My Winthrop Experience


Name: Mary Kate McManus '03
Residence: Rock Hill, South Carolina
Degree: Integrated marketing communication
Occupation: Bakery owner, Hey Sugar Shop

It began with the perfect sugar cookie.

For Mary Kate McManus '03, that means a crumbly, almost shortbread-like consistency, with delicately sweet frosting and an eye-catching design. She guards her family's recipe with her life (although she's made a few tweaks over the years), and has used her Winthrop University integrated marketing communication degree to launch her successful sugar-cookie business, Hey Sugar Shop.

"It all started with a perfect recipe," McManus said. "I wanted to see if I could be successful building my own brand. I thought, ˜How has no one figured out how to make really unique sugar cookies that also taste good?' I looked at my talents and thought, ˜I could do that.'"

While the seeds for the business started around 2012, she officially opened her storefront, located on Charlotte Avenue in Rock Hill, in 2015 and has grown a reputation nationwide for her clever and crafty sugar cookies, cakes, cake truffles, supersize Rice Krispy treats and much more. Her major successes have included creating:

  • A gift basket for basketball legend Michael Jordan when The Charlotte Business Journal named him Businessperson of the Year.
  • Themed gift baskets for the popular police program, "Live PD."
  • Corporate items for the Charlotte Hornets, Coca-Cola and Belk.

Born in Virginia, McManus grew up as a self-professed "Army brat," but eventually settled in Chester, South Carolina. She had heard about Winthrop from a high school counselor and though it sounded right for her. Additionally, her mother and sister had also graduated from Winthrop.

"I loved Winthrop's IMC program," McManus said. "It was a really well-rounded balance. You get your feet wet in business, marketing, journalism and advertising."

She enjoyed the way Marilyn Sarow, professor emerita of mass communication, challenged her in her courses, and the humor and lessons gleaned from retired Department of Mass Communication Chair Bill Click. She also loved the hands-on experience she received through her two internships.

Post-graduation, she spent years working as a business development manager for Steak ˜n Shake corporate, marketing programs for more than 20 restaurants in the Southeast, before moving into the health-care industry.

After making her sugar cookies for a health-care event, the lightbulb came on: instead of building other's brands, why not build her own? McManus started laying the groundwork for Hey Sugar Shop in 2012 and built her reputation through smart strategies on social media and generating word-of-mouth.

"The IMC degree really helped me to do my marketing plan and come up with my own brand," she said, citing lessons like:

  • Performing SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis;
  • Writing a business plan;
  • Creating copy and layout for printed materials; and
  • Earning overall project experience.

Owning her own business has "been a rollercoaster of emotions," she said, requiring a lot of energy and work. But she doesn't regret leaving the corporate world behind and especially values the relationships with her customers.

"We've done their [customers'] baby showers, their weddings, their birthday cakes. I'm fine with being the best small-town bakery," McManus said.