Blondery – a Cloud Kitchen That Went from Home Baking to a DTC Empire in a Week14 min read

Auzerais went from baking for friends to building a DTC bakery empire in a week. Yes, you read that right. This exponential growth has been documented by multiple publications. Currently, Blondery ships over 75,000 shipments per week nationwide. 

So how did this huge success happen, and how does Auzerais handle it all? We sat with her in a conversation to learn about her brand – Blondery

Can you tell us about yourself and how Blondery came into formation? Also, what’s your typical workday at Blondery?

I was a pastry chef, for about 10 years, I worked in some fine dining restaurants such as the French Laundry, and Busan bakery. And I started making the blondies and sending them back home to my friends and family. And I ended up opening up a website and selling over 500 orders within a two-week timeframe. I knew from that point on that I had something special.

Can you tell us how the transition happened? How did you make the decision that you have to start a website?

It didn’t start as a full-time business. It just started as something I did, just during the holidays. And no one I would say I guess no one but also everyone kind of pushed me to do this. But I could say the most pivotal moment was when I was a personal assistant. And I had made some blondies for my client; he took them to his office and he came back I think the next day and was like, everyone loves the blondies. Do you mean? Like, let me see your Instagram, and I was showing him what I had done on Instagram. He’s like, I think if you focus more on your photography and your marketing, I think you’ll have a valid business soon. So that’s exactly what I did, like my first photo shoot, I paid like $300 for it. 

Since you have mentioned building your brand on Instagram, do you have any tips for brands looking to grow a following on Instagram, especially cloud kitchens, and people who are in D2C and food business together?

I don’t necessarily have a strategy. I post whenever I feel like coasting and it’s probably not a great thing but my audience that’s continuing to grow. Maybe I’m doing something right. And I guess, in the beginning, my goal was to stand out and be as authentic to myself as possible. A lot of bakeries are typically marketed to very pink or blue or very, like, feminine colors. And I went the opposite route and took the darker, mysterious approach to my marketing, which I think helped us stand out a lot when Instagram got started because I started my page in 2018.

You just mentioned your business grew exponentially within a week, and you had a lot of orders once you opened your website. So how did you handle the exponential scaling up?

It was definitely overwhelming at the time, I had roommates, and I was baking from home. So they were not happy with how much I was baking in our kitchen. But eventually, you bribe them with some treats to make them okay with the arrangement. And I would say, there’s never really a right way to do it. I maxed out a few credit cards and got some really nice packaging made. And you know, it’s a constant evolution scaling up, it’s, I would say, I’m still technically scaling up now.

And that leads us to the next question, how is it working as a single person out of your home from the comfort of your house, to scale up to be a team? How do operations work right now since you’re shipping nationwide a perishable good?

I did, I went from working in my home to renting kitchen space by the hour to renting kitchen space by the month. And now I just signed a 10-year lease for a space of my own. So I’ve done all the shared kitchens up until today.

That's a really nice way to scale up. Can you share some of the biggest challenges you face in your business? And how do you make sure you give great customer experience for your customers, people who buy from you?

The biggest challenge has been kitchen space for us. And finding something that was affordable, yet flexible. That we could actually grow in, unfortunately, late last year, we noticed that we needed to move out within eight days. 

Because of the Hurricane Ida flooded a facility. For the past year or so we’ve been in like a whirlwind of kitchen stuff. Like, we’ve moved way too many times — that has been like one of the biggest struggles, but also, I think, on the other side of all of that is managing our customers’ expectations around what like how this process works, it is a perishable good. And I think like because people are used to Amazon or just like E-commerce in general. 

They’re either expecting it to take like be a very short window of time before they receive their product or they may be expecting a longer period, but they’re concerned about if the product will be stale, stale by the time they get it. They start thinking like, if I order on Monday, and it doesn’t ship until Friday, that means that the product has been sitting in our facility since Monday and that’s not true. Like when we get your order on Monday, we’re probably baking it On Wednesday, and then we’re shipping it on Friday. So yeah, it’s just like managing our client’s expectations. 

And that’s actually why we got involved with because since ours is a perishable product, people are very anxious about it and they think something horrible will happen to it if they know stays in transit for a little longer than it has to, but constantly reassuring them like, at the end of the day, we’re just making brownies, right. So there are very few things that can go wrong with a brownie. It’s not ice cream, it’s not a cake like It’s not pie, it’s a brownie. Even though we package it differently, and call it something else. 

I think people are still very anxious about getting food in the mail and they’re scared, they’re nervous, they’re excited. So just managing the fulfillment and shipping process so that the customer knows what’s going on has been the biggest thing. It’s like one of our biggest customer service inquiries. It is like when will my order ship? How long does it take? Well, how long will it be fresh by the time it gets there? What if it gets delayed in traffic? Like it’s just so many things that people are concerned about? When it comes to like perishable products

Did you take any measures to personalize your relationship with your customers to suit your business model?

When a customer places an order, they receive an order confirmation email, which does detail all the things we kind of try to reinforce throughout their entire customer journey and that we’re making your product fresh, we’re going to ship it Monday through Thursday, it takes two to one day to ship we’re constantly saying that in all of our communications. 

So then we also have when the order is shipped, they get an email and it says all those similar things differently. And then we have when it’s out for delivery when it’s been delivered, we have your orders delayed in transit. With now, no order was canceled or voided because of something that happened with FedEx. We try to keep in constant communication with our clients. I think the next step is we want to add an email that, if we’re taking more than maybe two days to ship their product, we want to have an email that goes out that says, hey, we haven’t forgotten about you. 

We’re still baking your order, you’ll get a confirmation or shipping confirmation when it does ship just letting you know that we’re we haven’t forgotten. Because they’re just so anxious. It’s so funny. So we’re just trying to make sure that we stay on top of it and let them know what’s going on.

You said that there is resistance for new people who are ordering online first, edibles. Do you employ any strategies or marketing tactics that inhibit this resistance? Like the order status notifications are for people who have already done business with you? How do you cover new customers? Like, take away the resistance from them?

We have verified reviews on our website. So they can click through each product and see other people’s experiences. I don’t delete anything or add anything. Those are all real reviews. And then we also have on every product page, we tell them like we ship orders Monday through Friday. So it’s literally the same message they get from the time they’re prospecting to the time that they have gotten their delivery. They’re getting the same kind of information all around and we’re hoping that it just kind of sticks and implants into their brain. And then we also have a live chat function on our website. so that if they are having any issues or any questions about a product, they can just chat with us right away. 

And we’ve also been featured in support. We’ve been featured in publications, and you have a lot of influencers post our content. So we also do a lot of unboxing on our social media. So they can see how the product arrives. see how big or small it is? etc. 

You've done an amazing job when it comes to PR for Blondery. So how did you get featured in such big organizations in such a short span?

Unfortunately, I can’t take any credit for that. That was all organic. They would usually find and would email me and say, “hey, we want to feature you”. And I’m giving them information. And then they would write about us. Right now, though, this year. I’m starting this July. That’s, yeah, it’s great. It was all organic PR. Until, like, just recently, we won a scholarship with a PR agency called Nike communications. And they’re gonna be working with us this fall. PR wise. So that’s it.

What about the influencers Who post on behalf of your brand? Are they organic, too?

Yeah, some of them are organic. We did do a few influencer campaigns with YouTubers, Instagram personalities, and TikTok personalities. But it’s never been like we’re dedicating X amount of dollars to this influencer campaign. It was just like, I liked their content. I feel like it resonates. I like what they’re talking about, I think we have similar audiences, and I think they would enjoy our products. Let’s see if they’ll take some bodies. You know, that’s how most of our campaigns go. And it hasn’t, I would say maybe at the most, it’s been like 80 people, maybe maybe not even that though.

We try to focus more on the product and provide a really yummy experience. Rather than blowing up money on marketing since I am bootstrapping my business. It’s just very scrappy still.

And most of the heavy lifting of your business happens in the post-purchase phase, that is post checkout, how do you ensure it is a good experience for your customers?

Communicating throughout the process is going to be the biggest thing, I believe, when I think about me purchasing something from Bloomingdales or Macy’s, it’s about setting that expectation upfront for when they will receive their order. When will it ship so we try to again over-communicate in that sense of when the order will ship and how soon will they get it? We are literally everywhere on our website, and in our email marketing, it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere.

Since you've been a sous chef before this, and now you're a baker, how do both fields differ for you and where do you feel comfortable being a full-time Baker?

Initially, I wasn’t comfortable being a full-time Baker when I was working for someone else. Right now, I enjoy being an entrepreneur. I think that it’s my life’s calling. And I enjoy being able to build things from scratch and kind of curate the team that I want to work with If and yeah, I, from being it’s two very different worlds. But at the end of the day, I think even in kitchens, there was a lot of teamwork that had to happen when I was at Wu Shan or French Laundry, there’s a lot of teamwork. So those are some of the values that I’ve taken into being a boss, you know, to someone else or a team leader to you know, my two employees. 

Since you're shipping edible goods nationwide, do you use any industrial freezer service at your avails such as subscriptions or such services for your goods?

Now, we are doing everything in-house, so we make a store and ship the product? Yes, we have like three different freezers. And two, we have three freezers, and two fridges, but they’re not huge. As I said, we just signed a 10-year lease for our new production space. So we will be building a walk-in freezer and fridge into that space, I believe, within the next few years. But yeah, we’re super scrappy. So we make do with what we have. And I really love going to the auctions here in New York City and finding any equipment because you can find some really good stuff for relatively well.

What's the single most important advice or thing you wish you knew before starting a DTC cloud kitchen?

I would say, definitely get your product in front of your potential customers as soon as possible, whether that be at a farmers market, flea market, or somewhere where they can touch it and feel it first, before trying to ship it. selling food online comes at a disadvantage. Because all they can do is, they can’t see it, they can’t touch it. Um, it comes at a disadvantage. So you have to do a lot on the back end to understand what your customer is looking for and what they’re attracted to. 

So at farmer’s markets, I used to write down any questions that I got about my products. Whether that is people asking me how much it cost? Is it gluten-free? Is it vegan? Is it dairy free? Is this vegetarian? Does this have any nuts questions like that? I would write down and then put tally marks next to how many times people would ask me the question. And based on that, that’s how I did like to improve on my marketing or improve on my signage, things of that sort. And you can’t do that online.

What do your operations look like during the holiday season?

I mean, anywhere in the holiday season, we can be doing around 75,000. Especially during these last two months of the year, and then we only have two people working for us right now. But we’re looking to expand our team. We bring in seasonal people to help us with packaging and things of that sort. So at any time, there can be maybe six or seven people working in the kitchen.

Okay, and since you're into doing treats for people, and the holiday season is approaching, do you have any special strategies you have in place to handle the orders that are going to come?

We’re trying to put in as much automation in places as possible email or alert-wise. So onboarding with before the holiday season is probably going to be very essential, as keeping our customers updated because UPS and FedEx are bound to lose, you know when you’re shipping hundreds of 1000s of packages, one is bound to go missing. So, again, just making sure our customer knows that we care and that we’re on it and we’re on top of it.

We’re tracking the orders because I used to track the orders manually by myself, where I would go into ShipStation, and check and see if every order was delivered. And if it wasn’t, I would call the customer or email the customer and say, Hey, I see that your orders are late. So basically just kind of automating that process, because I can’t do that down, there’s no way I will be able to call all my customers and ask them about their order.

So I think makes a great companion for us this holiday season. And then obviously, we bought a lot of packaging. So a lot of packaging, a lot of social media campaigns, and getting email setup for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and things of that sort. That’s what we’re working on.

So again, on behalf of all our readers, and me personally, it was an absolute pleasure to talk to an owner and a business that is very tuned in to the community of customers, and also offering a product that not only meets quality requirements but actually stands for something right. It was a pleasure to talk to you in that regard.

Hemalatha Sekar

Product Marketer in a quest of sophophilic-ism