By Paige Selzer and Sonal Dhiman
Young entrepreneur Johnny Earle turned what he started as a joke into a major clothing brand with an annual sale of $5.2 million. Earle was 2008 Business Week’s ‘Best Entrepreneur 25 and under’. He started the clothing brand ‘Johnny Cupcakes’ based on a bakery theme in 2001, and has not looked back since.
Following his own philosophy of “revolutionizing non-traditional business methods,” Earle turned a hobby into a multimillion-dollar business. He owns stores in Boston, Hull, Oak Bluffs, Los Angeles and London and his headquarters are in Weymouth, Mass. He sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, badges, socks, cell phone accessories, bags and hats at his stores, which are called ‘bakeries’.
While working at a record store Newbury Comics in Massachusetts, where he grew up, Earle earned many nicknames from his co-workers, but “Johnny Cupcakes was the one that stuck and I decided to take it forward,” Earle said while speaking to students at Lorain County Community College, at the Global Entrepreneurship Week organized by Blackstone Launchpad on Nov. 20. While working at the record store, he started printing t-shirts that “poked fun at popular culture and replaced icons with cupcakes and then began selling customized t-shirts out of the trunk of my beat up ’89 Toyota Camry from 2001.”
Earle gave important tips to the aspiring entrepreneurs about using their time wisely, as it is the “most valuable asset you have.” He continued, “I was a magician at the age of 8 and had started 20 businesses by the time I turned 16, including selling whoopee cushions, itching powder and custom-made yearbooks in my Charter school.” He emphasized on the importance of advertising, having a sample product, and knowing who the target audience is. He contended, “Don’t sell on a Monday because people get paid only at the end of the week. Give people a reason to buy your product – freebies, stickers, or discounts.” He highlighted the importance of self-management by quoting the rap metal band Rage Against the Machine, “Forget the g-rides, I want the machine that’s making them.” Earle underlined the importance of education by saying, “I took less classes in college because I knew I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t as up to pace as the others. More so, I’d rather graduate in five years and remember everything than take too many classes to graduate sooner.”
What makes Earle’s brand so unique is that he creates “an experience for customers. Everyone who buys should feel like it’s his or her birthday. I remember once selling a breakfast themed t-shirt that we sold only during breakfast hours and we served pancakes and coffee to people who waited in long lines to buy the t-shirts.” His stores are styled like old-fashioned bakeries. He displays T-shirts in vintage refrigerators and baking racks and even makes his entire store smell like frosting.
Earle recounted his success story and galvanized the 300 strong crowds in the Stocker Cinema Hall. “I found Johnny very inspiring. He put a unique twist on starting your own business,” exclaimed Business Administration major Sidney Shullick. Marissa Wickham, another Business Administration major asserted, “I found his speech really stirring. I think he would be a cool guy to work for. He creates a stress-free environment for both his employees and customers.”
When asked about advice for students looking to start their own businesses Earle emphasized, “Make sure that you have a dozen things that make you unique. Stay positive, learn from others, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and don’t have a smelly breath.”
“This is my first time visiting the school, but hopefully not my last,” Earle said about visiting LCCC. His session was attended by a large crowd from LCCC, and nearby high schools like Amherst High School, Avon Lake High School, Bay High School, Elyria High School, JVS, Lorain High School, Lutheran West and many early college students.
“I enjoy working with other companies, it leads to cross-pollination as both companies have something to give to each other. We have partnered with Hello Kitty, Looney Tunes, Nickelodeon, and Warner Brothers,” Earle told the audience. Earle revealed that his brand is in talks with The Wu tang Clan on a possible collaboration. He also plans to open stores in Japan and Toronto in the future.