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Johnny Cupcakes founder, Johnny Earle, poses with UMass Boston business students.
December 22, 2017

Johnny Cupcakes founder teaches UMass Boston business students how to build a brand


  • Boston
Johnny Earle talks need for good design, fun

Johnny Earle, the founder of the Massachusetts T-shirt brand Johnny Cupcakes, may not actually sell cupcakes, but he knows how to sell products. Since he was a kid growing up in Hull, he has sold everything from lemonade to whoopee cushions to T-shirts advertising movies that don’t exist, packaged in containers that look like VHS cassettes.

“My concept is strange, but strange is good,” Earle told UMass Boston students Wednesday, on the last day of fall semester classes.

UMass Boston’s chapter of Delta Sigma Pi, a co-ed professional fraternity that fosters the study of business in universities through forums, networking events, and community service projects, sponsored the event.

During Wednesday’s event, Earle talked about how he aims to create memories around merchandise. That’s why when you walk into the Johnny Cupcakes flagship store on Newbury Street you get your T-shirt from a refrigerator, you check out on a stovetop that flickers, and you take your T-shirt home in a bakery box. All this while enjoying the smells of a bakery. (The trick: vanilla-scented car fresheners.)

He has also sold breakfast-themed T-shirts solely during breakfast hours and did a zombie-themed event using a coffin he found online. His recommendation for those starting a business: do events. Oh, and have fun.

“The more fun you can have with your brand, the more interest people will take in what you do,” Earle said. “Good design and humor are inviting. It makes people curious. Have fun. It is contagious.”

The 35-year-old Earle told the future entrepreneurs in the audience that when they come up with an idea, they should come up with at least 12 things that make them unique. He also recommends setting yourself apart with business cards that use non-traditional materials (wood, clear plastic), getting a mascot (to give your brand personality), and good packaging. It’s everything.

“Good packaging does not get thrown away. It takes more time and money but it adds to the experience,” Earle said.

Earle admits he has made mistakes along the way. He wishes a licensing deal for Simpsons merchandise had been longer because with the limited run, he wasn’t able to reach Simpsons fans that weren’t already Johnny Cupcakes clients.

“Every day something bad happens and you really just have to smile and roll with the punches,” Earle said.

For a guy who sometimes sells T-shirts out of what looks like a Good Humor ice cream truck, maintaining a good sense of humor is a key to success – and personal happiness.

“Do more of what makes you happy. Oftentimes we lose focus on what why we do what we do.”