Once Upon a Time
Inspiration and vision can take a new company a long way. Hard work and careful strategy can take it even further. For Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz, founders of Fairytale Brownies, there is another secret ingredient: friendship. The two have been friends since kindergarten, so it only made sense that when the time came to start a company, they’d do it together. “Friendship is at the heart of our business,” David says, “and it’s baked into every one of our brownies.”
And they’ve baked A LOT of brownies. What started in 1992 as a tiny, two-person operation in a rented catering kitchen turned into a giant 100-person corporation that’s churned out over 70 million brownies in the intervening years.
Growing, Growing, Grown
So how did an e-commerce food business go from start-up to $1 million in revenue in six years? Foresight and careful study helped. By looking at the companies that had done it right – including Ben & Jerry’s, the inspiration for Fairytale Brownies – they saw that there were opportunities in the vast digital landscape. “We got online somewhere between 1994 and 1995,” Eileen says. “Back then you had to go in person to register the domain. A $50 investment to buy brownies.com was pretty significant for us at the time, but it was certainly worth it.” Early on, they offered discounts to buyers who purchased from the web, and online sales quickly supplanted phone orders.
But in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, digital commerce trends changed dramatically and fast. According to Eileen, an adaptive marketing strategy was crucial.
“When we started in the ‘90s,” she explains, “we did what everyone else did: direct marketing. But in the digital age, we realized quickly that we’d have to move to multi-channel.”EILEEN SPITALNY, CO-FOUNDER OF FAIRYTALE BROWNIES
The shift in marketing tactics mirrored the innovation in the supply chain. David, who has an engineering degree, identified a need to move from hand-wrapping each confection to auto-sealing. For a product with no preservatives, careful wrapping is crucial. And for a product without a brick-and-mortar store, where people can see (and smell!) all the delicious offerings, the marketing approach needed to be similarly inventive.
More than a Pretty Picture
Today, Fairytale Brownies can be seen all over the web. Besides a playful, easy-to-navigate website, the company is active on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Their robust online presence isn’t just for show; it’s to drive sales. And Eileen and her marketing team measure just how successful their tactics are. “We’ve got a good handle on our buyers,” Eileen says. “We can segment and target Gen-Xers or Millennials or any other cohort because the data is that specific.” The deep dive into the data allows them to spend their ad dollars effectively. Facebook ads are one example. They aren’t cheap, but when they show up on the motivated buyer’s page, those users are much more likely to click through. Fairytale keeps up with social media algorithms and optimizes their content for conversions – a practice that improves ROI.
Judging a Book by Its Cover
The high-tech focus hasn’t totally supplanted the traditional media, however, as catalogs are still a significant part of the marketing plan. “Food is a tactile experience,” Eileen explains, “and while you can’t exactly taste or smell the brownies with a catalog, you can at least touch the paper and really appreciate the product in a way that you can’t on a screen.”
This year’s COVID complications did change plans a bit. Whereas Fairytale generally drops ten catalogs per year – six in December alone – they’ve decided to send fewer this year. Since December sales comprise a full 50 percent of annual sales, they’re definitely going to send the fall book, which is always bigger. The 2021 catalog schedule remains to be seen, but Eileen says they’ll certainly be using catalogs. “I don’t know that we’ll ever stop sending them completely.”
“There’s a little nostalgia and a little warmth that electronic marketing can’t quite provide. I’d be sad to see them go away forever,” she says.EILEEN SPITALNY, CO-FOUNDER OF FAIRYTALE BROWNIES
Judging by the return on the catalog investment, her customers would probably feel the same way. As with their digital marketing, Fairytale Brownies carefully tracks sales from each book. With source code reports, Eileen and team can identify, with impressive precision, what works and what doesn’t. And catalogs are still a valuable prospecting tool for acquiring new customers. “People want to take a bite off the page,” Eileen says, “and that’s the way we attract and retain loyal buyers.”
A Not-So-Secret Treasure
The tactile element extends to more than just the catalogs. Packaging is an intentional part of the Fairytale Brownies experience. Beautiful treasure boxes open to reveal individually wrapped brownies and treats, and each one contains a note signed by both David and Eileen. “The packaging is meant to be a little premium,” Eileen says. “We were inspired by department stores, so you’ll find thick, quality paper and an embossed flag.”
As with their catalogs, Fairytale Brownies uses the packaging as an opportunity to market the product. Eileen says, “We include what we call ‘bounce-back’ cards in each package. They’re postcards that will have an offer on them. One might say, ‘Post a review on social media to win free brownies.’ It’s free advertising for us and free brownies for them. It’s a win-win.” Free brownies? Yes, please.
The Next Chapter
Eileen is optimistic about 2021. “We’ve got a great marketing team in place,” she says, “and we’re really starting to gel as a group.” Next year, Eileen and David want to focus their efforts on making the buying experience more simple and intuitive. “A lot of businesses will send brownies as holiday gifts,” Eileen says, “so they have the option to put their logos on our boxes. We want to make it easy for someone on a mobile phone to customize an order with a few clicks.” On the marketing front, she says, they want to figure out how to separate organic growth from advertising lift.
The Hero Always Wins
For David and Eileen, marketing and sales are undoubtedly a priority, but so is doing the right thing. When COVID shut down businesses all over the country, Fairytale Brownies was able to stay open as an essential business. Offering comfort to their customers was important, but they wanted to do more. “We were moved by what front-line workers were going through,” Eileen says, “so we donated brownies to area hospitals.” They also donated personal protective equipment that they had on hand. All Fairytale Brownies employees pitched in to help.
That team unity isn’t an accident. Eileen and David have cultivated it from day one. “We want to create a great place to work,” says Eileen, “which, for us, includes truly empowering our employees, and offering retirement and profit sharing.” Great reviews keep them motivated, as do the stories and memories their customers share.
Between the goodwill they’ve generated and the laser-focused approach they take to sales and marketing, Fairytale Brownies has had one of its best years ever. “We were hoping for low double-digit growth over last year,” she says. “Instead, we’ve grown over 60 percent.” You read that right: six-zero. Topping that will take some effort, but 2021 looks bright.
When they started, all those years ago, Eileen says they aspired to be “two friends making exceptional desserts.” Seventy-million brownies later, it’s safe to say they’re doing all that and more.