Cupcake fans across the country are now only a couple mouse clicks away from enough sweets to go into a three-day sugar coma.
The owners of Sarkara Sweets, twin sisters Stephanie Browning and Susan Stieglitz, 26, expanded their cupcake shop’s clientele when they began selling their cupcakes online through Etsy and Square in November. The websites allow small businesses to sell their wares outside of their local areas. In December, the sisters also began listing their cupcakes on Amazon.com.
The move is one they have wanted to make for a while, Stieglitz said. Even a couple years ago, they knew other companies were taking specialty orders and shipping cupcakes, cheesecake, and even ice cream across the states.
Sarkara Sweets, located at 201 SE 2nd Ave. # 110 in Gainesville, is a vegan bakery and offers specialties such as gluten-free and sugar-free cupcakes. The sisters wanted to be able to offer their products to customers who may not be close enough to visit their store.
The cupcakes are not certified gluten-free, but Stieglitz explained the bakery makes their own flour using gluten-free materials and usually bakes these cakes first to ensure the equipment is clean.
Stieglitz said things like health needs or lifestyle choices can affect their customers moving away from Gainesville, who may not be able to find similar shops or goods at their new homes.
“Sometimes we have customers that have never had cake in their life until they stumble upon us when they’re 30, 40 years old,” she said. “And if they were to move away, they may not be able to have cake except because we can deliver it, and we’re really happy about that.”
Though listing their cupcakes online has opened a new market for Stieglitz and Browning, shipping the cakes isn’t simple. It can be a complicated process involving freezing the cupcakes and shipping them in containers surrounded by dry ice.
It’s not easy to do as a small business, Browning said, and returns can be low, so many small businesses would not want to offer the service.
Stieglitz agreed, adding that due to the costs of materials and shipping, the store can actually lose money by selling online.
Due to the nature of online marketplaces, the company puts an average shipping cost for customers, but depending on the order size and destination, can lose money on outliers who fall outside that cost.
“We consider it almost advertising,” she said. “Because I don’t think we’ve actually made any money, we’ve probably lost it.”
Stieglitz and Browning have already heard from one customer on their Facebook page, who was frustrated with the estimated $47 shipping cost on six cupcakes to Tampa.
Dry ice can cost $1.75 per pound, without sales tax and shipping, and without more advanced technology, Stieglitz said an order to Tampa can take about 10-pounds of dry ice.
Despite these difficulties, Browning said she believes more small businesses will begin to sell their wares online, though the idea of buying food electronically is still fairly new.
Companies have been selling on Amazon for a while, but the idea of finding fresh, perishable foods on Amazon is still not everyone’s first idea, Browning said.
Kristina Proto, 22, a customer of Sarkara, said selling cupcakes online will help the business become more widely recognized.
Proto said she had heard of other companies making similar moves, but had not thought it was possible with cupcakes. She said it was good for brand recognition and a good option because people are constantly moving in and out of Gainesville.
With a new cupcake store, Gigi’s Cupcakes, opening on Archer Road, an expanded clientele might help keep the sisters ahead of their competition, though they don’t expect Gigi’s to dip too much into their business.
While they are always concerned about fighting for people’s stomach space, Stieglitz said it would be more of a concern if a shop like Sprinkles or another more well-known chain.
“We’re not that worried,” she said. “I think they’re going to get a lot of traffic from the interstate, and those are travelers, they’re not local. So we’re not even going to be fighting for the same business, I don’t think.”
While their cupcakes, which are also delivered locally through doorstepdelivery.com, have traveled as far away as California, they are currently only available in the continental United States. Stieglitz said that they are planning a test shipment to Hawaii, but anything farther away will require modifications to the shipping process.
“We’ve had a couple requests about shipping cupcakes to Afghanistan, but that one is a little more complicated and we are working on it.”