How Christine Moore Started A Healthy Cake Treat Product

$80,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
10
Employees
product
Lil Buff Protein
from Cleveland, Ohio
started June 2016
$80,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
10
Employees
2.11M
alexa rank
platform

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Christine Moore and I’m the owner of Lil Buff Protein, where you can eat cake & get buff!

We create and manufacture a cake mix that boasts 26g of protein per serving while being gluten free and microwaveable. These cakes are great if you crave sweets but also want to live a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing taste.

We serve a huge demographic of individuals ranging from body builders, weight watchers, gastric bypass patients, diabetes patients, gluten free/celiac diseases, and those just looking to stay healthy and fit.

We started this family business from our home and within 3 months we had a fully operational warehouse. We do not outsource any part of the process and we always make sure to send a hand signed card with each order. We had massive credit card debt going into this and within 6 months we were able to pay off every cent.

We focus on giving back to the community and our employees. We purchased a new set of tires for one of our employees last year and this year we purchased a car for a family in need in our city.

how-christine-moore-started-a-healthy-cake-treat-product

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I had 3 children in 3.5 years and by the end, I felt frumpy and lumpy. I decided to take up the sport of bodybuilding and put myself to the ultimate challenge of stepping on stage in a sparkly bikini a short year later.

All of that was great….except I found myself craving sweets so bad that sometimes I would take bites of doughnuts and spit them in the garbage as to not derail my progress. I knew something had to change if I was going to keep competing and maintain a lean physique.

There is no perfect timing. Strike while the iron is hot and figure the rest out later. We started selling our cakes before we even knew how much the cost to produce was. I’m not implying that this is a good business strategy, but there is something to be said for jumping in with both feet and taking risks.

One day I ordered a sample of protein and threw together some healthy whole foods. I threw it in the microwave and was completely mind blown with the result. I had just created a protein cake that had the same nutrition facts as the boring chicken, asparagus, and rice meal I was eating every day for the past 2 years. BOOM! I started eating protein cake every day and posting it on social media. I couldn’t believe the demand from people seeing my posts! With a little encouragement from some friends, I decided to tackle entrepreneurship.

I had zero business background and no idea how to run marketing campaigns. My career was doing anesthesia full time at the hospital. Intimidated is the understatement of the century.

Luckily I was able to start Lil Buff Protein as a side hustle and evolve it into a full-time thing. We put all of our materials on credit cards and then would slowly pay them off after we would sell the product.

We were shocked that we were selling out of protein cake mix almost daily. Our social media following started growing like wildfire. We leveraged influencers to help get the word out that you can, in fact, have your cake & eat it too!!

Within the first year, my husband quit his full-time miserable job. The same month that he went without a paycheck, we paid off every cent of debt. Thank you, Lord.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We create our entire product in our warehouse located in Cleveland, Ohio. The recipes are made by experimenting in our kitchen at home. We spend a lot of time testing different recipes to make sure everything tastes delicious while maintaining the nutritional qualities. Since I don’t have a background in culinary or food science, it’s just how you would imagine. Add a little of this, add a little of that, end with a big mess in the kitchen and hopefully something delicious.

As the owner I’m a bit of a control freak, imagine that, so I do all of the design work myself. I had a graphic designer friend teach me the ropes of Adobe Illustrator and help me with the initial branding.

In the beginning we could only afford to hand apply a label to each pouch. One time we made a mistake and the label read “carories” instead of “calories”. Whoops!

Once we were able to pay off all of our debt, we started having our packages pre-printed to give a much more refined look. I learned how to import from China and work with other countries to secure materials. We started being able to order our supplies by the pallet and continue to drive costs down.

how-christine-moore-started-a-healthy-cake-treat-product

If I am making this sound super easy...then I’m doing you a disservice. We hit many road bumps with the first being trademark issues. I had no idea that we needed to research trademarks before starting our business.

We were knee deep in the process and received a letter saying we could no longer use the name “Lil Buff Bakery” due to trademark infringement. Say what? You mean I’m going to have to start all over and pick a new name? At the time it seemed like an insurmountable obstacle and I almost quit on the spot. I had $30,000 worth of packaging that screamed “Lil Buff Bakery” all over it. Luckily we had a great trademark lawyer that helped us wiggle out of that and find a new name that was much more suitable.

The second major roadblock we hit was supply issues. We had a manufacturer supply us protein contaminated with gluten. That same manufacturer also changed how they process the protein without notifying us causing all of our customers cakes to explode. But as we have learned, there is strength in the struggle and challenges lead to growth. These issues forced us to find new suppliers for our ingredients. In the end, it worked out great because the new suppliers came up with a bunch of new innovations for our mix that we wouldn’t have thought of (new flavors etc.)

The biggest thing I’ve learned is finding ways to shine light on any of the negative situations that come up. Tackling inspections from regulatory officials created much more organization within our production process. Shortages of supplies taught us how to forecast and stay ahead. I am grateful for every challenge we’ve had because that is where we have learned the most. Companies tend to get complacent when everything is going well, but the struggles force us to stretch, get uncomfortable, and become better at what we do.

how-christine-moore-started-a-healthy-cake-treat-product

Describe the process of launching the business.

We launched our business by attending a local bodybuilding expo and making a variety of cakes to sample.

We scraped together enough supplies to take 300 mixes with us to sell. We wanted to see first hand if people liked the cake as much as we did, and secondly, did they like it enough to purchase it?

My suggestion is to attend some local entrepreneur networking events. Also, reach out to companies with similar audiences through social media and set up a phone call to discuss goals and roadblocks. I was incredibly shocked at how friendly and helpful the entrepreneur space is.

I never did any cost analysis up front so I had no idea how much it was costing us to put the mixes together. I just labeled each one $5 to see if they would sell. To my surprise, we sold out the first night and launched our website the next day.

To this day, we still sell our mixes for $5. It turns out that it was actually the perfect price point and we’ve been able to improve margins to improve our profitability. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that there is no perfect time to launch a business.

You have to strike while the iron is hot and make some mistakes. Within the first month of launching our business, we grossed $5000.

It was very time consuming growing our business while we were both still working full time and raising 3 kids. Many times we would put the kids to bed at 8PM and work until 2 in the morning.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our business has grown organically by word of mouth. People try our products and they are excited to share that they are eating cake while sticking to a healthy lifestyle. We include a packet of sprinkles with each cake mix to encourage creativity and fun with our products. We’ve leveraged a strong social media presence to collaborate with other businesses increasing our brand exposure.

We have done very little paid advertising. In the past 2.5 years we have maybe spent $3000 total on advertising. This really speaks to the power of social media and personal referrals. We have strong engagement and customers that are willing to write reviews on our website. We quickly grew 2,000 five star from our customers over the first two years in business.

Mistakes are where growth happens. When things are going well it is easy to get complacent. Snags create innovation and there is strength in the struggle.

People genuinely love the product and want to share it with the world. We make it fun by including sprinkles so that everyone can get creative in the kitchen. We’ve taken it up a notch by offering discount incentives to post pictures with the reviews. We leverage this on our website so potential customers can see the final product from real people and not just pictures we post from fancy food photographers. It creates a much more authentic feel.

I think keeping our brand personal has really helped us continue growing. We send a hand-signed thank you card in every single order. I design the cards myself and they change monthly. The whole family helps out and our customers especially love the ones from the kids.

how-christine-moore-started-a-healthy-cake-treat-product

We are very involved in our social media channels and answer all of our DMs and comment back on all of our posts. Our people feel a connection to us that is different than other brands. We show them behind the scenes, talk about our struggles and challenges, and put everything out in the open. We create trust through this vulnerability.

As we continue to grow, we look for other ways to get our products in the hands of new customers. This year we had a booth at one of the largest fitness expos in the country. In 2019, Amazon is dedicating a launch team to help us launch on their platform.

We were hand-picked by Amazon to receive these free resources to guarantee success. One thing that has helped us keep control of our pricing is that we are the only online retailer.

We do very little wholesaling and maintain 99% of our business through direct e-commerce. Amazon will be something entirely new to our brand, but we are ready to tackle it.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today we are thriving. We continue to grow at a rapid pace of doubling sales each year. Our margins have been shrinking due to the ability to obtain supplies at much higher volumes. We’ve learned how to import products from other countries to offer new branded merchandise for our customers.

We’ve been very fortunate to have a brand that has grown organically through mostly word of mouth and social media. We have hardly spent any money on marketing and advertising. Our website conversion rate is above average at 7%. We have grown our email list to about 30,000 subscribers and have a great email marketing team. This has been the only area that we have spent money on for marketing.

Our big plans for 2019 are to launch and all natural vegan product. This will also be completely allergy friendly for those who are highly sensitive. We also launched frosting this year and it has been selling out within 24 hours of restocking it.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Mistakes are where growth happens. When things are going well it is easy to get complacent. Snags create innovation and there is strength in the struggle. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to trademark your brand from the beginning. Protect yourself from getting seize and detest letters and being shut down completely. Rebrands are very costly, and we definitely learned this the hard way. Now we trademark anything new we create.

Businesses are built on relationships. By creating strong relationships with our suppliers we are able to negotiate better and make things happen faster. Don’t jump from supplier to supplier to save a few pennies. Seek partnerships that will allow you to outsource your weaknesses enabling you to prioritize the things you enjoy.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Shopify to host our e-commerce store. Shopify is like a well-oiled machine full of bells and whistles to cover any need.

The apps that they offer can do anything and everything from subscription services, wholesale account set up, affiliate marketing, upsell, push notifications, reviews etc.

We have an email marketing team through Mute Six who put together email campaigns, automation, and sign up sheets.

We have focused a lot on email marketing this year since it doesn’t rely heavily on social media algorithms that are forever changing.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I am horrible at reading, listening to podcasts, or anything that takes up a lot of time haha. I do enjoy listening to Gary V but the biggest resource I have is networking with other e-commerce entrepreneurs.

My suggestion is to attend some local entrepreneur networking events. Also, reach out to companies with similar audiences through social media and set up a phone call to discuss goals and roadblocks. I was incredibly shocked at how friendly and helpful the entrepreneur space is.

Everytime I get on the phone with another business owner, we both walk away loaded with value from the conversation as well as inspiration to keep evolving. No matter how big or small you are, there is something to learn from everyone.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

There is no perfect timing. Strike while the iron is hot and figure the rest out later. We started selling our cakes before we even knew how much the cost to produce was. I’m not implying that this is a good business strategy, but there is something to be said for jumping in with both feet and taking risks.

Be hands on. It’s hard to steer a ship when you have no idea how the engine works. When you’ve built everything from the ground up, you have a better understanding of the business as a whole.

Engage with your customers. We have weathered so many storms gracefully just because we have relationships with the people buying our products. Send them thank you notes, make conversation on social media, and always go the extra mile to make them feel special. Because of social media, consumers now expect a much more personal experience when they buy your products.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are working on hiring a customer service representative.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Christine Moore,   Founder of Lil Buff Protein

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