Any small business owner can probably trace the moment they turned the business in the right direction to one particular year, and for Nothing Bundt Cakes, their emergence happened in 2006. At the time, co-founders and owners Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz decided to roll the dice (an appropriate expression for this Las Vegas-based bakery) and hire a major design firm to help define their brand.

Lunabrand, a Phoenix firm that specializes in food brand development, stepped in and stepped out of the box with probing questions: Why did Nothing Bundt Cakes put plastic decorations on their product? What did they stand for? Where did they want the franchise to be in 10 years?

Part of the process was off-putting to the owners because, after all, this design firm was telling them how to define their business without even tasting their delicious bundt cakes, which Tripp and Shwetz felt was the cornerstone of everything. How could they let someone else play the role of expert when they were the ones who’d done all the work since opening their first store in 1997? Then the epiphany: Their product is only as great as it is perceived by their customers.

“It was very expensive, but when everything came together it was beyond our expectations,” Tripp says. “She helped us figure out who we really are.” Shwetz adds a footnote: “She gave us a guide for the rest of the life of our franchise.”

Now comes the icing on the bundt cake.

On Sept. 19, Nothing Bundt Cakes celebrated the opening of its 100th bakery with a grand opening in San Marcos, CA, and announced plans for continued national expansion over the next five years.

The company, which now has locations in 22 states from coast to coast, will target 30 to 40 new bakery openings annually through 2019 in existing and new markets.

“Today marks an important milestone in the Nothing Bundt Cakes story,” says Tripp. “We could have never imagined that what began in our own home kitchens would lead to a thriving national business.”

Humble beginnings

Tripp and Shwetz, who are lifelong friends, created the first Nothing Bundt Cakes with a focus on the warmth and nostalgia of home-kitchen roots coupled with a modern approach that highlighted sophisticated cake designs and imaginative decorations. The concept caught fire as demand grew for delicious bundt cakes, handcrafted using fresh eggs, real butter and cream cheese frosting.

“In 2006, we realized Nothing Bundt Cakes had the potential to grow beyond our hometown and began developing our franchise program,” Shwetz says. “Within a year, our first franchise-owned bakery opened in California, and we’ve grown ever since on the strength of the concept, the quality of the product and the passion of the people in each of our bakeries nationwide.”

In 2010, Shwetz and Tripp tapped Nothing Bundt Cakes franchisee and restaurant-industry veteran Craig Moore to lead the company in an aggressive growth effort. Moore’s successful 17-year career included growing CiCi’s Pizza to a national brand with more than 650 locations. As president at Nothing Bundt Cakes, his first charge was to carefully assemble a support staff of seasoned franchise and marketing experts to lead the company in its early growth. Strategic plans targeted 100 bakeries by 2015. They achieved the milestone a year early. 

Nothing Bundt Cakes bakeries post steady revenue gains and, on average, experience double-digit sales gains year-over-year.

“First as a fan and then as a franchisee myself, I could see that Nothing Bundt Cakes had strong potential for growth because it offers the best-tasting, best quality product on the market,” Moore says. “Today, our team has built upon that foundation to attract the most talented, passionate operators, develop a strong economic model and secure an excellent team of franchise veterans to ensure our franchisees benefit from industry-leading support.”

The company sells premium-quality bundt cakes, available in a variety of sizes and classic flavors. Franchise Business Review named Nothing Bundt Cakes a Top 50 Franchise on its annual Franchisee Satisfaction Awards list for three consecutive years (2012, 2013 and 2014) and a Top 40 Food Franchise in 2014. Last year, the business was recognized as one of the fastest growing small chains in America.

Early inspirations

“Our families used to get together a lot on weekends, and we always had dessert on the table,” Tripp recalls. “We wanted a simple product to work with, and in our marketplace there were not many good bakery options. We were trying to fill a need, and we wanted to differentiate with something unique. That’s why we selected bundt cakes.”

Shwetz knew the reputation of bundt cakes as heavy, so they created a lighter recipe and made sure to pay close attention to details that would speak to it being a homemade product, like their signature hand swirl on top. “Our cake is the focus. I believe it is a quality product that never deviated. That’s what makes it work.”

Unique decorations on the top of each cake are customized the celebration, occasion or holiday. For instance, the “Boo” cake for Halloween features a miniature broomstick nestled in a bright orange bow, and a witch's hat perched on top. The “Happy Harvest” cake is crowned with signature cream cheese frosting and an elegant burlap flower, making it a great centerpiece for fall festivities.

Each cake comes with a special card that features a happy message, and customers can choose to add a balloon bouquet and have it delivered by the nearest Nothing Bundt Cakes location.

“A big part of our marketing is humor — nostalgia with a wink,” Shwetz says. “In our brand messaging, we want to provide that consistent wow, and customers expect it. People feel like they’ve been given something really special.”

This was a key lesson learned from the experience with Lunabrand, which encouraged the owners to “make their brand more new luxury.”

In the store

Another element of the design makeover translated to the look and feel of each retail store, or “bundt-tique,” as they like to call them. Each store features a nostalgic color palette (yellows, blues and browns) to go with a special warmth and sophistication. Each display is carefully planned and strategically positioned.
“We want our guests to feel welcome immediately,” Tripp says. “We worked very hard on the retail side of the business. We bring in softness with rugs and soft curtains, and the display case is metal, which is more modern. Once you the put the curtains up and throw the rugs down, it feels soft.”

Keeping in mind that men also shop at their stores, the straight lines of metal “make the guys feel comfortable,” Tripp adds. “We are more of a woman-centric brand, but men come in quite often.”