Lila Owens, founder of Cupcakin’ Bake Shop in Berkeley, CA, worked with pro bono advisor – and business strategy expert — Robert Bonner to streamline her operations and open additional stores throughout California. She also received $200,000 from PCV’s loan program to fund that expansion. In 2019 she grew her revenue 99% and supported 22 jobs. In 2020 she’s pivoted successfully, retaining and even growing jobs.
• A living wage
• Career-building opportunities
• Wealth-building opportunities
• A fair and engaging workplace
Lila Owens launched Cupcakin’ Bake Shop in her Berkeley, California home in 2007, and instantly became a sensation. Cupcakin’ began to grow and Lila relocated to a nearby brick-and-mortar storefront. We met Lila in 2016 when she came to Pacific Community Ventures for support with scaling her operations efficiently to manage this growth, and to prepare the business for the future. Part of Lila’s plans included opening several locations — and she knew she would need defined processes that she could replicate at each new location.
We paired Lila with Robert Bonner, a business consultant and coach based in New Jersey who specializes in operations and process improvement. He and Lila have walked through the systems at Cupcakin’ and he provided advice on how to scale and streamline her operations while maximizing her budget. Over the next five years, Lila increased her presence in the East Bay. This was only the beginning of Owens’ expansion plans. In addition to moving her original Berkeley shop from Durant Avenue to a larger space at 2391 Telegraph Avenue last fall, in 2019, Lila expanded her business to another storefront in Oakland at Swan’s Market, added several more jobs, and she’s set to take over the historic Virginia Bakery 1690 Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley. To fund this, she qualified for a $200,000 business loan as part of PCV’s “Good Jobs, Good Business” program, and from there increased revenue by 99%, with 57% job growth.
Her business was on a roll, and then the pandemic hit. Lila saw a dramatic drop in walk-in orders, and requests for catering and event refunds skyrocketed. “When shelter in place happened, we had an instant drop. A drop in walk ins, events, corporate orders,” Lila said. “This was money I’d already collected, and I had to do some refunds. As a food business we could stay open, so I asked myself how do we get creative and offset some of these losses?” Lila and her team had a delivery van, and they started putting it to use to deliver to homes daily. To counter the sales slump, she implemented a same-day delivery service where customers could place orders through social media. “We post the cities and flavors that we’re going to have the next day,” Lila said, “and make it more convenient as opposed to calling or sending an online order. Customers are able to send us a direct message through Instagram to place their order.” And it worked.
“We didn’t do that before,” Lila said. It’s been doing well. It got so busy that I had to hire two drivers!” Lila also turned to online advertising, bringing her sales almost back to pre-pandemic levels. And, since a big part of Lila’s business before the pandemic was catering to bigger companies around the Bay Area, she also reached out to companies to see if they wanted to do home delivery to their staff, to keep morale up. And – she reminded us — birthdays and anniversaries are still happening. “Even in a pandemic, you still have a birthday. You still have an anniversary … It’s almost like you want something celebratory to remind you of life’s normalcies.”
Lila and Cupcakin’ Bake Shop offer workers: a living wage; career-building opportunities; wealth-building opportunities; and a fair and engaging workplace. Creating good-quality jobs has been built into the fabric of her company from the start, and the fact that her team feels like a family was an unbelievable strength and something that’s made her business more resilient.
“Our philosophy has always been the same,” Lila said. “If you don’t want to work because you’re scared, it’s OK. We’ve always emphasized work-life balance. We want you to do a job you love, and love coming to. We have a group who wanted to come in, and they told us ‘This is our happy place.’ I don’t want anyone to ever be so overworked that they don’t love their life. That’s true for me, and it trickles down to our staff.”
As for the future, Lila is opening another location, hopefully in September. In recent months, she’s been working with another advisor from PCV, Mark Sickles, CEO of SuperOrg and strategic management expert. Lila said, “Mark has been a huge asset and a great help as we are in expansion mode. His knowledge and expertise of organizational leadership is unparalleled. We are so lucky to have him as our advisor!”
Walk in traffic started up again in June, and it was also when the protests started, and people wanted to support Black-owned business. “It was one of our best months, even outside of COVID,” she said. That said, it’s a moving target. The holidays should see sales go up, but the state could always walk reopenings back. But as long as Lila has her team, she feels like there isn’t a challenge her business can’t overcome.
“We’re here to stay,” she says. “We have an excellent product regardless of the circumstances, and we put our people first.”