The Cupcake Rack was established in 2013.
Bring your Idea to Life...Sept. 28, 2017 written for Edison Nation Blog
This installment of the “How To…” series is a little bit different.
Instead of focusing on one specific area of bringing a product to life, we’ve tapped EN member, Elizabeth Crouch, to share her journey of bringing her idea to market starting at the very beginning.
Have you ever seen a cupcake bouquet? The first time I saw a cupcake bouquet, I thought to myself that there is absolutely no way I could ever create anything so beautiful!
I had no cake decorating skills, no patience and absolutely no time, just like most Americans. I wanted to invent an easy and affordable way for anyone, just like me, to be able to easily create a deliciously gorgeous cupcake bouquet.
The idea came about when my daughter, Chelsea, and I were planning a baby shower for my daughter, Shaanon. As a unique twist for the party, we were going to present a beautiful cupcake bouquet instead of a traditional cake. After pricing the bouquet, making one, DIY style, sounded like a better option. But then, after pricing the pieces to create a cupcake bouquet – Styrofoam ball, tissue paper, flower pot, toothpicks, etc. – and understanding that the end result may not end up as lovely as expected, a traditional cake seemed the most appropriate dessert for the shower.
There was no cupcake bouquet at our shower, however, an idea was born!
I always wanted to think of something that could possibly become a product that others would want to buy. Now I had an idea, and it was simple, should be easy to produce, and since it was only August, I figured I could have it on the shelf for the holidays! (Yes, I was the naive one!)
With great excitement, the search was on for an engineer to help design the idea that was pictured in my mind. I figured an engineer would know how to coordinate angles and produce a 3D printout. We met with a local engineer who was more than happy to help us. Unfortunately, after many tears and many dollars, with only a spaceship-looking 3D printout of what he called a cupcake holder, I was at my wit’s end and was not sure how to proceed. Thankfully, my brilliant husband agreed to help me figure out our final design, and our prototype was created. (Thank you Roy!)
The Cupcake Rack prototype
With limited knowledge of all the steps to create a product and bring it to life, watching “Shark Tank” brought about some education and a very important step; protection. As patenting is very serious business, I decided to hire professionals. After visiting and consulting with several Oregonian patent attorneys, www.LegalZoom.com ended up being the best choice to file our provisional and utility patent applications. They were affordable, much more so than the attorneys previously consulted, and could get the job done on a timely basis.
Every step of the product development process was new to me. I had no idea what I was doing, or what to do next. I decided to commit 30 minutes a day to my new project and began my research on Google. Soon, 30 minutes was just not enough time! I loved learning the steps of inventing and dreaming about what the future could potentially hold for my family and me with the success of an idea!
Sourcing & Shipping
Sourcing was the next priority on our agenda. Hoping to be a Made in the USA product, I searched high and low to find a manufacturer for my idea. Sadly, there was not a single person I could find in America willing or able to attempt to manufacture The Cupcake Rack. It was time to look overseas.
Recalling a previous conversation about international manufacturing, the website www.Alibaba.com came to mind as reputable for procuring a trustworthy manufacturer abroad.
Perusing the website and using the search filters to find manufacturers of items similar to mine, I came across several companies that looked like they could handle manufacturing The Cupcake Rack. It is customary on Alibaba to send an email requesting a quote or information from the manufacturer of interest. On the site, manufacturing companies are given star ratings by their customers and it shows how many years they have been in business with Alibaba.
After sending out a few emails and receiving responses in return, I decided to choose a company with a very good star rating that had several years in business, the KingKara Group. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by John Tu, my now beloved son in China!
I began emailing regularly with John Tu. His customer service skills were some of the best I had ever encountered. He was timely, concise, polite, approachable, kind and helpful. We provided him with pictures and details and shipped him our prototype. The quote he returned was low, and he assured us of excellent quality, as well as a timely turnaround for manufacturing The Cupcake Rack. We placed an order for a 20’ container filled with our future!
Remember, I was a newbie at product development, so many of the choices made were based on gut feeling and crossed fingers, hoping the people I was dealing were trustworthy.
Freight-forwarding was also a necessary step at this point. Searching the internet, one company stood out above the rest, www.UniversalCargo.com. Our contact, Angel, was helpful, knowledgeable and informative. He was able to set up the shipment of our container from our manufacturer in China all the way to my doorstep in Oregon.
Living in the country on a tiny bit of acreage, we had the space to keep our inventory on hand. The cost of freight-forwarding amazed me. The price was so low! Angel also took care of all the customs forms and documentation required for receiving international cargo into the US! That was one process I didn’t mind handing over to a pro! (Thank you Angel!)
Things were moving forward with The Cupcake Rack! I couldn’t believe that an idea that had only popped into my head a few months back, was now being manufactured in China. I was expecting to receive a container full within a couple of months! Sure it was a little longer than my original estimate of getting it on store shelves by Christmas, but the journey was so much fun, it was okay that it took a little longer!
An unexpected delay
We are now at the beginning of April, 2013. My grandson, Little Roy, was six months old, my granddaughter, Brooklyn, was a few days old and my container filled with a product that I conceived myself was being manufactured in China! Life was good!
That is, until April 5…
The phone call telling me that Little Roy was being life lifted to Dorenbecher Children’s Hospital came as a great shock! The guy that my daughter was dating said he fell off the couch…
After being told that Little Roy could not survive what turned out to be a brutal assault, we were given a miracle by God. Today, Little Roy is five years old and thriving. He learned how to walk last year and he is an angel from heaven, here on earth! He’s smart, funny, adorable, sweet and special.
When Little Roy was hurt, the manufacturing of The Cupcake Rack was almost done. Within a few days it was to be loaded into the container, but there was no way I could think about business. All I could do was pray at the hospital for God to save my grandson. Somewhere in my brain though, I knew that just because I was dealing with a tragedy, didn’t mean the rest of the world was going to stop what they were doing.
I contacted John Tu and informed him of the events that had taken place. He immediately responded that he and Angel would take care of everything for me. (I actually have a lump in my throat right now, four and a half years later, writing this.) His compassion to me was so great.
John Tu kept his promise. He took care of everything and emailed me every day without expecting a reply. He prayed for us and even sent Little Roy a silver bracelet with the Chinese characters of peace, love, and prosperity. As time moved on, he continued to send words of comfort and support to me regularly. You can now see why I call him my beloved John Tu!
After five weeks and many surgeries, we were able to come home from the hospital with our prayers answered and, even more so, a little baby that survived! As life began to get back to normal, I watched online as my ship sailed the Pacific from China over to Oregon. As it neared the port, I excitedly drove up to Astoria to literally “watch my ship come in!”
The journey began by taking a $20,000 loan from my 401K. They say that one should never use a 401K until retirement, but the risk seemed better to me than working a desk job the rest of my life!
Working full time, the loan was soon paid back in full. From that $20K, The Cupcake Rack secured a utility patent, a 20’ container of inventory (3400 units), a beautiful website (built by the inventor), market research, attendance at trade shows and more.
Elizabeth at the 2017 International Home and Housewares show.
Today, The Cupcake Rack is sold at www.TheCupcakeRack.com, online at Amazon and Etsy and in a cute little gift shop in McMinnville, Oregon. We sell internationally and have greatly talented customers. We love to share their photos of cupcake bouquets using The Cupcake Rack on our website.
Our next step is to possibly run a commercial to build our brand!
The journey of inventing a product is great fun, but there are many obstacles in the way of seemingly every single step. Unfortunately, rejection is part of the daily life of an inventor.
Keep the faith of your own product, but be sure to keep your mind open to constructive criticism. Try not to be married to your invention. If you came up with a great idea, there is undoubtedly more to follow.
Happy inventing my friends!
Thank you Edison Nation for the opportunity to share our journey!
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Elizabeth for sharing these personal details with us and the community and wish you ALL the success in the world!
The Cupcake Rack
In August of 2012, Chelsea, my youngest daughter, and I were throwing a baby shower for my daughter, Shaanon. I wanted to contribute something unique, not just an ordinary cake for the party and was drawn to the creative and delicious display of a cupcake bouquet. Being the budget happy person that I am, I almost went into shock when I heard the cost of the delicious display! And being the type of person who thinks I can just do it myself, I decided to make my own cupcake bouquet! Shopping for the necessary items, a Styrofoam ball, toothpicks, flower pot, ribbon, bow, tape, and more, and then trying to assemble this huge, time-consuming mess of items by sticking cupcakes onto toothpicks and expecting them to stay (let alone eating cupcakes stuck with toothpicks-yuck), I came to the conclusion that this baby shower would end up with a regular cake, but I would end up with an invention!
As a busy wife, mother, and grandmother who works a full time job and also runs a home business, time is in short supply. Lacking the skills of professional cake decorating, I was intrigued at the idea of inventing a cupcake bouquet rack that makes it extremely easy for ANYONE to create a beautiful cupcake bouquet.
Oh boy, this was getting exciting! I finally had an idea of something that I believed would be well loved in many households. This could be it! The big idea! This could be the idea that changes my future. And instead of allowing this idea to become fleeting, as most ideas are if you don’t know what to do with them, I made the decision that I was going to figure out how to take this idea and make it happen!
In my mind, The Cupcake Rack was an extremely simple solution to the problem I was solving. The envisioned rack was simply a holder of cupcakes that should be easily manufactured out of plastic and be machine-washable. No problem. It was August then and I figured I could get it on the shelf by Christmas! (Yes, I was very naïve!)
A prototype was necessary to begin the inventing process. After many headaches and quite a few wasted dollars (learn as you go!), one night while I was in tears because I couldn’t find anyone to build my prototype, my brilliant husband told me he would make it for me. Thank the good Lord! My husband can make anything when he puts his mind to it!
As a super-fan of Shark Tank, I knew that I needed to protect myself if I wanted to take this unique idea from fruition all the way to the homes of American families and beyond. I realized I needed to file a patent. A patent? Hmmm. I wondered what the difference is between all the options they kept talking about on Shark Tank…Provisional Application, Design, Utility. I don’t know. But, Google does! Research time!
Researching patents led me to the decision that my goal was to acquire a Utility Patent because they seem to hold more weight than Design Patents. Beginning with a Provisional Application for immediate protection, I wanted to be sure my patent application was filled out correctly so I would not jeopardize my chances of becoming approved by the patent examiner. Therefore, I hired an attorney to write up the Provisional Application and then the Utility Patent Application. PS Within a year my Utility Patent was approved!
By now a couple of months have passed and I only have a prototype and a patent application filed. Maybe my lofty goal of getting my product on the shelf by Christmas was a little unreasonable. Silly Lizzy!
With the prototype finished, I was thoroughly enjoying testing it out and playing with it. The very first cupcake bouquet I made with the prototype was a fall display with a cute scarecrow ornament. I learned through research on Google, of course, that with the right tools anyone can easily create a beautiful cupcake bouquet and decorate the cupcakes to look like flowers.
At this point I needed to find a manufacturer. I wanted to keep my manufacturing in America. I truly believe in supporting Americans with work opportunities. But, after much, and I mean much, effort, I could not find even one company that would attempt to make The Cupcake Rack, let alone manufacture it for me. The Cupcake Rack is made of iron and requires a lot of iron work and welding. I really and truly could not find anyone here in America to accomplish this task.
I decided then to look abroad. I remembered the name of a website, Alibaba.com, given to me by one of my niece’s friends, of qualified and trustworthy manufacturers overseas. I perused the website and looked for a number of years worked as well as a good star rating for a manufacturer of iron or metal cupcake racks and similar items. Emailing a few companies, I came across my beloved John Tu. He responded to my emails and said he could manufacture my product. Keeping in close contact, I placed an order with him for a 20’ container filled with my future---3400 cupcake racks! John Tu and I have kept in close contact and I consider him like family to me. Someday we will meet face to face.
It was now time to find a shipper to ship my cargo from Hong Kong to Portland, Oregon. I got lucky by choosing a great shipper who handled all the import and tax paperwork for me, as well as handling all the shipping from Hong Kong all the way to my doorstep in Sheridan, Oregon. Can’t go wrong with that!
So what’s next! Oh, a website! I needed to sell my cupcake rack somewhere and I wanted a simple, yet elegant, website displaying my cupcake rack. To save money, I was trying to do most of the work myself with inventing The Cupcake Rack, but having a beautiful website was very important and I didn’t have the skill to build it myself. I hired a very well-known company to build my website for me. After two months of poor results and a website that was completely unattractive, I told them I wanted my money back because they were not abiding by their contract. They told me they were going to keep $200 for fees, but would refund the rest of the $1200. Uh, no! After a bit of back and forth debating, I was given a full refund. Disappointed at the results of hiring a company that I thought was the best, I decided to build my website myself. I’d just have to figure out how. That’s OK. I’m learnable! Let me know what you think: www.TheCupcakeRack.com
We’ve moved now to early spring of 2013. This whole process began in August 2012. I guess I kinda missed my Christmas deadline! That’s OK. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun.
The year was starting off great. My grandson, Little Roy (named after his Papa) was now six months old, my step-daughter gave birth to her youngest son in February, and my youngest daughter just gave birth to her baby daughter in late March. Easter was here. The best day of the year as our savior has risen!
Shaanon had split up with the dad of her baby and was now living with a guy who we would get to know a little better at brunch, after Easter service. I don’t know, I tried to like him, but I just didn’t warm up to him that much.
A few days later, I was staying up in Oregon City for a few days with my youngest daughter to bond with my beautiful new granddaughter. She is precious! I can’t stop kissing her!
I was there for a couple of days and planned on heading home on Friday, April 5, because my son-in-law would be home for the weekend, and then I would come back Monday for a few more days. That is, until the phone rang on Friday morning…
Roy called and told Chelsea and me that Little Roy was being life-flighted to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. He was unconscious and it was really bad. Shaanon’s boyfriend was babysitting and said the baby had fallen off the couch.
Immediately, I fell to the ground, prostrating myself to the Lord, begging for the life of my grandson. "Please Jesus, don’t take him away. Please God, let us keep our baby." Tears were streaming down my face. Chelsea kept her cool as she told me that she would drive us to the hospital. She had an eight day old baby and we were rushing to the hospital to meet the helicopter carrying six month old baby Roy, unconscious and barely alive. Incomprehensible. I didn’t understand.
At Doernbecher, we were told that Little Roy would not survive. When he was taken to Santiam Hospital in Stayton by the guy who was babysitting, his body had already cooled down and he was unresponsive. His skull was fractured and his brain swelling on all sides. His leg was broken and one lung was collapsed. Our precious baby boy already had one foot in Heaven’s door. We were heart-broken. There were no words.
Soon, at the hospital were Chelsea and I, along with her baby girl, Brooklyn, Chelsea’s husband, Jesse, Shaanon and Roy. We were taken to a small room where the doctors could come in and keep us close at hand when news was to be delivered. They kept us together in the small room anticipating the worst.
Dr. Baird, our Neurosurgeon, told us that Little Roy’s brain was swelling and it would continue to swell for 72 hours. His little skull was not big enough to house this swelling brain. They would relieve some of the pressure by inserting a couple of tubes to help the fluids drain, but if the swelling continues on this path, they’d have to remove part of the skull to give it room to grow. Dr. Baird continued that with the injuries sustained by the baby, the chances of him surviving were minimal to none. Really, there was no hope.
But then again, he wasn’t supposed to survive the flight on the helicopter, and he did! There was hope! Shaanon and I had hope!
For three long days we prayed, and prayed, and prayed. We were given little hope from the doctors, actually we were encouraged not to have hope. They’ve seen these kinds of injuries much too often and know the outcome. But we had God! God can do anything, even save Little Roy!
After the crucial three days, Roy was still alive. Then we were told that if he wakes up, and that’s a big if, he would be a vegetable. If he survives, we would end up caring for him as he grows, but he would not be able to respond to us at all. He would never eat or breathe on his own; he’d never smile, laugh, know us, or tell us he loves us. He’d be a vegetable.
But we had hope! We had God!
So while this is all going on, I had a manufacturer in China ready to load my cargo and a freight forwarder ready to bring my cargo to Oregon. I couldn’t stop that process. So I told John Tu and Angel, my shipper, what was going on with my family. From that point on, they kept in contact with each other, organizing the shipment together, emailing me information and telling me there was no need to respond, they would take care of everything! The emails were just so I had updates about the entire shipment. They prayed for us and sent their love and support and kept my order on track without me having to do anything. I love them so much! You can see why I consider John Tu my family!
We had thousands of people from around the world praying for us. Social media makes it possible to share information so quickly that God was hearing prayers around the clock. I think He finally just said, "OK, OK, enough already! Little Roy will survive!"
After about six brain surgeries, eye surgery, five weeks in the hospital, an E.coli infection, and much more, we were able to bring our baby home.
We were given a miracle. Little Roy is now two and a half and he’s a living miracle! He breathes and eats on his own; he talks and laughs and teases, he walks with a walker, but will run like the wind someday! He is pure joy and LOVE! Shaanon is acing Nursing School and is planning a bright future for them both.
The person who hurt Little Roy is in prison until 2023. Surely not long enough! Had we not been given a miracle, this guy would have been up for murder instead of just Assault 1. I guess he was given a gift as well.
The order for The Cupcake Rack was done and I was following my ship, the Hanjin London, online as it carried my cargo across the ocean. Researching how a ship gets from the coast at Astoria inland to Portland, I found that to cross the treacherous Columbia River Bar, a specialty pilot is helicoptered out to sea, to the vessel making the crossing, and he pilots the ship across the bar. Then, a Columbia River Pilot steers the ship all the way to Portland.
I was so excited about the Hanjin London and my container aboard that on the day my ship was to make it’s crossing from the Pacific to the Columbia River, I decided to be there and literally ‘watch my ship come in’!
I now sell The Cupcake Rack on my website, www.TheCupcakeRack.com, and on Etsy.com and have extremely satisfied customers. I enjoy receiving pictures of their cupcake bouquets using The Cupcake Rack and I post them on my website on the Creations by You page. They’re wonderful!
At the beginning of this journey, I didn’t really know if I wanted to retail The Cupcake Rack myself or try to find a license for it. Currently, I’m selling it myself, but aggressively looking for a licensing partner.
While perusing options online, I found a website that makes it easy for anyone to submit an idea without going through all the steps that I took. At www.EdisonNation.com, submitting an idea is affordable. They are trustworthy and pretty much addictive! FUN!
The journey of inventing The Cupcake Rack has been one of the best in my life. It’s been exciting, challenging, educational, and FUN!
And all the events of the last two years have been mind-blowing…
~An idea brought to life
~An approved Utility Patent
~Another invention licensed
~And many wonderful prayer warriors supporting my family
God has truly blessed us!