Experts say the food industry has changed. Consumers are looking for practical products over pricey luxuries and stores will be replaced by online retail. But Asher Budwig, operations director of Lola’s, is bucking the trend with his cupcake business. The former Immanuel College student, who took over the upmarket bakery days after his 23rd birthday in December 2011, decided to divert online sales towards retail stores.
The brand is now to be seen in sophisticated locations across south-east England — in its own stores, in stores within stores and on two dedicated “carts”. Among places where Lola’s cupcakes are available are Mayfair, Brent Cross and in Selfridges and Harrods.
“There’s definitely room for growth in retail,” says Mr Budwig, who redesigned two and established two new stores in 2012. “When I got involved with Lola’s, there wasn’t enough space to show what we do. So we changed that and started themeing the counters — people enjoy the visual experience.”
A recent report by the Office for National Statistics showed that the food sector experienced close on a 10 per cent rise in online sales over a year So why focus on shops?
“Since opening new stores, we have seen a nicer proportion of our sales going through them. It’s not all about buying online — it’s also about the service that comes with our stores.”
Lola’s is best known for its bespoke range of cupcakes in 30 combination flavours priced between £1.35 and £3. Mr Budwig says the Selfridges branch has the highest customer footfall. But in our economic climate, isn’t the bite-size cupcake craze on its way out?
“I say no. Our sales keep on growing. People still want to enjoy nice things.”
The company’s latest figures — under Mr Budwig’s management — show trade has increased since last year by 40 per cent in Topshop, 20 per cent in Selfridges and 15 per cent in Mayfair.
There are no immediate plans to make Lola’s international. “I first want to grow the business in the south-east.” Mr Budwig recognises that Britain’s most affluent region offers a warped economic perspective on the UK market, but still believes “opportunities are there. We’ll go where people are prepared to pay that bit extra for a good, freshly baked and fun dessert. Last year, we opened a store and cart in Kent, where people had never heard of Lola’s before — and it’s growing each month.”
Mr Budwig’s responsibilities include marketing, staff management and even product development as he has taken on shifts at the central bakery in Brent.
“You don’t get into retail if you don’t put the hours in,” says Mr Budwig who has been known to work 19-hour days. “Even a weekend is a weekday in retail — it never stops.”
The 70-strong team of staff is integral, emphasises Mr Budwig, who wears the brand’s blue uniform, “so I can be part of the team, I don’t want to be that person prancing around in a colourful shirt,” he says. “I spend at least half my time managing people. Respect is really important to me so I lead by example.”
In the coming months, the company plans a new range of chocolate flavours and is opening two new sites and five carts.
Mr Budwig watched his father Mario, the managing director of Lola’s, found the Millie’s Cookies chain and become an authority in the industry. “I’ve always seen him in the food business and your surroundings do impact what you end up doing for sure.”
This is Asher Budwig’s second business, having already established a food stall in Camden Town while studying for his business management degree at Nottingham University.
“The only thing I really took from my degree was Excel — being entrepreneurial is something you have or you don’t have.” He has worked at Boost Juice Bars, Auntie Anne’s pretzels and mixed the occasional drink at the Spaniards Inn in Hampstead.