Hipcooks began in 2004 with their first brick-and-mortar school in Los Angeles and quickly grew to 7 brick and mortar locations, with both B2C and B2B components in each.

Hipcooks has set themselves apart from other cooking schools because they cater to the home cook (not the professional chef), and “ban recipes in our classes so that we can teach people to ‘cook from the hip:’ meaning, get in touch with your inner chef, to learn to trust your instincts, and have fun when you cook!”

What does email marketing have to do with cooking? Just ask Monika Reti, Hipcooks founder. Hipcooks chose ActiveCampaign as their marketing automation solution in mid-2016 because it offered: 

  • List segmentation that enabled them to create community at each of their locations
  • Automation and tagging to market to their most active customers
  • A robust editor that allows them to create campaigns that look beautiful: people first eat with their eyes 

“Localizing our content keeps our customers engaged because we’re able to write about recipes and ingredients relevant to trends and seasons in that community.” – Monika Reti

Hipcooks had a banner year in 2019, with a solid crew and 7 cooking schools from San Diego to Seattle offering 60+ classes on food, drink, and generally delicious things, it has all of the ingredients for a successful brick and mortar business.

As a community-based business, each Hipcooks location is firmly rooted in the unique culture of each of the communities in which they operate, contributing to the success of the brand. 

By using ActiveCampaign to segment their lists based on location, they are able to create an individualized experience based on events, seasons, and trends. Hipcooks asks contacts to select their city of choice by having them opt in via a form submitted on their website, and then confirm their contact information via an auto-responder email

When a person fills out this form, a contact is created in ActiveCampaign. The contact is added to a list based on each location the contact selected.

All of this works great for location-based businesses, but with the events of 2020, Hipcooks had to make a quick pivot into 100% online, taking their in-person classes to the virtual world. “It’s not even quite a pivot,” Monika commented,  “it’s more like building a new business from scratch.”

With neither the funds nor the time to adapt hipcooks.com (with 7 subdomains to each brick and mortar location) they instead re-purposed their WordPress recipe blog site to host their virtual class calendar and pivoted on a shoestring. 

How Hipcooks took in-person classes online during COVID-19

Transitioning an in-person business to be online can be challenging. There are online registration challenges to figure out, payment processing, and the task of creating a product that’s as satisfying as an in-person cooking class.

And yet Hipcooks has been able to successfully pivot to become an online business.

Hipcooks invoiced their virtual public classes on their site through authorize.net, private virtual classes through Wave, and Kit orders through a Google order form and Venmo. “Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. Not perfect, and certainly cobbled together, but fully functional and operational in mere minutes.” 

“With ActiveCampaign,” Monika explained, “rather than a ‘book now’ call to action button that takes you to a hipcooks.com subdomain for that particular city, the campaign takes you straight to the Hipcooks blog where people can use our cart. So that was a way I could pivot to nationwide Virtual Classes on a shoestring budget, without needing to code a new site.” 

“We were able to quickly promote the new business to existing contacts, with a redirect to the blog calendar, and our customers didn’t even notice the web-hosting and payment integration changes. It was seamless, and because of ActiveCampaign, we were able to pivot immediately. This was crucial to our survival.” – Monika Reti

Since then, Hipcooks has expanded its public virtual class program and private class program to business clients looking to unite their groups through a joint activity on Zoom, as well as offer ingredients kits as an add-on. “It’s a baby business for us, but one that is really gaining traction and momentum, and I’m happy to say, will support us to the end of the pandemic. Four of the seven brick-and-mortars are closed, but we’ll rebuild these locations when the pandemic ends.

If there was ever a time to start online cooking classes, 2020 was certainly it. Hipcooks Virtual Classes have been incredibly popular. At the time of this interview, Hipcooks had 80 classes booked for that month, all virtual. “Now I can expand the brand nationally and even internationally. In fact, the other morning, I got up at 6am, to teach a Margarita Class to a group from Holland. Despite having water in my tequila bottle, it was still great fun.”

The virtual customer is a bit different than in-person. Virtual Classes are less about connecting with an in-person community, but there’s still an element of connection that makes Hipcooks successful. People share a little of themselves with a larger community, or even the global stage, from their own kitchens. Sometimes having the exact ingredients for the recipe is challenging.

“But for Hipcooks, that’s actually what we’re about. We’re about measurement free cooking, and really teaching our clients to free themselves from the recipe and create. Our goal is for our students to approach the kitchen confidently, with fun and with curiosity. In the virtual world, people are true “Hipcooks,” making adaptations not just for their ingredients, but for the tools that they have in their kitchen.” Sounds like a great metaphor for life. 

“You eat with your eyes.”

Hipcooks doesn’t send your run-of-the-mill newsletter. They build community by creating custom, rich content for their subscribers that carries over into the style of their blog, and with their presence on social media. In other words, beautiful pictures of food that you can taste with your eyes. Food that the customers can create themselves when they attend a class.

Before ActiveCampaign, Hipcooks used a newsletter editor that didn’t give them enough space to customize. ActiveCampaign’s custom HTML campaign feature gives Hipcooks the power to create what Monika calls, “newsletters that are as vibrant and exciting as our message.”

This ability to send beautiful, customized content has given Hipcooks a 70%+ customer retention rate.

Hipcooks used to fill up their classes by running flash sales on other websites. The sales worked to fill seats, but they also cost up to 50% of the revenue from each ticket. Now, with better targeting, Monika can use a deal or coupon email campaign to fill the remaining spots of an almost-full class.

An example of the food you could make at a Hipcooks class

Monika and the Hipcooks team engage with the community wherever they can. Comments, questions, and reviews are addressed on the Hipcooks website and followed up with an email. The Hipcooks team cares about every one of their customers. They show them that they’re valued, and not just another email address on a list.

When customers leave online reviews, Monika is able to respond to them quickly.

Even if you live hundreds, or thousands of miles away, you’re treated like a neighbor, a friend, or a family member. Personalized content and one-on-one engagement go a long way.

Bringing people together through food and business

Hipcooks also hosts classes for businesses (like Nike, Facebook, and Red Bull) that want to strengthen their company culture. 

“One of the drivers for growth for us,” said Monika, “has been our B2B and corporate classes. We host Happy Hour Sip & Nibble Virtual Classes, where the bar and the kitchen intersect.” Hipcooks uses fresh ingredients, spices, and kitchen ingredients to create a unique craft cocktail and then teach a perfectly paired nibble. Customers all have a virtual “Cheers!” on zoom and a bite of the snack as the class ends. Some linger and connect with their workmates: it’s a great way to learn something while socializing and connecting.

With team building and other company events going virtual to accommodate a remote workforce, Hipcooks prepares attendees ahead of time by letting them know right on the booking page what they need to get ready for the big event, right down to Maldon salt and ice. They even offer ingredient kits like “The Curious Quarantiner Kit” or the “Let’s Go to Morocco Kit” to pair with those virtual classes. 

When a business books a Private Virtual Cooking Class, attendees are added as contacts in ActiveCampaign (if they’d like to be contacted further). They take down details like:

  • Business name
  • Names of individuals
  • Date of class

Hipcooks can then stay engaged with these contacts, sending them newsletters, content, and emails on the anniversary of their initial class. It’s not uncommon for corporate attendees to return to Hipcooks for a Public Class, or for a Public Class attendee to book a corporate session for their team.

These engagement campaigns are automated through the ActiveCampaign platform and work to create repeat attendees for Hipcooks, both virtually and back at their brick and mortar locations very soon. 

Hipcooks knows that food brings people together. Add a pinch of personalized email automation, and they have a winning recipe for their business.

ActiveCampaign has a few pretty great recipes too. Try ActiveCampaign for free and see what kind of success you can cook up.