How to Build a Spectacular Brand: Interview with Donut Monster

Friday, April 06, 2018

Reuben Vanderkwaak, founder of Donut Monster, is one of our absolute favourites when it comes to building an amazing brand. Lucky for us, he was happy to share some of his expertise. His brand strategy blew us out of the water! Our main takeaway from chatting with Reuben? Don't just add a little branding - embrace it. Go in with gusto. You'll love the results.


Half dozen Donuts from Donut Monster

Why did you decide to launch as a wholesale business prior to launching a retail location?

It was a personal choice. I wanted to start with something that was lower cost and didn’t require as much of a time commitment. The plan was essentially to have a “monetized hobby” kind of business. It was a way of starting out small, so I didn’t have to staff a store, have specific hours, and so on. It was also great because I wasn’t just relying on geographic location. I could get into markets in different areas of the city, and find small pockets that already existed, had already developed. Sending out doughnuts to different established locations was sort of like opening multiple locations at once, but on a micro level! 


What was the most surprising difference about moving from wholesale to retail?

It was really the volume of product that was different. Having a dedicated retail environment where people are coming just to get the product you’re selling is much different from having multiple locations where you’re trying to appeal to a customer who’s really there for a different reason. With wholesale, you want customers to walk into a grocery store for a carton of eggs or a coffee shop for a latte, and then end up buying a donut as well. Moving to retail, there’s way more control and flexibility from having your own store! There’s also a difference in connection with the customer in retail. At our store, the staff is serving our customers directly. It’s a lot of fun because we get to see the direct reaction of the end customer. Having our own store, we can put out whatever flavours we want and be a little more fun, creative, and spontaneous.

 Justin Trudeau at Donut Monster Hamilton


What do you attribute Donut Monster’s success to?

There were a lot of different elements. How we’ve come to where we are now, part of it was being in Hamilton at the right time and the right place. The product wasn’t really in the market yet there, so our donuts were really something unique for people! Another really big thing was the way that things were marketed. Because it was available wholesale and not at a physical location, our donuts ended up being an exclusive product that wasn’t available in many places, or every day of the week. There was a lot of strength in sort of playing “hard to get” like that. This also really worked on social media as far as building a following, because people felt like they were getting in on a secret by knowing where and when our donuts were available. 


What impact did branded packaging have when you launched wholesale?

One of the things I struggled with as a wholesale business was extending the branding from the point of sale to the customer. A donut is a fresh product that can come on a napkin or a paper plate, so customers wouldn’t really know where it comes from. That’s why it was really important to extend my brand into that point of sale environment. Essentially, branded packaging was an inexpensive way to market myself through the end customer. For a while I had plain kraft boxes that I stamped with a logo, but it didn’t have much of a punch to it- there was nothing special or unique about it. So I saw a lot of change when I started using the branded boxes with how often people would take photos with them or talk about them. I didn’t have a store yet, but people could still have packaging that had my brand on it. I was very specific about what I was looking for in the design of my boxes. I wanted something very different, that played off of the aspect of the Donut Monster brand that had this exclusive, hard to get feel to it.

 Donut Monster branded packaging by Georgette


How important is branded packaging to your business now?

It’s astronomically more important now! I still sell wholesale, so I’m still selling to all the same clients. Plus, the volume of boxes that we’re using now is so much bigger, and again those boxes serve as a way for people to take the brand with them as they leave the store. Now, with so many boxes out there, it’s really cool because I can be out in Hamilton and I see people walking down the street with my donut boxes. People still see these boxes and the unique design and they’re like “what is that box, what’s in it, where did it come from?”


Why did you choose to work with us?

You guys position yourselves as working with smaller bakeries, so it felt like a good fit. I found the service to be really good. Sarah’s really on top of things, could always answer questions quickly, and really worked to get things going. I found the website really user friendly as far as getting an idea on how much this stuff would cost. You often try to price stuff out, and sometimes want to just do it online instead of talking on the phone and giving a bunch of details. So being able to go online and see “oh hey, this might be the unit cost if I order this many,” that was super helpful in directing my choice to even contact Georgette Packaging.


Donut from Donut Monster 

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone launching a donut business?

Make sure that your product is unique to you! One of the great things about the gourmet donut trend is how everybody’s dough is different, and everybody’s particular flavours that they end up with are different. I love going to a city with multiple gourmet shops and getting a few donuts from a few different places. They’re wildly different, but they’re all donuts! I love when I see a new shop that does it their own way, and doesn’t try to duplicate what another shop is doing.


Are you more of a numbers person? 

We crunched the numbers for Instagram engagement before and after Donut Monster got customized branded packaging. The results?

- A 172% increase in the number of photos with branding visible after launching branded packaging.
- A total of 223 customer posts of branded boxes and cups since the beginning of 2018. That's an average of 64 customer posts per month (sort of like 2 free ads a day).
- 20% of posts under the location tag "Donut Monster" have visible branding.
- A 175% increase in the number of likes on photos of packaging, and a 33% increase in comments.

Have more questions about building an amazing brand? Give us a shout!