|Lady Gaga-designed black and white cookies|
An entrepreneur who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., Auerbach's friends and family were used to him brainstorming business ideas, most of which were nixed. In 2001, living in New York City and seeing the proliferation of niche restaurants and bakeries, he came up with the idea based on one of his favorite treats -- the concept of a bakery that sold customizable black and white cookies (the icing can be changed in color, design and flavor preferences). It seemed to get a lot of interest, he says. With all the positive reinforcement, Auerbach immediately realized no one had seized that name for a web page and registered Blackandwhitecookies.com in 2001. (He picked up blackandwhitecookie.com just this year, he says.) But Auerbach didn't do much else until 2005 when the company's legal name was filed.
"At the same time I knew the brand was still there. I continued to build brand value. It's the reason why we were able to convert this into a virtual operation," Auerbach says. Since he no longer had any physical resources -- and frankly no working capital -- he put all of his emphasis into branding and networking to keep the concept visible, particularly on social media websites Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn ( LNKD), and even through Pinterest. Auerbach says he uses "pre-defined" searches looking for relative tweets and trends and other people just speaking in general about black and white cookies. The efforts have been successful both on the consumer side and on the professional networking side. He now says there are "deep players" willing to take board positions. The company has been holding on by working with several cookie manufacturers to sell a product on QVC. (Auerbach says he is currently not making a profit.)
As the economy improves, Auerbach has a renewed sense of enthusiasm to sell his concept and is positioning the company for growth. He says he has gotten several unsolicited requests to franchise the business from all over the country and even as far away as Israel. Auerbach's ultimate vision is something similar to the business model behind Mrs. Fields: being able to bake the cookie in mass quantities at a facility, but then warm up and decorate them in the stores. He also hopes to sell the cookies in large chains like 7-Eleven and start franchising the idea as both a retail store and as non-traditional stores, such as food trucks and in theaters and arenas, like Barclays Center. He also wants to boost his catering effort. The company is about to relaunch its e-commerce website and will soon stop the outsourcing of production (which means he will once again regain control of the actual recipe used for the cookies) in order to move production completely to one facility in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a testament to how well his brand has done, Auerbach says this year was the second year he did the American Cancer Society's Taste of Hope, a food and beverage charity tasting event that features top New York restaurants and vendors. He says the cookies he brought were made from a different manufacturer than last year's cookies. "The feedback did not change one bit. The branding overrode it. No one noticed the change. No one even considered that it could be different," he says. "It was the brand that mattered more than the actual product." Catherine Kaputa, a brand expert and author of Breakthrough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea into a Big Brand, says the company's "strong visual identity" and "visual hook with the cookie itself" is a powerful advantage and memorable in customers' minds. "Having a strong visual look that is memorable is powerful for a brand like the 'swoosh' for Nike, the pink ribbon for Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, Christian Louboutin's red soles or Tiffany's blue box. So when you say the name Black and White Cookie, everyone sees the visual hook," she says. But Kaputa says the company really needs to appeal to emotional branding with a story. "Brands that become big brands wrap themselves in stories that connect emotionally with the target audience," she says. "What's the story behind how Black and White Cookies were created?"
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