One Man’s Vision

Global Sugar Art has no traditional storefront and few people in Plattsburgh are aware of the huge cake decorating company located in a 20,000 square foot building in The Development Corporation property on Route 3.

That’s because Global Sugar Art’s presence is on the internet and other digital mediums. Nor are local people aware that its CEO, Alan Tetreault, is a celebrity chef who travels the world finding new products and judging sugar and cake art at con- ventions and competitions. The largest is probably Cake International in Birmingham, England with some 25,000 people attending annually. Other huge shows are Cake International in London and the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show in Tulsa. The advent of YouTube, the Food Network, TLC, and other lifestyle channels have popularized the world of incredible cake decorating and companies like Global Sugar Art are making it possible. Tetreault’s YouTube videos alone have had over 15 million views.

In the Beginning
When Alan Tetreault opened the first Global Sugar Art business in 2002 he said he knew he was on the cusp of something big, “I knew I was jumping in on the ground floor.” The reason Tetreault could see it coming was because he had grown up decorating cakes. At age 14, he took the Wilton master decorator course. At age 15, the basement of his family’s home in Rouses Point was converted to a bakery for him. By the end of high school, he was baking every day after school and on week- ends. In 1979, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and then opened Alan’s Bake Shop in Skyway Plaza in the mid-eighties. When Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, Tetreault went back to school for another love – music, earned a Bachelor’s degree, and taught music until the continual cuts endemic to the teaching profession caught up with him. He then decided to check out an international cake convention to see what was happening just at the time that fondant was rolling onto the scene and transforming the way cakes were decorated.

The reason rolled fondant icing hit the market big and replaced butter cream icing as a decorating staple is its pliability. It keeps for almost a year, comes in pails in a variety of flavors and colors and rolls out like pie dough. Tetreault described the reason for the racks of fondant pails in his warehouse, “Fondant is a huge seller. It is so popular because it is easy to work with. Even as a beginner, you can make great looking cakes.” It took no time for Tetreault to line up vendors and become an online distributor and since he had already been making cakes for thirty years he knew the shortfalls and difficulties inside out.

Building the Team
Today Global Sugar Art sells about 10,000 products online and spends nothing on marketing in traditional print and trade. Looking back, Tetreault said, “Eight years ago the internet was small and word of mouth was enough, but now it is far more competitive.” To maintain his position as the largest seller of cake decorating products, Tetreault has created an international marketing team that uses every available online vehicle that will give them a return on investment. Sheila Rodier, the administrative assistant who keeps everyone else on track, has a background in marketing from Estee Lauder; Professor Bridget Haina from SUNY Plattsburgh is the multimedia guru, and Julie Canepa has just returned to the company as the digital marketing manager.

The goal of the team is to have each marketing tool: educate, entertain or inspire clients enough to shop and buy. For example, they have a large Facebook presence that allows them to communicate and share ideas with clients. The day I checked it I found a useful discussion and recipes for butter cream icing. Then there is Pinterest which leads prospective clients to their website, but also provides the marketing team with a platform for eye candy that shows off the beautiful results of Global Sugar Art products from elegant wedding cakes to whimsical nautical cakes with mermaids and seashells. This month the company plans to launch a new campaign that will utilize better Instagram’s sharing capabilities and give them even more feedback.

Their client base is incredibly diverse, from longtime professional bakers and chefs who order pails of fondant to mothers who order a bag of sprinkles in order to bake good looking cupcakes for their kids. According to Canepa, “The more we know about our customers, the better we can market to them.” She said another way they learn about their clients is from their orders and web searches. For example, a novice places one kind of order and the professional wedding cake baker another.

Refining the Message
The company is also learning what people are looking for from the online system of reviews and stars that lets them know if a cake or cookie project came out well, gave the baker a good experience, how it looked, etc. The team has just begun using a new service that collates and analyzes reviews allowing them to detect trends and drill down further into their shoppers’ tastes and idiosyncrasies.

At the time of SB’s interview, Haina was just wrapping up a new mobile friendly website that can be accessed on multiple platforms (phones, tablets, computers, etc.). As in most on-line companies, the site is a central element in its operations. All of Global Sugar Art’s products are neatly categorized into Chef Tetreault’s special line, new items, clearance items, cookie and candy possibilities, fondant and edibles, and on and on. The site is easy to navigate and highlights special new products such as lace mats and large gum paste flowers. After being mesmerized browsing edible damask mats, B-A-B-Y clothes- line, quirky dogs, and musical notes, I was able to go anywhere else on the site in a click or two.

Also on the site is an Education Center and Video Tutorials. I watched one of the fast and fabulous videos about the decorating of a luscious chocolate cake with poinsettias for Christmas. Below the last scene of the quick and catchy video, there was an area for questions and also a supply list that included everything I would need to make the gorgeous cake (which was very tempting). I also wanted to go on and watch the video for chocolate-covered oreos with transfer designs but then reminded myself that I had better finish this assignment.

The videos (and there are more than a hundred of them) can also be found with your browser as Alan Tetreault’s YouTube videos. They break down what is going on cake by cake and demonstrate useful techniques that can be used over and over again. From decorating tools to flower making and gum paste recipes, the viewer can either stick with the basics or learn new techniques that were once the province of baking professionals.

A new email tool that Tetreault and Canepa are both excited about allows them to tar- get and develop new customers, customers that have left them for a while, and maintain the interest of their regulars. Email newsletters offer articles and catchy spreads about intriguing new products, hard to find items on sale or lifestyle opportunities such as Father’s Day or the beach in summer. A Father’s Day project I wish I had known about featured adorable mustache cupcakes with the list of supplies I would need ready to order. With decorator mustaches, impression mats that resembled hair, and dream fondant ready to spread, I could make those adorable cupcakes myself.