Tricia Arce, co-founder of the ultra successful Toasted Mallow brand, makes magic with marshmallows along with her business partner and wife, Hazel. Featured on the Cooking Network, the Food Network, Insider, Delish, BuzzFeed and PopSugar, the brand has racked up millions of views and thousands of fans. With awards, a cookbook, booming brick and mortar location and robust online storefront, Toasted Mallow is a true success story – built using social media savvy.
But behind their celebrated products, which include blended beverages, a S’mores bar, marshmallow whip, mallow pies and more, is the touching story of finding peace in making others happy after loss. We talk about Tricia’s inspiration for starting her business, and I also get the scoop on what makes the Toasted Mallow’s social media SO successful.
In this episode: sharing the magic
We talk about:
- How business was part of her healing process
- How she balanced on the corporate ladder while building her business
- How she knew she’d “made it” and how she got there
- The differences between Facebook and Instagram – and how she and her wife handle each
- The importance of building a supportive team
- How to be social media savvy
”I realized during the process of making the marshmallows I wasn’t grieving the dark part of the loss of my grandmother, I was rejoicing in remembrance of my grandmother throughout the process. Happy memories, thinking of her, enjoying her, that’s what was coming out of the marshmallows.”
Want to Connect with The Toasted Mallow and Tricia + Hazel?
- Check out their website at: TheToastedMallow.com
- Follow Tricia’s business on Twitter @Toasted_Mallow
- Follow on on Facebook
- Follow on Instagram
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Welcome back to Catalyst Conversations. This is Jennifer Maggiore and oh, my guest today. Oh, my word, Tricia Arce. She is half of the duo with her spouse Hazel who owns The Toasted Mallow. I was introduced to Tricia a few weeks ago by a mutual friend, Joanie Simon, who I also interviewed for this podcast. I just adored her. She’s kind of like Barbara Huson who is another good friend of mine that is on this podcast but she’s one of these people that there are so much depth and substance. I had never met this woman, didn’t know she existed before Joanie introduced us. We sat and we had our hot tea and our coffee and just immediately started talking about this really deep stuff, and our past, our history, and being entrepreneurs. She’s just amazing. I think, as women entrepreneurs, we can learn so much from each other and she’s got so much to offer.
She is again, the co-owner of The Toasted Mallow which was launched as a home-based business in 2013 by she and her wife Hazel. The demand grew organically through farmers markets, and amazing social media savvy. They actually took the startup from Etsy to a retail location and they now ship nationally. Their social media is incredible, so authentic, so real, and so good.
But we had such a great conversation. We talk about how the loss of her grandmother really propelled her forward in creating her business because before that, she really just wanted to climb the corporate ladder and realized that there were other things that she wanted to be doing. That brought her joy. We also talk about overcoming self-doubt and how authenticity is really key. You can’t force it in business and have it resonate with your audience. I hope you enjoy it. You can visit them at thetoastedmallow.com, their great product, I’ve gotten to try it. It’s so good, it’s so good, you guys, you got to check it up.
JM: Hey, Tricia. How are you?
TA: I’m great, Jenn. How are you?
JM: I’m good. Thanks for making time for me today. I’m so excited to talk with you.
TA: Oh, yes. Definitely. Me too.
JM: Joanie—who actually was my very first podcast interview, she’s a mutual friend of ours—introduced us. I have to tell you that when I met you, I just thought you were super cool. I’m a big Tricia fan.
TA: That’s awesome. Yes, love Joanie. Joanie is amazing.
JM: Hm-hmm, she knows the best people.
TA: She does know the best people. But yeah, I was super excited to meet you when we had our little talk a couple of weeks back.
JM: Yeah, that connection is so important. It’s funny, I feel like overtime, and so much of catalyst is built on that need for us women entrepreneurs to find each other. So much of catalysts is built on creating that space for people and sometimes it just seems like it’s hard to find women entrepreneurs who are like-minded. You are just so down to earth. I was just immediately pulled in by your authenticity. People that I can have super authentic conversation with immediately, those are my people. You and I like over coffee and tea, we got into the shit right away.
TA: We did.
JM: I totally loved talking with you.
TA: We got some serious tough conversations right there.
JM: Yeah. Let’s kick it off with that. You had shared with me the story of how you got started. You are the owner—with your wife Hazel—of the Toasted Mallow. That’s here in Arizona where we’re headquartered. You had told me a little bit about how that all came to be. But there’s actually a story behind it that is kind of based in overcoming some challenges. Why don’t you start there with that story?
TA: Sure, yeah. In my mind of what I wanted to do for a career, I wanted to do the whole climb the corporate ladder, be the boss lady, and make a business better, or create better employees for the business. That was my mindset. For the first 15 years of my career life. I was going to do operations, then hopefully become assistant manager, and then eventually managed my own location. I worked for Bass Pro. That was my goal, that was what I’m going to do. Then, while I was trying to accomplish this goal, I was taking care of my grandmother who raised me when I was little till I was preteen. Then I moved with my mom, lived with my mom until I moved out and moved to Arizona. The last five years of my grandmother, I moved her to Phoenix 10 years prior to that, she had had a stroke and she had hit face forward into a cinder block and cracked her skull open. It was horrible, absolute horrible.
JM: And then you know that she needs care at that point.
TA: Yeah. I was like, “Grandma, that’s it. I’m moving you to Phoenix, you’re filing bankruptcy, you’re not working anymore and I need you.” I moved her to Phoenix and she was fine, she was able to do her own things, get her own medications, she had some friends, and she actually had a little boyfriend.
JM: Good quality of life.
TA: Yeah, yeah. She did, she did have a good quality of life. But the last two years, I really started noticing a decline in her up-keep of herself. The first real telltale of her sickness was when she called me one morning saying that someone had broken into her apartment and cleaned, had vacuumed her apartment.
JM: Something didn’t add up there.
TA: I was like, “If someone’s broke into your apartment and vacuumed, can you send him to my house? I would love that.” She’s like, “No, no. We have really, someone goes in, they cleaned my apartment, they vacuumed and they left the door open.” So I started getting concerned a little bit with that. Her medication started going a lot faster than the normal 30 days, then I started noticing that she was taking them too often. I had her tested and she had dementia, that’s pretty serious. There wasn’t like the beginning stages, it was like we are aggressive right now.
JM: Like pretty advance. Yeah.
TA: Yeah, pretty advance.
JM: You’re working through all of this still. You’re balancing both of these major responsibilities, climbing the corporate ladder.
TA: Yeah. I’m working 60, 70 hours because if anyone’s into Bass Pro, you’ll see how big it is and all of the events that go on, it was just insane. The last two years, she was sick, my boss—thank God for him—was very compassionate about my situation. He would let me have time off, take extra lunches because I was having to take my grandmother more to doctor, watch more of her. Then you had the doctor appointments, you had the grocery stores, you had to pay your bills, I was doing all of this. Then, I had to put her in our home, unfortunately, she declined more so once I put her in our home, and then eventually lost her to dementia. I was lost, I was lost after that because you’re so passionate about this one person.
JM: And spending so much time and energy devoting so much care to that person.
TA: Yeah, so much, so much. You want to get them better so that their quality of life is better so that you keep them around longer. That didn’t happen. Back to work I go after her passing. I found myself just really dark, I didn’t want to be around my family, I didn’t want to be around, I didn’t want anyone to show affection and they’ll be around me.
JM: You kind of go through like some existential stuff. That was kind of my experience when my stepmom passed away. It was the second close death that I experienced as an adult and I started to realize how temporary things really are. It’s a tough place to be. I totally get that. You’re having a hard time with her loss.
TA: At work, prior my grandmother, we would do this baking contest every month. It was just a way for us managers to blow off steam and blow it at each other’s egos. It was like a top chef kind of thing. Our admin and our receptionist would come up with these rules and what flavor it had to be incorporated into the dessert, what date you had to have the dessert by. This one particular month, after my grandmother’s passing, it was marshmallow. Now, I have never been a fan of marshmallows, I don’t like the texture of marshmallows.
JM: It’s blew me away, we will make sure to mention your website so that people who are listening can go. It’s like the entire business is marshmallows and you’re not a marshmallow fan. That I thought was so funny. It’s funny to me because, if I say funny, it’s not funny to lose somebody you love, but it’s this super cheerful food at this really weird time, it’s an interesting twist.
TA: It’s this weird, funny dessert candy, it’s like sticky, melty, and sweet. It truly brings smile to people, customers walk into my shop and they’re just always smiling. It’s definitely a cheerful edible candy thing. I decided to make my own marshmallow for the contest. After a handful of tries of, “What the heck am I doing? That how it’s supposed to work and why is it growing, it’s so sticky, you don’t throw a piping bag like that, it was just messy.
JM: I love it.
TA: I finally made a strawberry marshmallow on top of a sugared cookie, drizzled with chocolate. That was my entry for the contest. Like, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to go big, I’m going to go to the big stream.”
JM: It sounds amazing.
TA: Yeah. I won. I won the contest with the marshmallow. I realized during the process of making the marshmallows I wasn’t grieving the dark part of the loss of my grandmother, I was rejoicing in remembrance of my grandmother and the marshmallow process.
JM: That’s awesome.
TA: Happy memories, thinking of her, enjoying her, that’s what was coming out of the marshmallows. Eventually, I was making chocolate marshmallows, I was making lemon marshmallows, I was also making s’more, just every day there’s a marshmallow.
JM: This is after like the baking contest has passed, everybody loved it, and you’re still making marshmallows.
TA: Yes, still making them.
JM: That’s awesome.
TA: There’s no career, there’s no job, there’s no business, I’m just making marshmallows.
JM: Tell us about that segue. You had this great experience, you brought this into work after a few tries, blew everybody away, and then you kept going, how did that eventually make its way into a business?
TA: One employee said, “Hey, can I buy for marshmallows?” I was like, “You want to buy my marshmallows?” He’s was like, “Yeah. They’re really good. I want to pay you for making me marshmallows.” I was like, “Huh, I wonder if this could be lucrative somehow.” I went home and said to my wife “What if we put a few of your marshmallows on Etsy? Let’s see how it does on Etsy and then go from there.” I was like, “Okay.” We have the basic flavors on Etsy, we have vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and I think maybe two other flavors, there’s like five on Etsy. All of a sudden, I have always orders coming through on Etsy for these marshmallows that I’ve made. I was just like, “Oh, my God, people really want these. They really want to enjoy what I created.” I was egged on by another entrepreneur at Bass Pro who did a Kickstarter campaign. He’s an entrepreneur here in the Valley also and he creates pens he makes pens from scratch.
JM: That’s cool.
TA: But they’re really cool pens. So he’s got a Kickstarter, I went home, and I told my wife, I’m like, “Okay, if he can do a Kickstarter, we can do a Kickstarter.”
JM: That’s how it starts.
TA: Yeah. She’s like, “Okay, what do you want to do?” I’m like, “These are the rewards we should give out. Let’s see what happens, and this is the goal, we’ll do a $5000 goal to rent kitchen space so we can make marshmallows.” She’s like, “Okay.” We’ve got the Kickstarter going and within 30 days, halfway, we hit our goal of $5000, by the end of the campaign, we’re at $12,000.
JM: That’s awesome. That’s so cool.
JM: Leading up to that, were you nervous at all or did you really just kind of feel in your heart that people were going to see this and they would love it as much as you—well, you don’t love your marshmallows—as much as you love making them and as happy as they made you feel, did you have any of that nervousness?
TA: I have the nervousness after we made the goal for Kickstarter.
TA: After, because before I was like, “If we don’t make it, we don’t make it. It’s fine, I work at Bass Pro. I have a steady job. This is just marshmallows.” After we made the goal and we had 260 pre-orders, I became extremely nervous because I’m like, “Now, these people are going to try these, what if they don’t like them?” In my head, I think they’re amazing but the reality is, they’re not really that amazing.
JM: Isn’t it funny how success can almost make you more fearful than leading up to this success? That’s funny.
TA: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Because you start doubting everything, you start doubting your ability to actually do something that you’re passionate about and you’re trying to convince all these people to like your product. After Kickstarter, my wife built me a website.
JM: Hazel’s awesome.
TA: Yeah, she is great, very awesome.
JM: Right. You’re just like, “I want to do a Kickstarter,” she’s like, “Cool. Let’s do it.” Like, “Hey, I need a website.” “Cool, I made you a website.”
TA: I’ll tell you what, she has been my number one fan from the get-go.
JM: That’s so cool.
TA: When I was like, “This is my dream, this is what I want to do.” She’s been like, “Whatever you want, I will make it happen.” It’s been amazing ever since then, even now. Build the website, it was that, “Okay, if we have Kickstarters, people are going to like them, they’re going to receive them, they’re going to want to order more hopefully.” So she built the website and lo, behold people started ordering off our website. We started doing farmers market, we started doing events here in the Valley.
What got us to open our retail location was I had a customer come to my house—because we ship out of our home, at the time we were called Fluff It Marshmallows—looking for Fluff It, so I did this phone call, she’s like, “Hi, I’m outside of the house but I’m looking for Fluff It Marshmallows. I’m looking to pick up some marshmallows for this weekend but I’m not sure where I’m at.” I’m like, “No, you’re in the right place, it’s not a business location.” I go outside with a piece of paper and a pen and I’d follow up flavors I haven’t stocked in my home. I go inside, I told my wife like, “We need to open our retail location.”
JM: We need a place.
TA: Yeah, we need a place. Before that though, I had to put my notice for the Bass Pro, I haven’t done it yet. I actually got written up by my boss, since I got a coaching for looking at my personal Fluff It Marshmallow’s website while I was working.
JM: Now, there’s kind of this conflict that’s coming in.
TA: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly what was said. I said, “Okay. I think this is the world, fate, destiny, telling me this is time for me to step back and really see where marshmallow is going to go.”
JM: You know I have to tell you I love that. A lot of entrepreneurs, most of us go through that period of time where we’re working our day job and something changes or our side hustle starts to pick up and you have to figure out what you’re going to do. I think a lot of people struggle that line for a very long time out of fear. I love that your response is like, “I guess I’m not going to not look at my website.”
TA: Right. I’ve got a coaching, I had to write up for it.
JM: Time to go.
TA: Time to go, and that’s exactly what I told him, “I’ll give you 30 days to find another manager to replace me and I can train him before I leave.” That’s exactly what happened, on my last day I said goodbye to everybody, I went home, Hazel’s like, “How did it go?” I walked into the bedroom, closed the door, I cried for a good 5, 10 minutes, came out, I did. Our whole security is gone, the weekly paycheck, your benefits, it’s all gone. I start thinking, “Oh, my God, what if this fails? What do I do now? What’s going to happen? What do I do?”
JM: It can be very motivating though, can’t it?
TA: It was. Because when I walked out, Hazel’s like, “What do you want to do?” I’m like, “Let’s go to Disneyland. Let’s go to Disneyland this weekend.”
JM: I love the way you think.
TA: We did. We went to Disneyland, we spent our weekend there. When we came back, we hit the pavement running. She started looking for store locations, we started looking for food trucks, and she started rebranding the website, I started up coming up with more marshmallow creations. I would think probably within a months time, we found our retail location. We came in and we dope it out, it’s just a small little 900 square foot storefront. Her, myself, our nieces and nephews, the hammers, and paint came in and we decorated the store location.
JM: That’s so cool.
TA: We opened up Fluff It Marshmallows on August 8, 2014.
JM: Oh, and you still know that date right at the top of your head, I love it.
TA: I do. August 8 because it’s National S’mores day.
JM: Oh, how perfect. I’m going to town to see your S’mores Bar by the way.
TA: Yes, please do, please do.
JM: I’m ready. I’m so ready. I hope you’re ready for me.
TA: Oh, yeah, definitely, definitely. You’ll definitely be on Instagram Stories montage.
JM: Oh, boy. Just what everybody wants to see. Talk to me a little bit about your social media and the role that that has played in your success because your social media is incredible. In fact, at the time of this recording, coming up in a few weeks, in about a month, we have a panel that you’re going to be sitting on for an event here in Phoenix. So much of what we’re going to talk about is I have seen so much change in the last like 10 years, social media is about decade-old depending on which site you’re looking at. A lot of them started to launch, 2004, 2005, 2008. It’s interesting because my other business, red balloon social media, what I’ve done for years is social media.
What we’ll be talking about on this panel is at this point we have gone in just 10 years, if you think about the advent of advertising, television, billboards, radio, social media is really in its infancy. But in 10 years we have gone from, “Oh, this is this passing fad, it’s a trend too, now it’s a necessity.” Everyone’s a social media professional, there is so much conflicting information, there are unlimited sources like there is so much stuff out there. I really wanted to offer this panel with people who are doing this, women who are actually doing this and it’s not smoke and mirrors, it’s not cheating some algorithm. Your social media is just amazing, it’s real, and it’s relevant. Did you have any social media experience prior to promoting your business?
TA: None, none. Again, I was a books with numbers kind of girl, I was messing with social media. Hazel wants social media, Hazel’s has been a web graphics, design, she wants social media. She actually, the beginning of my business was during Facebook, she was doing all Facebook ads because I would do it wrong and she would understand, I would always do it wrong. She understood the audience that we were getting on Facebook and I didn’t. All of a sudden, at 2015 maybe, Instagram showed up and I was like, “You do Facebook, I’ll do Instagram.” She’s like, “Okay, that sounds great because I understand Facebook.” We both understood both platforms differently. I found Instagram to be more of a visual, listening, kind of where those people who have more visual, not so much Facebook where you read or you watched. I found it to be two different concepts.
I started doing Instagram and little by little we started gaining followers and what I thought was people really enjoyed when we review videos. One day, I did a video on one of my girls making S’more with our two chocolate chip cookies and the S’more sandwich. After that, I got a message on Instagram from a girl saying, “Hey, can I pick some of your pictures and videos off of your Instagram page? It’s amazing, we loved your content. We want to make a video of it.” I was like, “Yeah, sure, go ahead, as long as you give credit.” She’s like, “Okay.” I told Hazel, “This girl messaged me and this is what she wants to do.” Hazel’s like, “That’s interesting.” I’m like, “Yeah.”
JM: That’s so cool like we’re onto something.
TA: Yeah, something’s happening. Lo, behold, she works for Insider food which is one of the biggest social media news outlets on Facebook. They made this video, they put it on Facebook, go back to Hazel’s social media platform. Next I know, we have a line out the door for the next three weeks.
JM: Wow, that is the power of when something is picked up on social media. That’s amazing.
TA: That’s when my Instagram page started building. That’s when our Facebook page amplified building. As far as views and likes, and sharing, it was pretty phenomenal, just the whole one lead, to another lead, to another lead, to another follower, to another follower, it’s pretty awesome.
JM: It’s amazing. I have to tell you too, it just kills me on Instagram, because I’ll just kind of be scrolling through. The other day, there was like this oatmeal cream pies that just kind of blew my mind. It’s so funny because when I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and there’s like a lot of us so we relied on Little Debbie snack cakes, just the most horrible shit, growing up. I’m like, “Oh, my God, these are the grown-up amazing version.” Your pictures are just the most gorgeous stuff, it looks so good and I can see why it’s successful because it’s so well done.
TA: I’m sure my girls were like, “Oh, you again.” I’m like, “Oh, wait, wait, wait. I will take a picture of that. Wait, wait, wait, let me take a video of that.” They’re like, “I was in the middle.” I’m like, “I know, but this is really good and this is going on Instagram.
JM: Do it again.
TA: Yeah, do it again now, all the time.
JM: That’s awesome. That’s so cool. I’m really excited for you to share with everybody at our panel for sure and hopefully, we’ll be able to talk to you some more in the future. What other tips do you have for women business owners? What are some of the things that you have just learned through trial and error that you would share with other women entrepreneurs?
TA: Truly, like you said earlier, just be authentic. Don’t try to force a square peg into a circle because it doesn’t work, and your viewers see that, they know you’re either lying or making something bigger than what it really is. You just got to be true to your products and true to who you are, and your stories. Because I have this another company—I won’t say who they are—on the East Coast, and they market themselves really, really well. Their marketing is really good but at the same time, they’re making sure to step on the people who got them where they are now. They’ve copied other’s recipes. There’s another marshmallow company in New York, they make a taco s’mores at a local shop. It’s really amazing, but there’s one company who has taken it as their own. Then they’ve also said that they’re the first marshmallow company in the country and it just seems like you don’t want to do that because then you’re just hurting your reputation.
JM: Absolutely, bad karma.
TA: Yeah. As women, you definitely want to build yourselves up, you want to build your sister up, your fellow entrepreneur. That’s the only way women entrepreneurs are going to get stronger.
JM: Absolutely, I totally, totally agree with that.
TA: Yes, be authentic.
JM: Yup, and support each other for sure. Awesome, great tips. Thank you so much for your time. I could just talk to you forever. I absolutely adore you. I hope we’ll be able to have you back again. I’m really looking forward to the panel. Real quick before we let you go though, your website is escaping me, what is your URL?
TA: It’s thetoastedmallow.com
JM: You can buy online on your site as well. I know you’ve got the retail location here in Arizona, but then do you ship anywhere in the country?
TA: We ship all over the country.
JM: Perfect. Okay, great. Awesome. Oh, and your Instagram.
TA: Instagram, @thetoastedmallow.
JM: Okay, perfect. All of your social media is so, so excellent. But I would say, if you’re like me, you’re visual and you’re kind of cruising on Instagram, you definitely want to add that to your feed because it’s amazing. It’s like the most fun stuff to watch.
TA: Thank you, thank you.
JM: Your stories are awesome too. I just absolutely love your Instagram Stories. Awesome, thank you so much. Please tell Hazel thank you for letting us borrow you and I look forward to meeting her at some point as well, the other half of this amazing duo. I will talk to you soon, thank you so much, Tricia.
TA: Thank you, Jenn. I appreciate it.