I’m highlighting some of my favorite small businesses in the Twin Cities – it’s my way of lending a helping hand to our local economy during this surreal and challenging time. This week, I’m featuring my interview with Justin Bedford, the Co-founder and General Manager of Cardigan Donuts, located in downtown Minneapolis.
Yes, they’re open for business. And, every morning, the team at Cardigan sets out to “sweeten life for everyone” – it’s part of their mission. That’s something we could all use right now.
I hope this article inspires you to take them up on that offer. Grab some coffee and a box of Cardigan Donuts using carryout, curbside pickup, or delivery.
For more on why I’m doing these interviews, see my last article: How to Help in the Pandemic. And, stay tuned for more interviews in the coming weeks.
Here are 4 simple reasons why I absolutely love Cardigan Donuts.
REASON 1: THE (CARDIGAN) DONUTS
Well, come on. I’m only human. I promise the other 3 reasons are business related.
I’ll just come out and say it: you’ve got to try Cardigan’s Old Fashioned donut. It’s fabulous. I get mine with a double espresso over ice. It’s a great combination.
Cardigan Donuts is famous throughout the Minneapolis Skyway for it’s creative donut recipes. From classics, like the Blackeye Coffee donut and the Apple Fritter, to the inspired creations, like the Rainbow Road donut or the Strawberry Champagne donut, everything is thoughtfully crafted and sure to spark a little joy when you take that first bite.
But, it’s not just the donuts, which are incredible. It’s what the space and the brand provide. It’s the strategy of it all. Cardigan Donuts is a master-class in knowing your customer and putting them at the center of your business model.
Which brings us to the second reason why I love Cardigan Donuts.
REASON 2: PRODUCT-MARKET FIT
If you want to start a business, but aren’t quite sure what business to start, you’ll probably hear a common suggestion: start with what you know. (In fact, I recently hosted a workshop on that very topic.)
So, you might be thinking: Justin must have known donuts.
Here’s what Justin had to say about how Cardigan Donuts got started:
“People say do what you know. Well, we moved to downtown Minneapolis after college, and I know downtown. I know why people spend money in the Skyway. Even though the skyway is an expensive place to build a restaurant or to try a new concept, it’s literally the safest place for someone like me because I had been a creature of the skyway for 11 years [before starting Cardigan]. I had no experience owning a business or operating a retail business. That was completely new to me. But, what I had was experience with the setting of the Skyway and the largely corporate clientele that live and work there. So, what I brought to this was a very developed understanding of why people could use something like Cardigan Donuts in the Skyway – that’s what we built the business around. And, I think that’s why it’s been as effective as it has.”
Like any other retail center, shops and restaurants come and go in the Minneapolis Skyway – it’s not always an easy location to make work. But, the right product-market fit can transcend any perceived challenge.
Cardigan Donuts, in fact, just celebrated its third anniversary. That’s a huge accomplishment, due in part to achieving that product-market fit. Cardigan Donuts is the right brand for the right location for the right customer.
REASON 3: CUSTOMER FOCUS
Strategy is about intentional choices that interlock and fit together. Those choices need to answer pretty basic questions, for example:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- Who is it for?
- How will you differentiate in a crowded market?
- And, my personal favorite: what’s your reason to exist?
Here’s Justin again:
“Why do people go to a coffee shop in the skyway when they have free coffee in the office? Now, in the suburbs people sometimes go to get free wifi or for a place to do work, but everyone in the Skyway has a job and a desk and high speed internet. So, you’ve got free coffee, free connectivity, why do they go to a coffee shop? To take a break, to meet a friend, to do a job interview, to network, to make a sale, to get a different atmosphere. It’s not because they need the commodity of coffee or a donut. That insight really began to shape how we designed the various spaces we have within the store. We thought that if we got some of these things right for the customer, then – whether or not we really made great donuts and coffee – we would definitely have a lift from people needing a place other than their office to connect and gather.”
Again, the donuts and coffee are great, but they’re not at the center of the Cardigan Donuts strategy. Customers are. The donuts and coffee are just part of the experience.
As Justin said in our interview: “I chose to start working on those elements on day 1 and I’ve stayed focused on them ever since.”
REASON 4: INNER-WORK
A lot of advice you’ll see for aspiring entrepreneurs today is to “just start.” But, I believe there’s a big difference between “just start” and “start in the right direction.”
As it turns out, that was true for Justin too:
“I was never in a hurry to get started.” In fact, Justin shared: “I started the business plan as a hobby in 2011.” He would end up working on that plan for 5 years, off and on. “Friends along the way were saying: hurry up, make it happen, when are you going to open up that donut shop you’ve been talking about? I was only going to go if I was satisfied with my own analysis, and with my own gut feel.”
Critically, if, in your heart of hearts, you still have doubts, your actions might be short-lived. That’s true for any new endeavor. You’ve got to start with the inner-work before you ever start doing the outer-work. And, you don’t need to listen to people who might push you to make a move before you know you’re ready.
“People often say suspend your disbelief, go for it, leap off the cliff, but if I wasn’t able to discern that myself, then I would say no way – taking a leap is risky. …But if you’re thoroughly convinced, and you’ve trained for this, and you’ve done everything you can to prepare, then it’s actually not very risky. There’d be no risk in me opening up a donut shop today because I know how to do it. And, there was some risk when I opened up in 2017, but not as much risk when I started thinking about it in 2012.”
In short, do your homework. Inside and out. That’s where I can help, by the way.
ORDER FROM CARDIGAN DONUTS TODAY
Cardigan Donuts is open for business in downtown Minneapolis, check out their website for details on their carryout, curbside pickup, and delivery options. A big thank you to Justin for taking the time to talk with me over Zoom. And, thanks to the entire team at Cardigan for bringing joy and relief to me and my coworkers in the Skyway on countless occasions.
Stay tuned for more, right here on the 321 Liftoff blog.
Next week, I’ll share my interview with another small business in the Twin Cities – Jackie Walter, founder of the one-stop party shop, Sprinkles & Confetti.
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ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line. It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok. It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself. And, that’s why it’s worth it.