Written by Stephanie Proft Wednesday, February 01 2012Snapshot: Andra Hall, Founder and CEO of CamiCakes
Andra Hall’s grandmother advised her that it’s best to do one thing really well, and for Hall that thing is cupcakes – chocolate peanut butter cream, pineapple toasted coconut and sweet potato, to name just a few.
After Hall’s 1-year-old daughter Camille required a series of medical procedures for a severe case of sleep apnea, she decided to launch her own business to give her the flexibility she needed to devote time to Camille. The first CamiCakes bakery – named for her daughter – was launched in Orange Park, Fla. in 2006, and Hall has since opened three other locations, one in Jacksonville, Fla. and two more in the Atlanta area.
Womenetics: What made you decide to go with cupcakes as a business venture?
Andra Hall: Well, I've been a lifelong baker, and I loved doing cakes, but I knew how much time it took to do just one wedding cake for one customer. I just didn't think that if I was going to do it as a business it would be a very profitable business. So, I did some research and looked at some larger cities and saw there was a market for cupcakes. I thought that would be the right business for me to take a stab at.
Womenetics: Can you tell me a little bit about your process of putting a business plan and team – like your accountant and lawyer – in place?
Hall: For me, the first thing I did was to create the plan. At the time I was working on the business plan I had actually taken a night job at a hotel working the graveyard shift – mostly because my daughter was ill, so it kept me home in the daytime with her. Then at night, I basically just needed to be awake at the hotel, so it gave me a lot of time to research on the Internet and work on my business plan.
They [the lawyer and accountant] came years later, to be honest with you. I did a lot of the work and a lot of the research myself in the beginning mostly because we just didn't have the resources, and I just didn't think we needed it up front. So, that came after we were able to sustain the business and make a profit. It was about a year or two after we initially opened the business.
Womenetics: How did you go about choosing your business team?
Hall: It was mostly through recommendations, but also when working with someone – for me – it's a lot about instinct. Do I connect with the person? Do we relate with one another? So that's how I've selected the people I work with.
Womenetics: I've read that you and your husband refinanced your home to initially fund your business. Why did you decide to take that route as opposed to getting a loan?
Hall: I looked into the SBA loans, and I hear a lot of people talk about them. But it didn't seem like it was going to work best for us, and we figured that the house was a sure thing. It was basically our last resort.
Womenetics: What was the most vulnerable time in your business, and how did you overcome it?
Hall: We've been very blessed. The day that we opened we sold out within a few hours our very first day.
I'd say the most vulnerable time was probably the day before we opened our store because honestly I did something that was untraditional. We were down to our last $500 in the bank and had one employee that I didn't know how I was going to pay, but luckily things worked out for us.
Part of [our initial success] was that I sent out a press release, and I tried to let every breathing media person in Jacksonville know about our business and our grand opening. We created some buzz within the city. The media coverage on our opening day helped us have a line of folks waiting for us to open. From that day, it's been a good business, and we've been able to parlay it year after year into opening another store.
Womenetics: CamiCakes has a unique aesthetic. Everything – the logo, boxes, website -- is very cohesive. How did you go about creating the look?
Hall: I thought it was important to tell a story from beginning to end. So when people walk in, we have the music playing. They can hear the music, smell the cakes, see the cakes and the packaging. I really didn't want to use a standard white bakery box. I really wanted it to continue to tell the story and blend in with our logo.
Womenetics: So you developed the CamiCakes logo yourself?
Hall: Yes. The logo was another one of the things I did while working at the hotel.
Womenetics: Do you have any advice for other women thinking about launching their own entrepreneurial endeavor?
Hall: The most important thing, I believe, is to believe in what you're doing and to be passionate about it because the passion is what's going to keep you going. Like sometimes you get tired or have naysayers telling you it won't work, but you just have to believe that you have something that will work.
And do the research. I feel like I did do my proper research. I did create a business plan. I was untraditional by not having the right financial resources in the very beginning, but I had enough to get me going. And that was good enough. You have to believe in yourself and follow your instincts.
Womenetics: You're the mastermind of all the CamiCakes cupcakes. How do you know when a recipe has been perfected?
Hall: We just listen to our customers. They let us know if they like something or if they dislike it. When we try new flavors, I just wait to get the feedback from the customers. I look for the things they say on Facebook and Twitter about the product, but we also do a lot of in-house tasting before we even launch a product. We try to get it right before it makes it to our case.
Womenetics: How do you come up with new flavors?
Hall: Most of our flavors are based on other desserts or other combinations that I enjoy or things that have been really popular. Our newest flavor is Key Lime, so of course that's inspired by the Key Lime pie. We're not reinventing the wheel – just borrowing pieces of it.
Womenetics: Most importantly, what's your favorite flavor?
Hall: It changes by the day, and it changes with the seasons. Right now, I'm really, really enjoying our salted caramel because I love pralines, and that flavor reminds of praline candy.
Stephanie Proft is the editorial assistant at Womenetics and a recent graduate of Georgia State University, majoring in print journalism and minoring in anthropology. She was born in Lichtenfels, Germany to a native mother and an American soldier. She has since lived happily in a variety of settings, including the Northwest and the Southeast. She is generally fascinated by culture, and the way it shapes our experiences.