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Having their cake and eating it, too Exposure on reality shows comes with risk, but small companies find rewards

By , - Last modified: September 10, 2012 at 5:58 AM
House of Cupcakes owners Ron, left, and Ruthie Bzdewka credit a 2010 appearance on 'Cupcake Wars' with doubling the Princeton shop's revenue.
House of Cupcakes owners Ron, left, and Ruthie Bzdewka credit a 2010 appearance on 'Cupcake Wars' with doubling the Princeton shop's revenue. - ()

The depictions of New Jersey on reality television are not always the most accurate portrayals of the state and its people, but Garden State businesses are capitalizing on the 15 minutes of fame such outlets present.

The most visible example is Buddy Valastro's "Cake Boss" show, which launched the business owner into stardom and created lines around the corner outside of his Hoboken bakery, Carlo's Bake Shop.

Last year, Valastro opened a 32,000-square-foot facility in Jersey City to begin national distribution of his baked goods. Since 2007, the company has grown at least 10 percent each year.

But it's not just the mega-stars that are cashing in on the opportunities for national television exposure.

Ruthie and Ron Bzdewka have owned House of Cupcakes, in Princeton, since 2008, but it was a 2010 appearance — and victory — on the Food Network competition show "Cupcake Wars" that put the store on the map and started a growth explosion. According to Ron Bzdewka, the family business has doubled its revenue since its appearance.

"Being on 'Cupcake Wars' was phenomenal for us," said Ruthie Bzdewka. "It opened up so much publicity for us. So many people found us who didn't know we were here."

The Bzdewkas, who bake more than 30 flavors of cupcakes each day, said they get international visitors who make special trips to Princeton to visit their shop. They've also expanded their kitchen, and are in the process of launching two new product lines.

"That kind of show is advertising you can't pay for," Ruthie Bzdewka said.

Word of mouth advertising and attraction to the "celebrity" of reality television can also be capitalized on by businesses that never get near a television camera.

Patty Barba owns a chain of boutique retail shops that started in Las Vegas, but when it came time to host the grand opening for a location in Englewood, Barba turned to the local stars of two Style Network shows — "Jerseylicious" and "Glam Fairy" — to pump up the event.

Briella Calafiore and Jessica Romano, who have had leading roles on both shows, took photos with customers and signed autographs at the grand opening of Patty's Closet Fashion Boutique in August. Barba said the reality show stars were a hit with shoppers new to the brand, and helped solidify a successful opening.

"We think bringing them to an opening in Vegas would have been a huge deal," Barba said. "We're new at franchising, so we're new at expanding. We've learned so much about people, relationships and business. … For us, having our stores here in Vegas, it has opened it up to a wide range of people, such as reality stars."
Barba said shows like "Sister Wives" on TLC and "Holly's World" on the E! Entertainment Network also have filmed at Patty's Closet locations. "Their persona is their business," Barba said of the 20-something stylists, who may be asked to attend more Patty's Closet openings. "They have so much that they can achieve."

"Jerseylicious" also helped Donnella Tilery launch New Jersey Fashion Week, as the first season's finale was taped at a Fashion Week event in Hoboken. Tilery, owner of D. Tilery Events & Showroom, said the exposure has landed New Jersey Fashion Week more credibility and the ability to work with larger sponsors and international designers.

But the experience also taught Tilery to be careful when exposing her project to the reality-television limelight.

"Overall, I think it's really good exposure to be in reality shows. I think they get a bad rap," Tilery said. "People have to realize you have to be clear on your brand when you're working with reality shows, and what's your objective to get out of it. That way, your experience isn't cheesy, or ruins any opportunities you may have outside of reality television."

Tilery said she was careful she didn't become a reality TV "caricature." She's been told that viewers thought the Fashion Week events were a gimmick for "Jerseylicious," and did not exist outside the show.

Tilery said she also has had to be particular about which reality television shows are granted permission to tape at Fashion Week events, especially when vendors and sponsors are involved.

"A lot of sponsors don't want to be associated with reality stars, so you have to be clear on your brand," Tilery said. "I've had venues tell me it's fine if they come, but you cannot mention our venue in any of your press because it's associated with a particular reality star."

Tilery is not the only one careful with the brand and image they want to represent.

"People want to take pictures with us. It's really hysterical," Ron Bzdewkas said of his newly established celebrity status. "We're real people from New Jersey … we represent most of the people I know."

"We're not baking cupcakes with leopard print and hair pieces," he added.

E-mail to: melindac@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mcaliendo33

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