Gigi’s Cupcakes Franchise Owner Helps Spread Joy One Cupcake at a Time in North Carolina

Gourmet cupcakes and fundraising partnerships with local nonprofits and schools boost sales, bring smiles

Our biggest cheerleaders are our franchisees, known for their excitement and love for the Gigi’s brand, as well as their strong bonds with the local community.

North Carolina multi-unit Gigi’s gourmet cupcake and bakery franchise owner, Marina Lee, and her husband, Maury Cole, demonstrate daily the Gigi’s culture of closely connecting with the local community. Whether they are donating cupcakes to area first responders or participating in the annual Mix 101.5 FM radiothon for Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center, the franchise couple believes in creating close ties with the community.

“Connecting with the community is such a big part of what we do, and it’s so wonderful to be a part of making special memories for our customers,” Marina says.

Marina and Maury’s dedication to being good business partners and good community members has garnered them a lot of local, as well as national, press. Marina was featured by Entrepreneur magazine online recently in its Franchise Players Q&A interview column titled, “This Franchisee Takes the (Cup)Cake for Making Customers’ Celebrations Sweet.”


North Carolina Gigi’s franchise owners Maury Cole and Marina Lee actively participate in numerous community fundraising initiatives.

Here is an excerpt:

Marina Lee had the envy-inducing job of leading teams for Cisco on international assignments in Asia and Europe. Then she and husband, Maury, decided to settle down and go into business together. They chose Raleigh, North Carolina, and Gigi’s Cupcakes, because, as Marina puts it, “Cupcakes are such a happy product. They elicit a smile every time.” She also likes the memories and celebrations her business helps make. As the frosting on that cake, Marina contributes daily leftovers to local first responders and is active in various charities.

Marina and her husband now own three Gigi’s gourmet cupcake and bakery franchises in North Carolina. Their Brier Creek location near Raleigh opened in December 2011 and was a success from the start, skyrocketing to third in sales for the company after just the first year of operation and first in sales after their third year. They opened a kiosk at The Streets of Southpoint Mall in Durham in fall 2015, and their new Wilmington location opened in February 2016.

“This has been a tremendously fun journey,” Marina says. “And we’re thrilled to be open now in Wilmington.”

Marina says she had many requests to deliver cupcakes to weddings all along the southern North Carolina coast from her Brier Creek location. The Wilmington Gigi’s bakery will allow the couple to serve many more coastal destinations.

Marina recently shared her thoughts on how being a Gigi’s multi-unit operator has been a fruitful and fulfilling business investment.

How did you get started with Gigi’s Cupcakes?

I was on a call with a colleague one day who was stopping in the Gigi’s in Auburn, Alabama. At their recommendation, I checked out Gigi’s national website — these gorgeous cupcakes just popped out at me! I told my husband and daughter: “Look we’ve got to go check this place out. I’m drooling over these cupcakes!”

We went to the Raleigh store to check them out, and Gigi’s founder, Gigi Butler, just happened to be there. We fell in love with her and the vision she has for the company. My husband was a stay-at-home dad, and he was looking for a new opportunity. We told Gigi that we could really use a Gigi’s in our local area. The closest bakery to us at that time was 10 miles each way — or I could get grocery store cupcakes. We knew Gigi’s would be a great fit in our community.

What is your business philosophy?

From the very beginning, we said that as long we can keep the lights on and the doors open and make enough profit, we want to give back to the community as much as we possibly can. That’s something that we’ve been able to do. We have a very strong reputation of giving back, and that has brought us a ton of business. It’s really a win/win situation — it builds the brand and gets the word out about Gigi’s.

What attributes does a Gigi’s gourmet cupcake and bakery franchise owner need to succeed?

As long as you’re financially savvy, your Gigi’s Cupcakes business will make a profit. People love cupcakes, and they bring joy to everyone! I have yet to show up anywhere with cupcakes and see people frown. Every time we crack open a Gigi’s Cupcakes box, people’s eyes widen and everybody is delighted. Our cupcakes are over the top and delicious. I believe in our product and love sharing it with everybody.

We also work hands-on in the business. Because of our passion about the company and the products, our excitement shows in every interaction with every customer. We’re constantly talking about and sharing Gigi’s Cupcakes in our community.

What does a typical day for you look like?

As soon as the day starts, the phone starts ringing and I need to see a client. I try to plan for the day, but sometimes, in a good way, the day blows up — so I have to be flexible. We are open seven days a week. My husband is in the store most days, and I take care of the media/marketing.

What does Gigi’s Cupcakes do to help you succeed in the business?

The company is with franchisees every step along the way. There are great people in the home office and when we have experienced issues, such as growing pains, we all put our heads together to figure out a resolution.

The home office team at Gigi’s is great to work with. It’s a growing, young company; having been in the corporate world I know Gigi’s is growing in the right direction at the right pace. Gigi’s offers a great support system to work with, and they also know how to let us tailor our business to our market.

What would you tell others who were interested in buying a Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise?

We talk about it all the time. We live and breathe our business, and we are passionate about it. So many opportunities open up — all through cupcakes! If you put in the passion, it will show with growth and a great bottom line.

What are the greatest challenges in being a Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise owner?

Staffing issues. I use what I learned during my 20 years at an IT company to celebrate our employees. We try to have a dinner every month at a nice restaurant with our employees, we celebrate milestones and we show appreciation for our staff. That helps with retention.

What are the greatest rewards in being a Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise owner?

The greatest reward of owning this business is being able to participate in people’s celebrations and help make their events even more special. Just seeing everybody being so happy is rewarding.

What makes Gigi’s Cupcakes better than your competitors?

The quality of the cupcakes. I tried different competitors’ products, but our cupcakes flat-out taste better. I also love how much giving back we do with local community organizations and schools.

How do you see your future with Gigi’s Cupcakes?

We definitely hope to grow with Gigi’s. It’s a great company with great products fueled by entrepreneurs. I can’t wait to keep growing!

Learn more about Gigi’s

Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise offers a low-cost, low-risk and scalable bakery franchise that features gourmet cupcakes and bakery treats. Topped with our signature swirl and backed by more than 300 proprietary recipes and flavors, Gigi’s cupcakes are works of art.

With low startup costs averaging around $300,000 (including our $35,000 franchise fee), Gigi’s typical food and labor costs are much lower than those at traditional food franchises. We reported double-digit system sales growth in 2015, and we are poised for expansion nationwide with attractive territories available for single and multi-unit operators.

For in-depth details about the Gigi’s franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.