ST. LOUIS — Things were on a roll at Sweetology, a St. Louis dessert-decorating company, in early March of last year.
The company, owned by Kara Newmark, had just opened its third location, in O'Fallon, Missouri, after opening stores in Ladue in 2014 and Town & Country in 2017.
It was all the result of a plan Newmark hatched over lunch with a friend in New York a few years earlier. She had been a health industry executive and a lawyer by training, who found she didn't enjoy the practice of law. "I wanted to create my own company that would be fun," she said. "That's when the idea hit me. I realized I love being in the kitchen with my kids."
Newmark flew around the country, assessing the market potential, raised seed money and hired a marketing firm.
She picked Ladue for her first location because "I thought I needed to be in a high-income ZIP code," she said. "I learned my customer was really the soccer mom who likes to spend time with her kids."
With the O'Fallon store open, the ingredients for success were in place, she thought. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We opened March 1 and were shut down in a week by the pandemic," Newmark said. "I got punched in the gut. We didn't know what we were dealing with."
A new recipe
A dramatic change in business strategy was going to be needed to survive: a shift to e-commerce. Sweetology immediately created an e-commerce shopping platform.
“When I wrote my business plan back in 2012, I always imagined Sweetology would be part brick-and-mortar and part e-commerce," Newmark said. "But our e-commerce platform just hadn’t taken off. I don’t think people really understood the concept of going online to order a cupcake decorating experience."
That changed once everyone was stuck at home. "What I was offering was what everyone suddenly wanted," she said. "Sweetology isn't a bakery, it's an experience. That was the asset I leveraged as the pandemic hit. People started finding me."
Soon Sweetology was shipping decorating kits all over the country — New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii. Companies looking for virtual team-building events found Newmark, too. "I had over 100 virtual corporate partners in the fourth quarter," she said, including Google, eBay, PwC and Snapchat. "I was shipping out kits and doing virtual decorating events."
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