“If you want to find us, take the field trip. It’s like a little personal scavenger hunt.”
That’s how Andrea Johnson, owner of Bubble Bistro, describes finding her store— and her marketing plan in general. She explains that, although her business may have come to Crosstown over five years ago, the public has come to her ever since.
“We’re more of a destination shop, so we are deliberately off the path,” explains Johnson. “We’re deliberately not in the mall. And it’s worked out with the amount of customers and traffic we have on our own.”
Johnson started Bubble Bistro while living in the U.S. Virgin Islands— St. Croix, to be exact— but soon found it less than ideal to start a business in paradise.
“On an island, it’s a disaster logistically for shipping and freight,” says Johnson. “So once the business took off, it made sense to reposition it stateside. And if I was going to come back to the states, I was going to come home to Memphis.”
Johnson moved Bubble Bistro’s operations to 425 North Watkins in 2010. At that time, the Sears Crosstown building was still vacant and without a clear plan for redevelopment. Johnson says she never factored possible neighborhood revitalization into her choice of location.
“I was here before all of that started. Crosstown was just a good fit for what we needed—to be off the path to control our chaos,” Johnson explains.
The chaos that Johnson refers to is certainly well controlled— not to mention well hidden. Walking into their storefront truly is a getaway of sorts— splashes of tropical colors on the walls mingle with fresh, fruity scents that lead you in by the nose from the parking lot. Little would you know that production of Bubble Bistro’s entire line happens in a 5000sf space underneath the retail store. Johnson explains that it’s all a part of her business plan.
“All of the products are handmade from scratch downstairs,” she says. “We have a beautiful business model in that we don’t have any middlemen. So we’re able to bring the best product on a local level— without the markups— because there aren’t a ton of hands in the pot.”
So what is Johnson’s favorite Bubble Bistro product? Like any good parent, she can’t choose just one.
“There isn’t a favorite product because it’s kind of like a system,” she says. “When it’s Bubble Bistro time, you need all the pieces. It’s affordable, so there’s no reason why you can’t have all the pieces. Our average full package is in the $30-$35 range. So it’s affordable for, let’s say, a teacher to have a luxury, high-end product line at their disposal.”
Another key part of Bubble Bistro’s success? They’ve never had to run a single ad.
“We are a social media machine,” laughs Johnson. “It’s a very, very grassroots, word of mouth, referral driven business. And for us, that’s what works. The logistics of our customers finding us in their own time works perfectly for us.”
“At this point, it’s not even mine any more— this whole concept belongs to the customers,” she continues.
It’s this grassroots, “scavenger hunt” model that has allowed Bubble Bistro to grow far outside of the boundaries of Crosstown. Johnson says she regularly has customers drive in from surrounding counties and states, not to mention the huge international following she’s garnered through the Bubble Bistro website. But when Bubble Bistro’s new neighbor, Crosstown Concourse, opens next year, Johnson is excited to engage directly with the immediate neighborhood through a smaller satellite location inside the building. Most small businesses couldn’t sustain another location so close to their flagship store, but to Johnson, it seemed only natural.
“Our Concourse setup will be completely different from our setup on this side of the street,” Johnson explains. “So, my customers who are used to pulling up and walking in, they can still do that. But for the people who are already there in the building, it’s there and convenient for them, too. It just made sense to have a space over there. It’s amazing that they’re going to be across the street, but worlds apart.”