From idea to startup: ‘Nothing Bundt’ success for this franchise newbie

Sue Gilbert’s first encounter with Nothing Bundt Cakes was in May 2013 while she was the interim director of nursing at a hospital in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

For employee-appreciation week, Gilbert was tasked with picking out a gift for her employees, and she vowed to find something better than the oh-so-predictable coffee mug.

She’d heard employees lavish praise on the nearby bakery’s moist Bundt cakes with cream-cheese frosting, and whenever people bought one as a treat, “nobody would ever share them with (anyone),” Gilbert said, laughing. They sold them in four different sizes – “Bundtinis” about the size of a cupcake sold by the dozen, “Bundtlets,” about the size of 1 1/2 cupcakes, as well as cakes in 8-inch and 10-inch sizes – and nine signature flavors.

“I fell in love with the brand,” Gilbert said, after purchasing hundreds for the employees. She started talking to the shop owner, who gushed over the franchise, corporate support and bustling Bundt cake business.

So Gilbert, 44, began considering what it would be like to run her own business, particularly one with a proven strategy. And when her husband, John, took a job as CEO of medical supply company Hartmann USA in Rock Hill, she saw an opportunity.

Seven weeks ago, the Gilberts opened the area’s first, and the company’s 98th, franchise. Since then, several other families have bought franchises in the Charlotte area, including one that opened March 14 in Marvin Town Centre in Waxhaw and another planned for the Myers Park area.

A strategic spot: After undergoing extensive training through the corporate arm of Nothing Bundt Cakes, which started in 1997 as a wildly popular bakery in Las Vegas, Gilbert worked with a commercial real estate agent to find a good location for the business. They decided on a small shop in Huntersville’s Birkdale Village visible from Sam Furr Road.

Two of the major selling points for that location were that a Chipotle was moving in next door – a great way to boost foot traffic – and the shop was located across a small parking lot from Total Wine and Barnes & Noble stores. Gilbert uses those landmarks on the bakery’s voicemail to describe the Lindholm Drive location.

Another boost to foot traffic came from the hundreds of Bundtinis they donated to other retailers, law firms, doctors’ offices and schools in the area. Many of those employees have returned for more. On weekdays, the shop averages 150 transactions, Gilbert said. On weekends, they do around 400.

Twist on an old theme: Some franchisees have a lot of discretion in how they run the business, while others have to follow more prescriptive guidelines. Nothing Bundt Cakes falls in the latter category and Gilbert likes it that way; it has taken much of the guesswork out of the business strategy, she says, starting with the motto – a shop that “combines the warmth of nostalgia with a fresh, modern approach.”

Every Nothing Bundt Cakes franchise has chic yellow walls, with blue and cream accents, and colorful merchandise for sale, such as Lego-shaped candles, houndstooth oven mitts and cake servers in the shape of high heels. It’s all designed to “give you a warm and fuzzy feeling,” while also debunking the concept many people have about Bundt cakes: that they’re a dessert made by and for grandparents.

A winning staff: Gilbert’s 19-year-old son, Bret, is the shop’s assistant manager, and her 20-year-old daughter, Allison, helped out on her spring break from college. (Their youngest daughter, Kylie, 11, will help out when she’s old enough, Gilbert says.) Gilbert found many of the other 15 employees through a Craigslist ad that generated 200 applicants. She weeded through them by automatically disqualifying anyone who didn’t put effort into their email inquiry.

“If all you say is, ‘I’m interested, call me,’ why would I?” Gilbert said. “We want a positive attitude that will pass off to customers and make the (right) kind of atmosphere.”