especially Nodini Cannoli – it’s from my grandfather’s last name.
PINK: How do you hire?
GB: Like many things, I just go with my gut. I meet them personally, one-on-one. I look them in the eye and I see if they truly want to work. A lot of people just don’t want to work anymore – they don’t have the work ethic. But you can tell which people are hungry and have that passion, so I look for that. I look for people who want to do the job and be there and will always give it 100 percent.
PINK: How big is your team?
GB: Our entire franchise is part of the team; they’re like family to me. In my corporate office I have about 10 employees, with plans to increase our infrastructure in the coming year. We currently have 44 stores, so with all of our stores included, we have more than 500 employees.
PINK: How do you motivate them?
GB: I try to be there at every opening, because I know seeing someone in person and knowing they care as much as you do makes a difference. If the owner or CEO of a business is never there, you probably won’t feel as motivated. When I show up to those openings and have my apron on and frosting all over my face and I’m working my butt off – that motivates people.
PINK: What’s your leadership style?
GB: I’m definitely a multi-tasker and a delegator. That comes from my background – time is money and I juggle many things at once. When I’m in the store, I teach people how to multi-task in a hands-on way. And I try to be positive. It’s important to make employees feel special, worthy and needed, so I try to do that everyday.
PINK: What is your biggest weakness as a leader?
GB: I have a tendency to micromanage. Once I’ve given someone a project, I tend to check on it frequently. This company has my name on the front door, so I’m very aware that every decision represents me. I care and am passionate about every detail – whether it’s the cupcake, the box, the new name for the newest flavor – my name’s on it. I want to be proud of everything that goes out my door.
PINK: How did you know franchising was right for your company?
GB: I didn’t at first. I could have built corporate stores, but I didn’t have the money. I only had $26,000 to start franchising, so it’s kind of been on a wing and a prayer. I knew the company would be marketable because it’s a great product. I wanted to spread it across America in the most effective way.
PINK: How much does it cost to buy a Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise?
GB: The initial franchise fee is $35,000. It costs approximately $200,000 total to open a Gigi’s store.
PINK: How do you manage Life/Work balance?
GB: That’s one of my best qualities. I’m a very balanced person. It helps that my entire family is involved in the business, so we’re able to work, play and travel together. My mom helps me with the recipes and my dad helps with the build out, as well as my younger brother Randall and my older brother Steve. Plus, I have a newborn, Kendel, who travels with me everywhere. It’s been a challenge, and she comes with me everywhere because I’m breastfeeding. I also bring my dog with me to work everyday. Wherever you are, it’s important to make it as home-y as possible.
PINK: What sparked such an early entrepreneurial spirit in you?
GB: My dad was an entrepreneur. He was an LA County fireman, so he’d get 10 days off a month. We had a farm, a potbelly pig business, a hair salon, five little restaurants, a video arcade and a video rental place. I wasn’t afraid of risks because I saw my dad risk everyday. They were so supportive of everything I did. I’m a person who is driven – I wanted to be a singer/songwriter when I was seven, so from there it was like, “OK, I need to make some money.”
PINK: What do you do to relax and rejuvenate?
GB: I like to walk, exercise and garden. I go out to the garden every night picking okra and green beans. I also love to bake, discover new recipes and host parties for my friends.
PINK: What’s your favorite book?
GB: Right now I’m reading The One Minute Manager. My favorite book would probably be Joel Osteen’s Live Your Best Life Now. I read that right before I opened my business. We’ve only got one life, so you might as well just go for it – that’s always been my theory. What man is going to tell me I can’t do something? My other favorite book is the Bible. I read it every day and I try to practice what it says.
PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
GB: I love to ice skate. I’m a huge ice skater – I took lessons and everything. I haven’t done it in a year, but I’m going to be getting back into it.
PINK: What’s one goal you have yet to achieve?
GB: My professional goal is to build system sales to $100 million a year. My personal goal is to find a life partner to love.
PINK: Do you have a favorite quote?
GB: I read a book a long time ago that said, “You have to go out on a limb because that’s where the fruit is.” I love that quote.
PINK: How do you define success?
GB: For me, I guess success is finding peace and comfort wherever you are. It’s not really about the money – money’s great, but it comes and goes.
PINK: What do you want your legacy to be?
GB: I want to be able to take care of my grandchildren when I’m not here, and I’d like to be remembered as the woman who took risks and loved people.
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