Person icing cupcakes that are packed in a to-go box.
FedEx's Small Business Grants Program helps businesses, like Nashville-based The Cupcake Collection, pack and ship their products, creating opportunities for growth and expansion. — Getty Images/Nazar Rybak

For Mignon Francois, her business The Cupcake Collection started as a way to earn money for school field trips and pay the bills. Since opening in 2008, this local bakery has evolved into a successful brand with over 5 million cupcakes sold nationwide, thanks in part to its relationship with FedEx.

“I truly believe that we are the best, but I believe that FedEx is the best at what they do — and I think together, we're doing the best iteration of The Cupcake Collection that we can be,” Francois said.

This long-standing relationship has culminated in The Cupcake Collection being named one of the 2023 recipients of the FedEx Small Business Grants Program — a win that has been a catalyst for the business’s growth and financial freedom.

From a $5 investment to 5 million cupcakes sold

The Cupcake Collection started over 17 years ago when Francois used her last $5 to purchase supplies to make cupcakes for a neighbor. That investment earned her $60, which quickly became $600 in additional sales by the end of that week.

“I always say that success lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity,” Francois said. “When the opportunity came, I was ready.”

Though Francois’ business has helped to save her house from foreclosure, feeds her family, and supports her community through scholarships, getting to this point wasn’t without its challenges. When the small business began shipping in 2010, it went through a lot of trial and error to find the best solution for transporting its perishable goods. Oftentimes, these solutions led to cupcake casualties, as the treats often arrived “discombobulated, melted, [or] thrown all over the place,” said Francois.

However, with the help of FedEx, Francois and her team connected with co-packers and packing experts who were able to figure out the optimal system for shipping the cupcakes. This shift exponentially increased their revenue and scaled the business.

“FedEx offered to enlist engineers to receive my product in other cities, check thermometers, and send it back so we [could] learn how long it would take to ship our cupcakes,” Francois said. “The entire product [packaging and shipping process] was created … with [help from] FedEx.”

Managing exponential business growth

At its core, The Cupcake Collection is centered around celebration and community, bringing people together through the joy of cupcakes. However, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed these traditional in-person gatherings to virtual spaces like Zoom parties. On the eve of pandemic shutdowns, a violent tornado hit The Cupcake Collection’s main storefront, compounding challenges for the business.

A moment of unexpected inspiration came during these back-to-back challenges after seeing a young boy who was deeply upset over the possibility of not having a cake for his birthday. For Francois, this encounter highlighted the community's need for moments of joy and celebration despite the circumstances. The business leaned into shipping cupcakes for these virtual gatherings and the momentum continued from there, taking The Cupcake Collection’s sales up from 200% to 300% in the last three years.

I truly believe that we are the best, but I believe that FedEx is the best at what they do — and I think together, we're doing the best iteration of The Cupcake Collection that we can be.

Mignon Francois, Founder, The Cupcake Collection

“We created an entire campaign around the fact that people [needed] to celebrate, and FedEx was a huge part of that,” said Francois. “It allowed us to ship our cupcakes all over the country to these Zoom parties and allowed people to be together. I think that was a big catalyst for … our growth — that coupled with a really smart team.”

Over the years, Francois has assembled a strong, dedicated team that has allowed her to engage with the community and beyond.

“[My team has] afforded me the opportunity to work on my business and not in my business,” Francois explained.

By entrusting her team to keep the business going, Francois has been able to speak at leading universities nationwide and serve on entrepreneurial boards, demonstrating to others that they, too, can achieve their goals. This visibility is especially important to Francois as a Black female leader in the food industry.

“Watching The Cupcake Collection grow is … [an] opportunity to show other people what they can be, because you can be whatever you can see,” she said. “[My work] allows other little girls and boys of color to be able to see what they can accomplish if only they believe. It doesn't matter what your parents have… [or] what your community looks like, or what your neighbors have. All you have to do is believe, to go out and try to put your best foot forward to it.”

Working toward a sweet future

Looking ahead, Francois hopes to continue expanding her business across the country, especially in areas where there is an opportunity for the Black community to thrive. FedEx has been an essential part of The Cupcake Collection’s realization of these goals.

“FedEx continues to introduce us to places where our communities live, and the fact that they amplify the voice of small business is so huge to me,” said Francois, who has been afforded numerous business opportunities through FedEx’s network that she may not have otherwise had.

“As big as FedEx is, they still find the opportunity to celebrate ‘small,’” she added. “These big giants … affect small footprints.”

For FedEx small business customers who are considering applying for the 2024 Small Business Grants Program, Francois encourages transparency and fine-tuning your business’s story. This is how The Cupcake Collection stood out: In her application, Francois explained that her business could use the grant money to invest in a new walk-in freezer, which would help them store and ship a higher volume of cupcakes nationwide through FedEx.

“People want to know, ‘Where are you that I can relate to? How are you like me? Where am I right now that is a representation of where you're going or where you've been?’” Francois said. “When we honed in on what we were doing … and how FedEx could really be a part of our story, that's when we won the grant.”

The FedEx® Small Business Grants Program is accepting applications from March 1 through April 1, 2024. Applicants can win up to $50,000 in cash prizes, as well as access to the Small Business Strategic Insights Forum, expert consultations, My FedEx Rewards vouchers, print credits, and other benefits. For more information on the program or to apply, click here.