Bakers Journal

Features Profiles
Cupcake Girls take TV by storm


November 11, 2010
By Tuija Seipell

Topics

Becoming reality-TV celebrities wasn’t exactly in the plan when long-time friends Heather White and Lori Joyce opened their first bakery. However, eight-and-a-half years after launching Cupcakes by Heather and Lori in Vancouver, the stars of W Network’s The Cupcake Girls couldn’t be happier with their twist of fate.

Becoming reality-TV celebrities wasn’t exactly in the plan when long-time friends Heather White and Lori Joyce opened their first bakery. However, eight-and-a-half years after launching Cupcakes by Heather and Lori in Vancouver, the stars of W Network’s The Cupcake Girls couldn’t be happier with their twist of fate.

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Witty banter has helped make the duo of Lori Joyce and Heather White a TV success. (Photography by Corus Entertainment)


 

The show not only fits the personalities of the two owners, it also fits the character of the brand. Plus, it’s been a huge business booster. The company’s Facebook fan count has increased to more than 7,300 since the show first aired.

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The push to start a cupcake business originally came from White. She had to work hard to convince Joyce — and re-convince herself in the process— that the company would work, despite their inexperience. The idea was to create a visually enticing and whimsical shop that is a theatrical showcase for the senses, with fresh treats baked daily. The shop celebrates people’s everyday joys and special occasions with a variety of cupcakes, most of which have their own name, character and story. The novel concept drew in customers who were eager for something new in Vancouver. The media caught on immediately, keeping the momentum up and building a substantial buzz around the business.

Today, The Cupcake Girls have two corporate and four franchised stores in the Metro Vancouver area. Their first Vancouver Island shop (also a franchise) will open this December in the island’s largest shopping centre, the new Uptown. Uptown is located in Saanich, near Victoria, the original hometown of both Joyce and White. Expansion into Alberta and Ontario is also in the cards as soon as they find suitable franchisees.

Seven years after the first store opened, it was Joyce’s turn to be the pusher of an idea that has catapulted the business and its owners to success. Their 13-episode season of The Cupcake Girls premiered on the W Network on April 9, and pre-production of the first episode of season two started in September. The second season will premiere in April 2011.

In the meantime, first season reruns keep playing. The show has also been licensed in the United States where it is now airing on the WEtv network.

John Ritchie, executive producer of Force Four Entertainment, who produces the show, says he is extremely happy with response to the concept.

“The ratings for The Cupcake Girls have been very strong on both W Network in Canada and now on WEtv in the United States, and the series is selling well and airing around the world,” he says. “Viewers obviously love following Lori and Heather’s business and personal adventures, and we’re very excited to be renewed for a second season.”

The producers first learned about White and Joyce through an episode of the W Network’s popular series, The Shopping Bags, where the Cupcakes store and its owners’ palates were used to test cake mixes. The producers were looking for entrepreneurs to bring more business content to the W Network and they asked Joyce and White to pitch a show. After six months of debate, they shot a demo that the network loved immediately. They liked the character mix — Joyce, White, White’s parents, the other staff — and the variety of issues the pair had to deal with.

“It took me six months to be sold on the idea of our own TV show,” says White. “I thought it was going to hurt the brand and that it could come across quite negatively. But people have always been interested in our story. We’ve done a lot of buzz media. So all that warmed us up to the idea.”

Joyce adds: “We are at the beginning of national expansion, so we wanted the show to project our brand. Obviously, it is entertainment so there are dramatizations and controversial issues. You have to make it interesting and you have to have a sense of humour. This is not dead serious. We are baking cupcakes!”

White explains that in every show, they deal with an issue and by the end of the episode, they always have a solution.

“In business, you get thrown a different curveball every day,” says Joyce. “Putting that on national television exposes you to a lot of controversy and feedback. People think our job is just fun. We open this pink, pastel bakery and it must be so easy just baking and frosting cupcakes all day. The reality is, of course, totally different. We have opened a business and a new concept from scratch in a very tough market. So, what we also wanted to do is open people’s eyes to the reality of it; to get them to understand what it takes to run a business. This is our reality. This is what we are up against, and no, it’s not all fun. We have taken a lot of criticism for the show, but the overall reaction has been extremely positive.”

Fan love has produced some surprises, too.

“People now come into the Broadway store [one of the two corporate stores and the head office] right from the airport and they say, ‘We are not leaving until we see Heather or Lori and get an autograph,’” says Joyce. “Our fans are aggressive. They know what they want and they tell us what they think!”

“There are times when I walk out of the store and girls will start screaming. I always think something has happened until I realize it’s me they recognize and were waiting for. They’ll scream, ‘Oh wow, look, she’s here!’ It’s really weird,” says White.

Joyce had a recent celebrity experience with relatives. “Just by watching the shows, my distant cousin’s pre-teen daughters from Windsor, Ontario, knew everything about me and Heather even though they had never met us,” she says. “When we did meet, they asked if I had bodyguards! They thought I was that big a star!”

Adding a TV show to their growing to-do list hasn’t scared White and Joyce. Each 22-minute episode takes a week and a half to shoot. Then there are the writing sessions, re-takes, voiceovers and media work that come with having their own show. When asked how they do it, both pick up their BlackBerrys and say in unison: “With this!”

They have learned to manage their time extremely effectively, and both say they go to bed at night knowing they’ve done what they need to do to keep building their cupcake empire.


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