Bradley Taylor wove through a crowded college party, handing out doughnut holes from his tricycle.
The stunt was part of his latest marketing tactic — bringing Sssdude-Nutz doughnuts to college parties. Since last fall, Taylor has been scooping out big parties and offering to show up with doughnut holes. On Saturday, he took his antics to a new level by hosting a Sssdude-Nutz block party in Dinkytown for Spring Jam.
“I was always out partying when I went to school here,” said Taylor, who co-owns the shop with his wife, Ashley. “Now opening a shop and being on the other side of that, especially with a small business, there’s just so many benefits. We get to control our narrative.”
Sponsoring the parties has given Taylor a way to market his doughnut shop in a way that feels genuine to his brand, he said. Unlike some chain businesses in Dinkytown, he says, he’s able to show customers what Sssdude-Nutz is as an organization.
“I’m out in these streets … with everyone, shot-gunning beers, that’s something other business lack,” Taylor said. “People are like, ‘You’re the guy who runs the shop?’ and it’s just like yeah, I’m just here partying with you.”
Taylor said he first thought of the idea while he was walking past a big Dinkytown party. He approached the hosts to chat about the shindig, and it spiraled into a business conversation.
“Bradley just wanted to promote his business and let people party on game day since FloCo wasn’t a thing anymore,” said sports management junior Carter Nelson, who lives at the party house. “Everyone just comes and hangs out. It’s super chill.”
In addition to using Nelson as a party scout, Sssdude-Nutz uses Snapchat stories and other modes of social media to check out everyone’s weekend plans. When an event catches Taylor's eye, he just asks the host if he can show up with doughnuts — an offer that has yet to be declined.
Industry veterans agree with Taylor’s assessment that his marketing sets him apart from other businesses.
“Dinkytown has a great history of independent retailers that people think are nowadays going away,” said John Stavig, director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship. “Being creative and coming up with guerilla-style tactics fits into what would catch the attention of the students. It supports the perception that they aren’t a big chain. It shows their brand is very unique and distinct.”
Stavig also said the doughnut shop’s tactics only work in a very specific market, like Dinkytown. Taylor has mastered catering to his limited audience of college students with his unconventional brand, he said.
While all shop owners market to students in some way, Sssdude-Nutz is taking an innovative approach, said Randy Gast, president of the Dinkytown Business Alliance.
“I think it’s brilliant that he’s doing it and I hope it works out. It’s just someone will complain, some will like it. It’s always that way,” Gast said. “But it really just depends on how the student body reacts.”
Taylor gained insight into the local business scene before starting his brick-and-mortar shop by talking with mentors, he said. One of Taylor’s first teachers, Alec Duncan, owner of Potter’s Pasties & Pies, said Taylor is on the right track to differentiate his business from competition.
“I think this method is impressionable because you don’t just associate doughnuts with partying,” Duncan said. “It kind of brings that East Coast, West Coast idea to this city, so I can see it being a powerful feature of the shop.”
Taylor’s party planning escalated to a Dinkytown phenomenon Saturday called “Sssdude-Fest.” His four-hour block party, featuring doughnuts and local vendor Pacify MPLS, drew thousands.
After gaining support from neighbors, Taylor said he got warrants from the city to pull off the event.
“It’s honestly just really nice to have something to go to where you know it’s OK to come, without having to worry about being shut down,” University 2016 graduate Danielle Zimmerman said at the party. “This is so much fun and everyone just feels so together.”
As college-age adults were trapping out to hip-hop from DJs, others climbed into trees and rooftops of houses within the block. Some dancers made their way on to a small, square stage. At one point, Taylor climbed up and beamed as he gazed out at the crowd.
Nelson, who co-hosted the event, said he and Taylor hope to continue hosting these types of events.
“We’ll see where it goes. If it’s a one-time thing, then it’ll be legendary. But if it continues then our legacy is imprinted on the University of Minnesota,” Nelson said. “It can only go up from here.”