Building the Perfect Bath Bomb
A bath bomb is not soap—a fact that the Candy Cakes ladies explain to their customers on a daily basis. “There are no detergents, period,” says Pearson. Instead, a bath bomb is dissolved in bath water, fizzing and bubbling as it releases relaxing fragrances, moisturizing oils, and soothing salts. If a soap scrub-down is the entrée of bathing, bath bombs are the dessert.
In the case of Candy Cakes’ cupcakes—which are by far the business’ most popular product, making up 85% of sales—the fizzy bath bomb portion is the “cake” base, and the “icing” acts as a sugar scrub that softens the water. In production, both parts are finicky to work with.
“I think most people think you literally make a big pot of this stuff and whip it into the pans and bake it and then you just ice it and that’s about it,” says Pearson. “But it’s not that simple.” First of all, the ingredient proportions have to be just right or the materials won’t have the right consistency. And secondly, both the bomb and icing concoctions, once mixed, are very time sensitive. The bomb mixture is only workable for a few minutes before it starts to harden. One person pipes the “batter” into the individual cupcake liners, and a second person follows behind, flattening the surface of each cupcake to make it level for the future frosting. The bomb “cakes” are then racked to dry for 24-72 hours (foil liners take longer). Dried, they have the weight of plaster and the crystalline texture of powdered dishwasher detergent.
Next comes the icing. In the Candy Cakes operation, only Pearson and her daughter, Candace, have the requisite skills to pipe the icing onto the cakes. Working with the icing is also time sensitive, and it presents an added challenge of being vulnerable to heat and humidity. For this reason, icing is done in the morning, “because the temperature is perfect and the humidity hasn’t gotten in the doors.” Fans and a powerful air conditioning system help ensure that the icing won’t “flop.” “It’s like a freezer back there when I’m working,” says Pearson.
Once the icing is in place, additional adornments are added—from glitter and sprinkles, to more extravagant toppings like the vintage sterling diamante rings that crown the “Queen of the Tub” cupcakes. But the sprinkles aren’t just thrown on; each element is added carefully by hand to each individual cupcake. Kross says that she often sees Pearson holding a decorated cupcake up to eye-level, and turning it around in her hand, making sure that it looks great from all angles. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t go out the door—no exceptions. “Each cupcake is being created to perfection,” says Pearson adamantly. “My motto is that it’s not about getting the job done, it’s about getting the job done right. And if it’s not done right, it’s not going out.”
It’s this commitment to perfection and consistency to which Pearson and Kross attribute Candy Cakes’ success. “[Our wholesale clients] have taken the time to trust us with the product,” says Kross. “We want them to sell them, and we want to have a relationship with them. Even if it’s a minimum order from a florist, or it’s the Hilton, it’s got to be the same.”
A Recession-Proof Luxury
The obvious question for any business owner who launched a venture in 2007—especially one producing non-essential goods—is, “How did you make it through the recession?”
Pearson’s surprising response? “It didn’t affect us.”
“People will always find the money for a lovely gift for someone they care about,” explains Kross. And while they may not be able to spend a lot on gifts when times are tough, a splurge of $5 to $30 is often still possible. “Our price point is perfect for a feel-good gift,” adds Pearson.
This is added to the natural appeal of a product that combines two popular ways for women to unwind: sugar and soaking. It’s a sweet indulgence, without the calories. It’s both fun and deliciously forbidden. Kross says that many women who come into the store say things like: “My friend’s on a diet, but she loves cupcakes, and this is such a cool substitute.”
But women aren’t Candy Cakes’ only customers. Pearson and Kross say that men are some of their biggest fans, fascinated by the cleverness of the concept and attracted by their own love of sweets. In fact, during our visit to the store, we witnessed several men on the sidewalk pulling their wives over to the display window to point out the creative cakes. Pearson explains that if the men don’t take baths themselves, they like to buy the products as gifts for the women in their lives.
The positive response people have to Candy Cakes’ products is a reflection of the joy these women have put into their work. When asked if there’s anything she doesn’t enjoy about running her business, Pearson draws a blank. “This is my life,” she says. “It’s fun, I love it, and I love being here. That’s all I can say. I love to get my products done and get them out the door.” For Pearson, icing cupcakes is like going to her “happy place,” and she receives a lot of creative satisfaction from designing new limited edition products, which come out every three to four months.
For Kross’ part, the thing that gets her out of bed every day, excited about the work ahead, is the exhilarating feeling that anything could happen. “We can get an email out of the blue again that can take us to another level,” she says.
It sounds like those new levels are just around the corner. In May at the National Stationery Show in New York, Candy Cakes landed a contract with Urban Outfitters. They’re also in talks with a major television retailer and a major fragrance designer—deals that could dramatically increase their brand-name recognition on a national scale.
But regardless of what new deals might come to fruition, these ladies already feel successful. As Kross says, “We’ve been eating ramen on and off to keep the company going. But success is nothing financial. It’s just hearing people say [that the product] is gorgeous, or hearing from a store that they’ve flown out the door.”
Pearson couldn’t agree more. “Everyone loves to have money, I’m sure, because it makes life easier. But I don’t always put money and success together. Success is so much more,” she says. “Perfecting the product to such beauty, that’s total success to me.”