HOW BON PUF TURNED THEIR LOVE OF COTTON CANDY IN TO A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH BON PUF?
When I graduated from high school, instead of going straight to college, I took a year off to travel and work. It was during this time that I had the idea of starting a cotton candy catering business. The inspiration initially came out of my love for cotton candy and I was surprised to find that no one else had really jumped on the idea. That year I spent a lot of time researching cotton candy machines, organic sugars and ingredients, and learning how to make it (it's not as easy as it looks.) I also researched festivals and wedding blogs, event planners and opportunities that seemed like they would be a good fit for the type of customer I knew I wanted. I started brainstorming how I wanted my logo to look, and dug into the work of building my company identity and social media presence. I started doing some small personal events and in the summer of 2013 I debuted my cart and original flavors at the Unique LA Summer Show.
WE DON'T HEAR ABOUT COTTON CANDY BUSINESSES VERY OFTEN - HOW DID THIS AWESOME IDEA COME ABOUT?
Like I said, I just really love cotton candy, and figured that others must too! I realize that partly why I love it so much is that it's rare and hard to come by. It's not the type of treat like cookies or ice cream that you can just make at home or get at the store. I really enjoy the delight people have when they stumble upon my cart at a party or show because I am offering a treat that is both unexpected and whimsical. The way it's made is really quite magical and I always love when people watch me spinning pufs, all wide-eyed, giddy, and amazed. At the end of the day, it's the joy I get from making others happy that lets me know that Bon Puf is so right for me!
OKAY, IT SEEMS LIKE YOUR BUSINESS WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS. WAS IT? WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS WORKED REALLY WELL FOR YOU SO FAR?
I am so blessed by how Bon Puf has taken off! The day after I debuted at Unique LA I started getting calls and emails for event opportunities, blog interviews, and photo shoots—and a year later the inquiries haven't stopped! I am also incredibly fortunate to have been supported and mentored by some pretty stellar ladies in the creative business world. My first two customers on the first day of Unique LA were the lovely Ali and Tara from Ban.do.
They were so enthusiastic about Bon Puf and generously spread the word about me on their blog and Instagram. I seriously consider the ban.do girls (Jen, Tara, Kelly, Ali and Christina) my fairy godmothers. I have learned so much from them by observing how they run their business, and just by the kind of people they are.
I also really believe that my fresh aesthetic has been one of the driving forces behind my success with Bon Puf and I am really proud of giving cotton candy a whole new look. Before I started brainstorming the branding for Bon Puf I often put the sweet confection in the category of "old-timey" circuses and carnivals. I think a lot of people feel this way towards cotton candy as well. However, remembering the first time I enjoyed cotton candy I realized it was at the Santa Monica Pier, drenched in golden light and surrounded by sun bleached colors. Moving forward I decided the Bon Puf brand would be warm, modern and inspired by the Golden State style that I personally love...and that is very much me. It has been so much fun re-imagining the aesthetic of cotton candy! It's humbling and exciting realizing that my success has been a true combination of my own vision and hard work, the support of professionals a few steps down the road from me, and the endless enthusiasm of my customers who want my cotton candy to be a part of their most personal celebrations.
LOTS OF CREATIVES HAVE TROUBLE WITH THE CONCEPT OF BRANDING THEIR BUSINESS. WHAT STEPS CAN YOU RECOMMEND FOR THEM TO TAKE IN ORDER TO DEVELOP THEIR OWN COHESIVE BRAND?
I think people have trouble with the concept of branding because they don't allow themselves enough time to really develop their ideas into a cohesive and finished product. I think the first step is to just allow enough time to really decide what the aesthetic of your business should be and to stay true to that all the way through. It's also important to know who you want your audience/customer to be and keep them at the forefront when finalizing your look. What will appeal to them...and does your brand sit "in good company" alongside other businesses that you admire. I sometimes see brands that can't decide what they are or who they are appealing to. The world is a fickle place and businesses find themselves needing to adapt but I think this can lead to confusion and poor execution at times. I also really feel strongly about keeping things simple. Your logo can only do so much, and your brand is much more than just that one part. For Bon Puf, the simplicity of my logo and my white and gold color palette allows me the flexibility to fit well into many different kinds of events and complement their look while at the same time staying true to the Bon Puf aesthetic that I have worked so hard to protect.
DID YOU HAVE TO WORK WITH SOMEONE ELSE TO DEVELOP ANY OF YOUR BRANDING? IF SO CAN YOU TELL US WHAT YOU DID AND HOW YOU WENT ABOUT THAT?
I am very lucky because both of my parents are graphic designers! As a child, I spent many hours in their studio after school and learned a lot about typography, color, and the value of great design. My whole life I have been surrounded by a very creative community and my parents have always encouraged me in my many creative endeavors ever since I was little. Thanks to them, I had access to the tools to create the logo I had been dreaming of for my business. They helped me to refine my ideas and they had so many resources up their sleeves, from awesome font libraries, print production advice, and tips for developing a website...and it doesn't hurt that I love their style! For my website, I definitely wanted to be able to build and update it by myself, so I decided to try WIX out. Someday I'd love to hire an awesome web designer to build me a new site, but so far WIX has been great for what I need.
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE HAS BEEN SO FAR?
My biggest challenge so far is knowing exactly where to go from where I am now. I have big dreams and lots of ideas for Bon Puf, but right now I'm pretty much a one-woman show, and I don't have the resources to see all of my dreams through right away. I think this is a very common dilemma for small business owners, so I don't let it get me down. I try not to get overwhelmed by all of the things I want to do, and I am trying to just take baby steps towards my goals and focus on making what I do now the best it can be. At the core, it really is my customers who keep me going, so I do my best to give them the best service and product I can.
WHAT'S A GREAT MARKETING TIP OR PROMOTION THAT'S WORKED FOR YOU?
Instagram has been an amazing tool for me, it has allowed me to really shape and convey the personality of my brand. Because Instagram is all about the visual it is a great place to showcase my new ideas and connect with likeminded creatives. I have made some amazing connections through Instagram and I also really love promoting other small businesses that complement Bon Puf! That being said I feel Instagram is my best (and funnest) marketing tool. I must say I do put a lot of thought and energy into what I upload, quality over quantity is my motto when it comes to posting. In a little over a year, I've built a following of over 6K followers, and although I don't like putting too much weight on that, it's awesome to be able to connect and communicate with so many people at once (and all over the world), beyond just those who might contact me and actually want to hire me for a job. It really is a place of community and I love using it as such.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS THIS YEAR?
I have a busy year ahead with a lot of fun weddings and birthdays already booked, and some new flavors and serving ideas in the works. I also hope to be a vendor at Coachella again next year. The scale and intensity there is not my normal Bon Puf experience, but I love being in the thick of the energy and being able to offer a creative and natural alternative to the typical festival fare. I am also really working on adding more carts and team members to the Bon Puf crew!
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO OTHER BUSINESS OWNERS, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
It is all about kindness, (and hard work of course)! Running a business comes with a lot of challenges and it is easy to feel discouraged and exhausted after a long week of what seems to be endless, tedious work. However, I really believe that kindness helps one to stay positive and humble, and leads to stronger relationships with your clients. Everyday I have to remind myself in the midst of returning emails, updating my social media, mixing sugars, maintaining my equipment, and driving across town for jobs that I am in the cotton candy business. How lucky am I? In the end I try not to take myself too seriously, and I look for joy in all I do—never forgetting to be kind to everyone I interact with. I have found that opportunities come when you're a person whom others like to work with!