unPACKed Podcast: Wicked Good Insight on The New World of Work

Listen as OEM Editor in Chief Stephanie Neil interviews Wicked Good Cupcakes co-founder Tracey Noonan on her PPWLN keynote, including how wanting to spend more time with her daughter led to a completely new career path.

OEM Magazine Editor in Chief Stephanie Neil takes the interview chair for a special one-on-one with PPWLN keynote speaker Tracey Noonan, CEO and co-founder of Wicked Good cupcakes. Noonan kicked off the sold-out Packaging & Processing Women’s Leadership Network (PPWLN) networking breakfast at PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO. Neil discusses with Noonan how she and her daughter began their cupcake journey, the need to accept and learn from mistakes and even delves into how Wicked Good Cupcakes could find a more sustainable package for its product. 

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   Read the full transcript below.

Stephanie Neil:

I am with Tracey Noonan, CEO and co-founder of Wicked Good cupcakes because she co-founded it with her daughter. And Tracey was just the keynote speaker at our packaging and processing Women's Leadership Network breakfast at Pack Expo, Las Vegas. So Tracey talked a lot about her journey with her daughter. So I wanted to let you maybe bring us through what happened, what got you from the point of making some cupcakes in your kitchen to being on Shark Tank and beyond?

Tracey Noonan:

So thank you for having me, by the way. It was a really fun time, great audience, really connected. And that's always such a wonderful thing as a speaker to be able to look out into an audience and see that people are really digging your vibe. So it was a lot of fun. My daughter and I, so yeah, we started our business in our home kitchen and it was really, for me, a necessity. I was worried about my daughter. She had not been acting right. And she was moving out of the house and I needed some kind of excuse to see her once a week. So after several failed attempts at stupid hobbies that neither one of us were very good at, we landed on cake decorating and who knew, we actually had a talent. And started posting what we were creating on Facebook and friends and family started to order.

And it was one of those things where we turned a bedroom into like a makeshift cold spot. We had three air conditioners in there to hold product till people picked it up and it was just over running the house. So we had to decide, are we going to reign it in or are we going to go for it and start a business? And that's exactly what we did. And in October of 2011, we opened the doors to our cupcake shop and really right off the bat, we were quite successful. My husband, Dani stepdad, Scott built us a website and through Google searches, people started to try and order from us and have us ship. And really the question became, how do you ship a cupcake? Right. They're delicate. They're perishable. People can't get them home from the supermarket without them being a hot mess, nevermind giving them to UPS or FedEx.

We've all seen how they deliver things. And so this became a real quandary, but I was interested because obviously it's another revenue stream and it would've been great if we could have figured it out and I have to give credit where credit is due. The idea of actually putting these cupcakes in Mason jars was my husband's idea. He saw a show on canning. He had the television on in the background while he was working and thought that that was a brilliant idea. And for as much as I didn't want to believe it was a brilliant idea, he was correct. Thank you, honey. And we started putting our cupcakes in Mason jars. And honestly, if we have one or two that break a year, it's like, oh, what happened? The jars are breaking. That's how sturdy and how great our packaging is. So it quickly became our differentiator and a way to get product to the consumer that would arrive fresh and intact.

Stephanie Neil:

So what's so amazing is that you took a cupcake and you went on Shark Tank. How do you get a deal with cupcakes?

Tracey Noonan:

Right. I mean, it's so stupid when I think of it. Yeah, it's a commodity. Anyone can bake a cupcake, we get it. And what I think intrigued Kevin was the whole process, the shipping, the e-commerce end of it. And we actually have an amazing website. It's easy to navigate. We have a great platform called Pronto for gifting people. If you don't know their address, or if they have allergies, all you need to know is their email. We are as ADA compliant as possible, which is super important these days. I mean, everything went into this website and Kevin really took a liking to Dani and I. I think he felt like he could quote unquote, save us and make us successful. And in reality, being on Shark Tank and working with Kevin was exactly that. It was an opportunity that we were fortunate enough to be presented with. And then we had the foresight to know that we had to work really hard and act on the other end. And that's exactly what we did.

Stephanie Neil:

So we talk a lot about workforce issues here at PMMI. And we also talk about leadership and mentorship. And I know you've had a couple of mentors. I'm wondering to you, what are the qualities of a really good mentor?

Tracey Noonan:

Oh, the first thing that comes to mind is a really good mentor is more than happy to share their mistakes. I think if someone mentors you and they don't ever share any information with you about a mistake that they've made, they're not a good mentor because everyone screws up, right. Everyone makes a mistake and it's not that the mistake was made. It's more how you handle it and how you recover from it.

For me, if a mistake is made and a consumer, your customer has been wronged, the first thing you need to do is make sure that that customer is taken care of because you still have an opportunity to keep that customer. The more you ignore a problem or don't reach out or don't take responsibility. Well, now you've just lost that person. And not only that, that person's going to go on social media and bad mouth you. There was a study done once that said, if a consumer is wrong by a product, it takes about seven years before that consumer will actually go back and try that product again. And that's really important to keep in mind. Rectify the problem first and then go back and see what happened. Fix the process, fix whatever went wrong, but have a happy customer.

Stephanie Neil:

So much of the listeners today are in the packaging industry. Have you changed or done anything different with the packaging of the cupcakes over the years, especially when it comes to the issue of sustainability?

Tracey Noonan:

Yes, actually. Great question. So when we very first started, we had a company engineer a package for us and it was great. It was sturdy, no jars ever broke, but the whole interior walls of the packaging was built out of styrofoam and styrofoam just isn't environmentally friendly. So we worked with them on two fronts. One was our cold packaging and one was our regular packaging. And my husband worked with the engineers and they designed a cardboard insert that was strong and sturdy and could be used for a dual purpose, whether it was shipping our pie jars or a cupcake jars, you could just flip it over and there was a different size opening and those protected the jars equally, as well as the styrofoam did. So the only styrofoam that now exists in our non cold shipping package is a panel that goes on the top. Our cold packaging is super cool because what we use to build the cooler inside the shipping box itself is made 100% with corn. I'm talking like you can bite it. Oh, I did. I showed you.

Stephanie Neil:

Yes. You did.

Tracey Noonan:

I ate part of our packaging.

Stephanie Neil:

You did eat part of the package Tracey.

Tracey Noonan:

Well, I was really hungry too. It's 100% corn and it's biodegradable. So if you took this packaging and you either left it outside and it was rained upon, or you ran it under the water in the faucet, it would 100% disintegrate. It would be gone. And that's really important. People are really looking to cut down on this carbon footprint and not fill up landfills and God, styrofoam foam, and peanuts, and all of that stuff is just so A, annoying because no one wants to have to get rid of it and just not good for the planet. So yes, we have made some changes in a positive light.

Stephanie Neil:

And I know that you've always been really good at selling products online, but have e-commerce sales skyrocketed over the past year or so because of the pandemic or what have you seen in terms of your e-commerce site?

Tracey Noonan:

Yeah. I hate to say it because it was a really terrible time for a lot of businesses, but for e-commerce businesses, COVID was just an amazing time. Our sales grew dramatically like times of the year that should've been quiet after Q4 and Q1 were just banging. And our website is such that it's very easy to navigate around. So for our demographic that varies from women 20s to early 60s, it was nice that it was something that was very user-friendly. And I'm not saying that women in their 60s are old and can't use technology. I'm 59 and I can't use technology, but that's not the case with everyone. It's just nice to have a website that you can go on and find what you want and buy it. Secondly, I think our product was being used in a very different way, and that was a lot of people were starting to now have these virtual celebrations, right?

No one could get together for birthdays. No one at the office could have happy hour. So corporations were starting to send out birthday gifts and using our company more specifically, our Pronto platform. Families were ordering cupcake jars and just having these Zoom birthday parties. And people were also sending gifts to first responders. We saw a huge spike with that. So between our corporate client growth and then just the normal gift-giver growth, it was really exponential and people saw a way to use our product.

Stephanie Neil:

So you've been so successful that just in the past few months, your company has been acquired, correct?

Tracey Noonan:

Yes, we have. We've been acquired by a wonderful brand, Hickory Farms. I have to say there could not be a better match made in heaven, then Hickory Farms and Wicked Good. We did in 2017, collaborate on a Wicked Good gift crate that they sent out that had some sweet and savory products in it. And it was super successful.

And when Hickory was looking to do more in the dessert arena, they reached out to us and the timing was really perfect. And what I like about Hickory is they really get Wicked Good. And they're not out to reinvent something that is already working. And they were really gracious and quite complimentary about how we had grown the business and what a good job we had done and wanting to learn from us. And that really meant a lot for me. They just didn't come in buy us and rip the heart and soul out of the business that took us 10 years to build. And they're wonderful. They love our input. We're working with them still. And I think that they're going to do big things, bigger things than we could have possibly done.

Stephanie Neil:

I have one more question for you, but before I do, I have to ask you, what was it like working with Mr. Wonderful?

Tracey Noonan:

Oh, Kevin. Oh, Kevin. Kevin is actually a great guy to work with. I can tell you always know where he stands on an issue, right? He's very pragmatic. There is no gray area. If he likes an idea, he likes it. If he doesn't, he doesn't. And he will tell you. He tends to be a little more empathetic in person than he is on TV. And he was really great. He didn't want to interfere in the family dynamic. And he understood that we knew what we were doing. And he recognized as we did that him getting us media was the best use of his time and energy. So Kevin worked a lot on getting us television and speaking engagements and all those things that sort of shared Wicked Good with people who might not already know us. And also brought people into the fold as people who would go online and eventually order, which he loved because with his royalty, the more sales we had, the more he was incentivized. Right. He made money. So it really was a win-win situation for both of us.

Stephanie Neil:

So I read your book, Wicked Good Idea that you wrote with your daughter, Dani. I love it. It's for any entrepreneur, anybody who's changing careers, anybody who just wants a little inspiration. It was wonderful. And you've worn many hats,

Tracey Noonan:

I guess I have.

Stephanie Neil:

In your career. What is next for you Tracey?

Tracey Noonan:

Oh, so I really love to write and I love to public speak. So I think I'll continue to try to pursue those things. But my new passion that I really love is I've started a podcast and it's called Don't Call Me Cupcake, available on Apple, Spotify and...

Stephanie Neil:

But where did the name come from?

Tracey Noonan:

All right. So when I started going to business networking events, invariably by the end of the night, someone was calling me cupcake and it used to drive me insane because I really felt in a way it was a tiny bit disrespectful. And it really didn't recognize the scope of the food and beverage industry, which is huge, like billions and billions of dollars. And they're just minimizing me as this woman who like shoots out cupcakes from her Easy Bake Oven, wearing a polka dot apron. And I really used to get mad. So I decided that that would be the perfect name for my podcast. And that is what I named it.

Stephanie Neil:

So what are the topics going to be?

Tracey Noonan:

Oh, so I have some great interviews up already and it's kind of exploring two things. It is a business driven podcast where I do interview guests who are either startups or very established business people. And it also brings a human element in and talks about the entrepreneur themselves. Why risk makes it so scary for people to start a business? In my mind, there are four obstacles that really people place in front of themselves, either inadvertently or on purpose to sort of delay starting that business. And also I talk about life and how life interrupts and how you have to be able to absorb that interruption that life has thrown at you and continue to work and find ways to make business still chug along, even though you are being pulled in a million different directions. So I have some great guest, one of which is Lauren Miller Rogen.

She talks about actually, we talk about our parents who both have had Alzheimer's disease and how Hilarity for Charity came about. I interview a standup comedian and friend, Justin McKinney, other Shark Tank entrepreneurs, Marcus Lemonis, Kat Cole, lots of people. And I think it's informative and fun. And I'm just a big goofball who really is learning as I go as I do everything. So I hope people will check it out.

Stephanie Neil:

Well, I want to thank you for joining our podcast. It was so great to have you as our keynote speaker here at Pack Expo Las Vegas at the Women's Leadership Network. You are a true leader. Thank you so much.

Tracey Noonan:

Well, thank you for having me.