A bakery’s success can be dependent on many things beyond the quality of its baked goods. If you are able to successfully market your bakery, you can grow its following and sell more than just food and beverages.

Speaking at the 2019 International Baking Industry Exposition on “The Art of the $7 Cupcake,” Janelle Copeland, owner of Glendale, California’s The Cake Mamas and a former winner of Food Network’s Cake Wars and Cupcake Wars, spoke about how to make products that customers can’t help but share on social media.

According to Copeland, it all starts with a bakery’s brand, which speaks to customers before products actually can. It’s important to understand that brand, define the competitive distinctiveness that makes it stand out from other businesses, and then relate that to customers.

Once a brand is established, the bakery can profit off its own name. That’s where merchandising comes into play.

Few bakeries know the value of building a brand and leveraging that into merchandise sales better than Voodoo Doughnut. The growing doughnut empire first started as a neighborhood destination for a sweet treat. Soon, though, it began building its reputation as a top tourist attraction in the city of Portland, Oregon, and other cities where it has opened locations.

Voodoo Doughnut was able to craft that image through high-quality products and ingenious marketing. It all started with the development of unique doughnut flavors. The shop features staples such as the Bacon Maple Bar and the Portland Cream that satisfy the purists, while more outside-the-box ideas exist for the adventurous.

That translates well into merchandise, says Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson, the co-founder of Voodoo Doughnut. When asked how the doughnut shop has been able to transition its strong brand into merchandise sales, he answers that it’s strictly through customer demand. “It almost seems like the customers are telling us what they want. Since we have turned into a destination brand, as well as the fact that our product does not leave as a souvenir (other than the box!), having a trinket or shirt to tell the tale of your visit is a big want.”

Few bakeries know the value of building a brand and leveraging that into merchandise sales better than Voodoo Doughnut.

An afterlife aesthetic has served the business well. It’s apparent in a great deal of Voodoo Doughnut merchandise. This has allowed the shop to cultivate an entire brand, an identity that customers can adopt into their lives. It also has set it apart from the competition.

“Although we get pegged into the doughnut shop category, we tend to just march to the beat of our own drum. Merch became more of a necessity than a push. From the very first day people were asking for shirts, stickers, and anything else with the logo on it,” says Pogson. “From there, we got to have some fun and see how far it could go. We did boxes printed with the outline of a model bus you could mold into the “Voodoo Doughnut Bus.” We had a line of jewelry. The gym shorts and panties are still in the mix, but when it comes down to making sales, the basic logo shirt is the biggest seller. Being an attraction as well as a doughnut shop really sets us apart from the competition.”

Pogson advises that bakeries should “Have some merch in your place, no matter how small a business.” Even if you’re just printing a handful of shirts, that can turn any potential customer into a free walking billboard for your business.

On a local level, Manhattan, Kansas-based Varsity Donuts is a great success story. In addition to great timing, originality, and a lineup of delicious donuts, the business has also found its way into the consciousness of consumers with its creative merchandising.

Both in-store and online, Varsity Donuts sells a great deal of merch. Items such as a “Donuts Make People Happy” t-shirts, stickers, and drinkware are especially popular.

The shop has cultivated a communal feel, which can greatly contribute to the success of a business in a college town. “We want people to feel connected to the community,” says Leah Hyman, co-owner of Varsity Donuts.

That extends to the store presentation. Varsity Donuts occupies an historic building in downtown Aggieville (a shopping and entertainment district in Manhattan). Customers can sit at a long wooden community table or any of the booths to enjoy a donut, freshly made that morning. College students can grab a board game and strike up a Scrabble challenge with their friends, or on certain nights engage in a spirited ping pong match. It’s all about making the customers feel at home.

By creating a hometown vibe, Varsity Donuts has become engrained in the community. Many Manhattan-area students and residents rep their beloved donut shop with merchandise they’ve purchased there. The slogan doesn’t lie – donuts do make people happy – and for Varsity Donuts so does merchandising revenue.