On-the-job training: Sarah Forrer has to learn on the fly to keep up with Main Street Cupcakes’ growth

At eight months pregnant, long after Main Street Cupcakes had closed for the day, co-owner Sarah Forrer sat at a table with her sister discussing logistics.

“All I wanted to do was go to bed and we were sitting there talking to a logistics company in Washington state,” she says. “And I remember we got off the phone and we thought, ‘Did we ever think we would know so much about freighting?’”

Nationwide shipping wasn’t part of the plan when Main Street Cupcakes started in 2007. Forrer and her sister originally envisioned a cute destination shop on North Main Street in Hudson, offering a one-of-a-kind cupcake to walk-in customers as well as those planning a wedding or special event.

But demand has stretched far beyond Summit County — locations now include Chagrin Falls and Rocky River.

“We ship nationwide by the dozen,” says Forrer.

One Main Street Cupcakes client started the year ordering 20 dozen a month, estimating that, on the high side, it might want 250 a month.

“Already this year we have blown that out of the water and we’re only in the third month of the year. So our shipment business has grown exponentially,” she says.

Main Street Cupcakes has also entered the wholesale market, which consists of both branded and private label business.

“We sell our buttercream frosting in glass jars worldwide,” she says.

Having their business grow in unanticipated directions has meant figuring out the logistics of meeting that demand. So Forrer and her partners have had to learn on the fly.

“The educational curve is so exciting for us,” Forrer says. “We love to learn things we never thought we’d come across.”

To do that, Forrer and company co-owners Kimberly Martin, her sister, and Sean Nock, her brother-in-law, spend time after hours asking a lot of questions, especially to their vendors and other service providers.

For example, while working with a commercial client in Canada, Forrer had to set up freighting, which she’d never done. So she worked with the company’s logistics department to better understand its procedures. She would call the department and have them take her through the back end of their system to set up shipping.

“Luckily we’re capable, educated people who have been able to take direction and learn from our partners,” she says.

Growth, identity, responsibility

Though shipping is a way to extend the Main Street Cupcakes experience beyond Hudson, Chagrin Falls and Rocky River, Forrer still must find a way to maintain the brand’s integrity that’s built on being a local bakery.

“We’re not shipping to Tacoma, Wash., to Wal-Mart. We’re shipping to somebody in Hudson, who sent cupcakes to their brother in Tacoma, Wash. They wanted to share that main street experience beyond Hudson,” Forrer says.

So as it grows, the company is choosing its commercial partners carefully in order to protect its brand identity.

“We love the storefronts, and that will never change,” Forrer says. “We feel really strongly that the storefronts are really important to our branding. And our branding is extremely crucial to us. Every decision we make is based off of our branding.”

The eight-year-old company is open to growth and following the opportunities that become available.

“We’re excited when something new crosses our path, and at that point we let the business go where it needs to go,” she says.

According to Forrer, in-store sales now account for 55 percent of the business, weddings and large corporate events comprise 15 percent, and nationwide shipping sales account for 25 percent. Its annual gross sales have increased between 10 to 15 percent annually, a rate it’s been able to maintain since inception.

That excitement for growth, however, has to be tempered.

“The biggest challenge sometimes is we’re excited to take another step but have to remember we’re supporting a lot of people here,” Forrer says. “If there’s anything that makes us lose any sleep, it’s as the company grows the responsibility grows. It’s a lot of responsibility, and you want to make sure you’re making smart decisions.”

Forrer says Main Street Cupcakes wants to open more locations, would consider franchising out of state and wants to continue to grow its nationwide shipping. Staying on top of that business growth means continuous self-education — staying on top of their market and competitive set and doing what’s necessary to overcome the challenges that accompany venturing into new lines of business, she says.

“I always say be cautiously optimistic, educate yourself and be excited about what you’re doing because there are so many other people who want to do what you’re doing, so don’t lose that edge.”