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Eileen Spitalny - once upon a bakery -- Anthony Zumpano

Eileen Spitalny
once upon a bakery
by Anthony Zumpano
October 6, 2008

If you’ve ever whipped up a tray of desserts from scratch, the best compliment you could hope for is “You ought to sell those professionally.” But to taste success beyond your sweet-toothed circle of friends requires more than the right recipe—you’ll also need the right branding ingredients.

For the gourmet mail-order company Fairytale Brownies, headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, branding’s been a part of the batter for 15 years. Eileen Spitalny and her childhood friend, David Kravetz, adapted a family recipe and launched a company that grew from a two-person team operating out of a friend’s catering kitchen to a 40-employee enterprise turning out 2.5 million brownies each year from a 26,000-square-foot facility and generating annual sales of almost US$ 10 million.

 
 

Starting Small, Planning Big
Even when the entire customer base consisted of attendees at local greenmarkets, the founders had considered the importance of branding. “It wasn’t enough to bake the best-tasting brownie,” says Spitalny. “We wanted to have a strong identity like Nike or Apple, where just our logo would be as associated with your favorite brownie as the golden arches might represent your favorite French fries.”

Two humble brownie bakers in the same sentence as the billions-serving burger behemoth? Spitalny says it’s not a far-off comparison. “Very early on we received some valuable advice from a consultant: Always think of yourself as a big company, and always consider what you can do to add value to your brand.”

So the partners researched major brands in categories including mail-order (Harry & David), chocolate (Godiva), baked goods (Mrs. Fields), and—especially—a brand whose whimsy is as popular as the taste of its products. “We visited Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Vermont to learn about their research and development and their marketing, and to see how they execute fun spirit they covey,” Spitalny says.

My Fair(y) Brownie
Selecting the right name and logo were as important for the brand as choosing the chocolate (Callebaut Belgian dark chocolate, in this case). The first name that was considered, My Mom’s Brownies, was wisely rejected because “there were already too many kinds of ‘My Mom’s’ brands out there,” Spitalny says. She and her partner also avoided names that evoked “home style” or “homemade” and instead went to a direct source for inspiration: the dictionary. Spitalny recalls, “In addition to the definition people already know—small, chewy, cake-like cookie, usually made with chocolate—we spotted another: tiny, fanciful, good-natured elf who secretly helps at night with household chores.”

The partners researched all things faerie/fairy and came across the work of Palmer Cox (1840–1924), who authored and illustrated a series of books about brownie adventures. “His work inspired the creation of our mascot, who wears a chef’s hat and works his magic with a bowl of brownie batter,” Spitalny says. The brownie fairy became the face of the brand, and the company developed a legend related to its first tagline, “The Greatest Brownies in All of Fairyland.”

Online Taste
One of the brand’s more farsighted decisions was to land the brownies.com URL, which has been the online home of Fairytale Brownies since 1995. “We were the first and only people to own the URL,” Spitalny says. Online branding terms like keywords and pay-per-click advertising and search-engine optimization are in common use today, but nothing legitimizes a brand like an obvious, easy-to-remember URL. “People see that we own the brownies.com URL and think, ‘This brand must really know its brownies.’”

For a mail-order business, a properly branded website is vital. “The homepage acts as the front desk of our company,” Spitalny says. “We’re able to demonstrate our commitment to customer service.” The site maintains customer information to more easily repeat orders, and corporate clients are able to customize brownie gifts with their own logos.

This way, Spitalny says, “Not only do you know our brand, but our brand also knows you.”

A Brand Grows Up
After a decade and a half of steady revenue growth and expansion of the company’s customer base and product portfolio, Spitalny and Kravetz were looking to move into a larger facility, which made it an ideal time to update the brand—and Spitalny experienced a bit of serendipity. “Shortly after our graphic designer left the company, I attended a business dinner and by chance sat next to Cindy Gombert,” principal of Scottsdale, AZ-based Lunabrand Design Group. “I loved her business card, and not long after that dinner, we hired Lunabrand for some design work.

“I didn’t expect our relationship to go any further, but from our conversations they could tell we were in need of a thorough assessment of our brand.” Lunabrand suggested launching a full branding initiative. “We always said we wanted to be the number-one brownie brand,” Spitalny says, “but we didn’t know that strong branding meant maintaining a manual that described your brand essence, positioning, and intellectual property…even things like the kinds of props and angles used in the photos of brownies.”

The most noticeable change to the brand was updating the logo and tagline. The original grinning brownie mascot was starting to look “too cute,” Spitalny says, so the branding team designed a subtler, silhouetted version. “The Greatest Brownies in All of Fairyland” became “A Taste of Pure Enchantment” to tap the sensory images and feelings associated with the products.

Throughout the process, Spitalny and Kravetz learned what most brand owners should know: Every brand is a work in progress. “Most of the stuff that’s considered ‘branding,’ I had just kept in my head and took for granted—David and I never realized so much of what delivers value to our business is really part of the brand itself. To us it just seemed like ‘smart business.’”

A Brown(ie)-colored Future
The new tagline has been helpful in charting future directions for the brand, Spitalny says. “In the past, when we considered introducing a new product, we’d ask ourselves: Are we a dessert company? A brownie company? A chocolate company? Now, the entire organization is trained to remember the tagline—A Taste of Pure Enchantment—and the fact that we’re called Fairytale Brownies, not Fairytale Bakery.” So although you can order a brownie combo that includes coffee, cocoa, or cashews, you won’t find a product sku that has no brownies at all.

It might be tempting for Fairytale Brownies to expand into other baked goods like cookies and muffins, but Spitalny feels staying true to the brand is more rewarding. “Our newest treats, Fairytale Truffles, are smaller-sized brownies enrobed in chocolate. They’re a unique dessert—they’re trademarked—but they’re still brownies.”

Remembering Their Roots
The brand currently employs a few dozen people—as many as 130 during peak times—and is a multimillion-dollar company, but Spitalny never forgets that the brand originated as an idea between two grade-school friends.

“David and I feel our story—two kids on the playground with a dream of baking brownies—is such a part of our brand that we even include our kindergarten class photo on our site.”

Although Spitalny no longer has to scrape batter into a pan, brownies still keep her busy. To promote the brand, and because she’s a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier (LDEI), an organization that educates and mentors women in the culinary profession, she occasionally travels to trade shows and conferences.

Day-to-day, however, “my focus is to help our corporate and wholesale teams sell and grow,” she says. “The corporate department is about two years old and we just hired our wholesale team. And, of course, we’re spreading the word about the new Fairytale Truffles!” All this, she notes, while maintaining a personal life: “I drop my daughter off at school every morning, go to ballet once a week, do some yoga, and spend time with my husband—who happens to be Fairytale Brownies’ first baker and employee.”

Even as the brand continues to grow, “we want people to know that we’ve remained down-to-earth and accessible,” Spitalny adds, whether it’s encouraging suggestions about any aspect of the business from employees to establishing generous customer service policies to fielding queries from fledgling entrepreneurs. “I answer questions over the phone, review materials, and even share my experiences with groups, such as when I recently spoke to an Arizona State University business class. I like going out into the community.”

And for someone who didn’t start her business as a branding expert, Spitalny knows a few things about running a successful brand. “When people call me for advice about launching the next great cookie brand, I ask: Do you know who your competition is? How they’re priced? How they market themselves? Are you on their mailing lists? The people who can answer the questions about brands in their market will have a better idea about the brand they want to be.

“When you think about building the brand, you start building your business. Hopefully, especially in retail, when you’re doing one well, you’re doing the other well.”

 
  

Anthony Zumpano lives and works in New York.

 
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Eileen Spitalny - once upon a bakery
 
 What a great article! It is so nice to read real success stories...and it made me curious about the brownies. I may have to order some! 
, Corporate Store Manager, Compass Group - October 6, 2008
 
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