The awards themselves celebrate entrepreneurs; championing spirit and highlighting talent from businesses all over the country, and there is no doubt that John and his son are fully deserving of this coveted award.
Read on to find our more about their startup journey (and crave chocolate like you never have before!).
Hi guys. Firstly tell us all about The Brooklyn Brownie Company!
Well, I’m John the ‘Main Dude’ and this is my best friend and son Leo the ‘Lil Dude’. We live in Northampton and kick-started the Brooklyn Brownie Co. in the summer of 2019.
We came up with chocolatey treats covered in all sorts of sweets to sell by the postal box dozen. Starting from local deliveries, to the demand for mail orders worldwide it really suddenly went through the roof. We really like the fact that we can make other people smile and it doesn’t feel like work. For me the best part is that I get to do it all with Leo, which is so awesome.
The start of Brooklyn Brownie Co. has extra significance to us both, as Leo’s mother and NHS nurse took her own life only days after Brooklyn Brownie Co. was set up. We truly believe baking and working on the business together has helped us both get through an extremely tough time.
As two dudes we also found it possible to open up to each other about our feelings, while coming up with some of the wacky designs and creations for the business. Since the start we’ve had some amazing opportunities and met so many supportive people. Most recently we have purchased an American ambulance that we are renovating to be a food truck that we can use to sell our brownies at events around the UK.
You recently became Regional Finalists in the GBEA Awards. How did it feel to be recognised as an entrepreneur in 2020?
Becoming regional finalists in such a large competition was surreal, especially for it all to have happened so quickly. But then our entire journey has been a whirlwind! We were just so humbled to be in competition with businesses that have traded for a lot longer than us. It made us feel proud of what we have done in such a short period of time. When working for yourself there is no one there to congratulate you. Winning our regionals was the recognition we were looking for, and it had us smiling for a very long time.
What do you think it takes to be an entrepreneur in these unprecedented times?
Leo and I both think to survive in these times you need someone who is willing to adapt. A very flexible individual who is willing to fail a lot but get over it instantly. Because without failure you will never learn! Try to risk assess your decision making, but don’t let that process stiful you into complete indecision.
We hate to sound like a cliche but ‘just do it’. Get out there and make it happen (and don’t be afraid to ask for help).
Your brownie range spans everything from smores to cinnoBOMBs – how do you go about deciding on your recipes?
Our wild lineup of Brooklyn brownies all come from a father and son joking around in the kitchen. We try our hardest not to take things like names of brownies seriously. Our products are fun, over the top and tasty so we just think the names should match.
I am allergic to half of the stock as I have a nut allergy but we try and keep ahead of trends by studying american markets to see what is on the horizon. A good amount of the recipe ideas come from when I was a kid such as ‘I can’t believe it’s PB & J’. This is a brownie stuffed with our non-nut protein packed spread and jelly. As a kid I couldn’t eat peanut butter and jelly so now that I am an adult I can help to create a spread that mimics it flawlessly. Because, why not!
We want to do it, it gets done. It’s a simple process working with each other.
You actively sell products online, but how important is e-commerce to your small business?
E-commerce is 90% of our business. The world has changed a lot and lockdown has shown that a small home bakery can outsell and weather a storm that even a supermarket bakery cannot. Brooklyn Brownie Co. was still trading when Krispy Kreme was closed for over two months during the first lockdown.
It was surreal and shocking when the giants closed, but we were so fortunate that we laid the infrastructure months before. We were working on a large project with another retailer, because if we didn’t have a dedicated e-commerce system in place we wouldn’t have been able to scale and sell products online as we did. You can only answer so many emails, direct messages and phone calls a day while you are also producing the product as well. Allowing customers to manage their own purchases as smoothly as an Amazon order increased our productivity incredibly, as we were no longer slowed down taking orders or answering questions.
What have been some of the biggest challenges during Covid-19?
Our biggest challenges during Covid-19 initially was access to bulk ingredients. Most of our toppings come from the supermarket and there were limits on all items initially to stop hording. The handy thing about us is that by then our online presence was known online and people recognised that we were a business so they helped us. At times we had customers dropping off ingredients for us to bake and sell them our brownies!
I actually really dislike calling them ‘our customers’ because to us they are our group of amazing supporters. They have really banded around us like a second layer of our family, supporting our goals, dreams and aspirations.
During Covid sales surged four times as much as when we started. Logistics then became the next stumbling block as Royal Mail became burdened. This is where we were so lucky to get in with DPD, which allowed us to sell products online in a timely manner. Currently we bounce between the two services as Royal Mail are back to normal. We also offer a ‘no contact collection’ from our Brooklyn Brownie Co. collection locker. This is something we installed after visiting an Amazon locker and it really helps.
How important is print for your online business?
Print is HUGE within our business. We started with fifty bucks, a fork. a mixing jug and a Facebook page. We quickly realised we needed to get our bright attractive digital content onto our physical products as people were starting to share images on social.
The biggest questions were “Who is that, what are those?” so we knew we needed to brand our products quickly! We couldn’t afford to get custom boxes made and we knew our business needed to sell products online to scale up. We reviewed trends and saw brown paper and cardboard was the ‘in thing’.
We branded our boring brown box with a 140mm Round Sticker on the front, a colourful Thank You Sticker on the inside lid with the purchaser’s name, and a bright orange Leaflet inside. This was double sided and also worked as an ingredients list for the brownies. We followed this up with a small Business Card showcasing some “Brownie Hacks”. These explain in a fun way how to store, eat and enjoy the brownies. With clever printing we were able to turn a plain brown box into a recognised, branded box.
You do a huge amount on social media. How do you build a community around your brand?
To build a community they need to know who they are supporting. People are more inclined to follow a journey of people they enjoy watching and engaging with.
You and your story are gold. You may think you are boring but we all do, so share who you are because people want to support and buy from that person. Community is built around people, they will support you to the end if you go the extra mile to make sure they are always satisfied.
What are your top tips for other small biz start-ups looking to sell products online?
- Think about the product you are launching and find similar businesses on social media. Scroll all the way to the first post and watch the process, you are seeing a documented timeline of their growth. From image quality, aesthetic, phraseology, hashtags to equipment, network links, and partnerships to growth. You are also subconsciously also taking in, this doesn’t happen over night! You are looking at their first post which could have had two likes. It is the reality you will face with your growth and it is good to see a business you looked up to was in the same position you are now in 18 months before.
- Learn from others mistakes, you don’t have to fall into a hole yourself to know it’s there.
- There is no ego in a successful startup as ego will only become a chokepoint when it comes to decision making. You will only be as successful as you want to be. You are now in charge so make it happen.
- If you decide to have a business coach you should audit them, analyse their social media and ask to see past clients. A real coach would expect this but honestly the best coach for you would be someone in the field you are looking to grow in. Make friends with your future competition and learn. Even if it means taking a part time job and learning within an organisation for a while so you can take those skills and use them in your start up.
- Don’t be afraid to say no! Many small businesses like ours jump at everything, but our focus was direct to customer through our website. Wholesale was never something we went looking for so when places came knocking we said no because we honestly didn’t need it. We later started to take on some wholesale but we vetted each place who stocked us. How were they going to help us grow? How were they pushing our brand? How were they going to guide more customers to our website? If their online presence was poor we wouldn’t work with them. People thought we were nuts but honestly it allowed us to command our wholesale rate. It was always the cafe or restaurant approaching us and not the other way around.
- ‘Yes men’ and people who do not challenge your decisions with constructive criticism need to have nothing to do with your business. If you were actually that good and knew all the answers already you wouldn’t be where you are. People who give you real constructive criticism are your friends, they want the best for you so ditch the ego and learn to love it. Steel sharpens steel and you won’t make a spark without a bit of friction!
- Procrastination is being an a**hole to your future self. You are robbing from your future you by doing anything to slow your current growth. Just do it!
- Dudes and dudettes, we live in an amazing world. Always remember to be loving and positive it costs nothing to smile.
Well, we don’t know about you, but we’ve already put a few Brooklyn brownies in our basket. A massive thank you to John and Leo for sharing their story with us.
Inspired to sell products online? We have a host of e-commerce related content on our blog to help your business thrive. This includes an interview with our Head of Performance Marcus on how to get seen online, and examples of product inserts that can really make your packaging pop.
For everything else, check out our tailored Retail Collection below.