What is a ‘chocolate saloon’ exactly? It’s a question Camilla Karlsson, the co-owner of Cake Cowboy, gets a lot. “It’s a country store with local products and groceries, cakes made to order, handmade ice cream, and chocolate in all conceivable forms,” she explains. “It’s also a place where you can have a plate of barbeque and hear Sweden’s best country-western musicians.” The concept is as unique as the cowboy hats Camilla and fellow co-owner Markus Lundqvist wear on the job. While they have faced several challenges since first opening their doors in 2016, at each juncture they’ve been able to rally the support of their community to move forward—and social media and other digital platforms have proven critical in their ability to do so.
Camilla never planned on running a saloon. In fact, as the daughter of two hardworking small business owners, she once vowed not to follow their path. But when best friend Markus decided to ditch fast-paced life in Stockholm for the countryside, Camilla wasn’t far behind him. She realized she was burning out too. “Markus is an amazing person and an even more amazing chef. When he explained his vision for a chocolate saloon inspired by his years in Nashville, well there was no way I wasn’t going to join him.” Camilla explains. “Even if that meant moving to a tiny village I hadn’t visited before.”
The residents of Kivik, a small town of 1,000 about 100 kilometers from Malmo, had never seen a chocolate saloon before Camilla and Markus arrived. They weren’t accustomed to the rainbow flag flying outside it either. The pair weren’t quite sure how their new neighbors would react. One day, they discovered their flag missing. Then it happened again. Camilla and Markus took to social media to seek the community’s support in getting it back. Dozens of businesses and hundreds of citizens soon posted photos of rainbow flags they decided to fly in solidarity with the cowboys. “The response was just overwhelming,” Markus says. “For us, it was a real testament to the power of digital tools to rally community support when our business needed it most.”
Needless to say, social media has been important to Cake Cowboy ever since. The cowboys maintain a presence on Instagram and Facebook where they post updates at least five times each week and sometimes experiment with sponsored content. They use digital tools for the administration of their business as well, employing Speedledger to assist with bookkeeping and digging into data provided by Google Analytics to better understand how customers interact with their WooCommerce-powered website. “Our website has been very important to us from day one,” Camilla says. “It tells people who we are and what we stand for. And what a stroke of luck that we decided to overhaul it and add new products just a few months before COVID-19.”
Initially, the pandemic was a disaster for Cake Cowboy. The business was unable to obtain government assistance and, without foot traffic, sales began collapsing by 35% every month. Then, with wedding cake orders getting cancelled too, the two realized they’d need to figure out something to turn things around—and quickly. “At first we really didn’t know what to do,” Markus recalls, “Then, we remembered how helpful social media had been previously.”
Markus made posts on Instagram and Facebook asking for the community’s support again, this time inviting neighbors to buy something from the saloon’s newly revamped webshop. Almost immediately, orders started pouring in—from Kivik, and across Sweden. Camilla and Markus described the numbers they saw on Google Analytics as “simply amazing.” The pair had found exactly the lifeline they needed to keep Cake Cowboy afloat until the government began easing restrictions in May. That’s when the “complete disaster” that was the first quarter turned into something else entirely. Sales exploded, with many of the cowboys’ new in-person customers being those who’d found the saloon online during the pandemic. “It felt like all of Sweden came to our small village,” Markus recalls. “It was crazy!”
All told, the cowboys actually finished 2020 about 25% up compared to the year before. They were even able to bring on a new employee. With the saloon continuing to post impressive numbers today, it’s little wonder that Camila and Markus are so optimistic about the future. “There’s no way we would have been able to properly communicate who we are or what we stood for without digital tools, and there’s clearly no way we would have survived the pandemic without them either,” Camilla says. “We’re so grateful for our fabulous neighbors and customers who really came through for us when we needed them most. We love them!”
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