Cake Decorator Burnout - What To Do? - Long!!!

Business By CakeBurnOut Updated 3 Jul 2008 , 8:38am by CakeBurnOut

CakeBurnOut Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 12:39pm
post #1 of 28

I am posting under a different name for obvious reasons - cut throat competitors and the like. Those of you who are in business can understand why we must be careful what we post in public forums like these. So, here goes...

I own and operate a custom cake decorating business for the past two years. I'm licenseed in a commercial kitchen, insured - everything by the book. I only do fondant cakes, no buttercream, and I work alone. My business took off overnight after the word got out and I did a few bridal shows. I spent over $30K last year alone on equipment and supplies. This year will probably be higher than that.

I am starting to feel overwhelmed. Two weeks ago I slept a total of 8 hours over the course of three nights. My husband couldn't believe I was still alive and functioning with such little sleep. My arms and hands hurt. My feet are killing me. I have started to dislike baking. I make an average of two to three large wedding cakes each weekend. By large I mean 100 - 200 servings average each. It can take me up to 20 hours (and sometimes more) to decorate an elaborate fondant cake.

The baking has stopped being fun and I find myself rebaking entire batches of batter because I'll forget to add one thing or another. I have considered hiring someone but feel uneasy about bringing someone in and training them, only to have them open down the street from me as is the case with several people I know.

I have no time to spend with my family because I am always working. I've stopped making dinner altogether. When I am not working, the last thing I want to do is step foot in my kitchen, cook and wash dishes! When I don't have my hands in sugar, though, I long for it.

And here's even more to rant customers. They take up so much of your time. I tell my customers to leave my tasting for last! I have also found that most brides want more traditional designs than trendy ones. After awhile, the same cake designs get a little boring.

What do you do? I love what I do, but not so much anymore. I love the decorating, but am starting to dislike some of the other work. How do you hire someone and train them - but most improtantly, trust them, with your sought after recipes???? I don't know that I have enough business to make it worth someone's while since I have limited myself to the orders that I can complete on my own. I have been preparing to open a shop, but I now have reservations given the way I have been feeling.

My husband took a considerable paycut last year and my business currently suppliments our income. I was a woman who 'lunched' prior to this and was bored stiff with nothing to do but clean and decorate my house. I thought this would be fun, but I didn't expect this much success so quickly and the demands that go along with it.

My work is top notch. I compete with the best of them. I am just starting feeling the 'burn' and don't know if it's just me, or if this happens to others as well. For those of you with cake decorating businesses, I would love to hear from you. You can't imagine how important and valuable your input is to me. If you don't want to post publically, feel free to PM.

Thanks for listening.

27 replies
AllCakedOut Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 12:54pm
post #2 of 28

I know where you are coming from, as I'm sure I'm headed in the same direction. A lot of the same story here in general, actually.

Right now, the most important thing for you to do is to take a real look at your routine, and figure out what can most easily be delegated. If you don't want to do the office work, hire someone part time to deal with that. If you don't want to bake / fill, that should be pretty easy to find someone to hire.

You should see a lawyer about getting a pretty hefty non compete / confidentiality agreement done. I'm pretty jaded about hiring, and the trust issue is something that's going to be hard for me. I'm looking to get a great agreement done, then find someone who really has no interest in going off on their own.

Other than that, sounds like you're in a great - but defining - position. Handle this well, and you'll definitely be on track for some serious long term success and growth.

indydebi Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 12:54pm
post #3 of 28

first, what you're going thru is very normal. I remember seeing on TV a show about starting a biz, and the owner said, "Don't expect to get any sleep." So when I would feel overwhelmed, I'd remember this and believe it or not, as tired as I was (4 hours sleep a day for about 2 years), it was comforting to know "wow....I'm normal." icon_smile.gif

Hire someone to come in and wash the pans, prep (grease) the pans, foil-cover your boards, trim the cakes, wrap them to put in the freezer, mix colors of icing, wash dishes, take out the trash, general clean up. You'd be AMAZED how much having someone else do these little chores really frees up your time. It's not the time it takes to do this stuff .... it's the interruption when you have to STOP decorating to mix up a 1/2 cup of green icing for that handful of leaves you need to put on there. I have 6 girls working for me. All of them are 15 years old and they are AWESOME! They are not interested in opening their own shop, so I've no problem handing them my cookie recipes so they can make dough.

There are many weekends where I stare at my schedule and ask "Why did you BOOK this many?" (It made sense at the time! icon_confused.gif ). I don't want to load the van, I don't want to cook 40 lbs of chicken, I just don't want to do it. Then I put one foot forward. On Sunday, when it's all over, you can't pry me off of my couch and don't you DARE change the channel off of Liftetime! icon_lol.gif

And we have a standing joke in our house: "I'm a caterer .... my family LIVES on fast food!" Heck, just last night we had Kraft Mac-n-Cheese with hot dogs and canned baked beans. My 15 year old was dancing in the kitchen 'coz we were finally having REAL food! icon_lol.gificon_lol.gif

mgdqueen Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 12:58pm
post #4 of 28

I'm sure everyone feels burnout once in awhile. When demand goes up, so can your prices. Weed out your customers and concentrate on HIGH paying jobs. Then you could do fewer cakes but make more money. I know it's easy for me to say-I am not even close to being in that situation but that's what I would do.

When this is no longer fun, you need to change something to remember why you got into it in the first place-just like marriage. Keep things new and fresh, demand more money and have fun again. Maybe hiring a helper-like a high school girl who JUST bakes the cakes or mixes icing or colors fondant is what you need. She won't be in there to open her own business and you won't have to pay a decorator's salary.

Good luck to you!

littlecake Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:04pm
post #5 of 28

Bless your heart, i know....there are days i come home...and i hurt so much i can barely walk.

i'd start out by hiring some cleaning help, after i'm done decorating on saturday my girl comes in....and i just leave her the entire can't imagine how much that has taken off me, having some cleaning help.

july it seems like the work load eases up some, maybe you can get some rest.

suzylynn58 Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:04pm
post #6 of 28

Serveral years ago I had my own business also (restaurant and catering). I can definitely understand where your coming from. I tends to take over your life, especially the humdrum duties that go along with it.

I currently work a full time job (not food related) where I make more than I ever would doing cakes/catering in my location and a lot less physically demanding.

I have been flip-flopping on whether or not to try to get a legal kitchen on my property because of the very reasons you stated. I love the creativity and thrill of producing a cake that a client raves about, but wonder how long it would be before I burn out. I stay very busy just doing cakes on weekends through word of mouth. I am not getting any younger and am exhausted on Monday mornings when I have to go to my "real" job. BTW, I would not be able to give up my day job for another few years till DS gets out of college and on his own.

Anyway, I finally contacted the health dept and they would require me to put in a commercial grade sewer system. We are in a rural area. That is not an option for us because of maintainence issues. So I am looking at that as my answer for now. I actually feel a little relieved that someone else made the decision for me. Does that make sense?

I'm like you, when I'm up to my armpits in batter and frosting I ask myself why I'm doing it, then when I don't have orders, I am depressed. Go figure.

I'm sure this didn't help you alot, but just know that your not alone in feeling the way you are. And I don't have any answers for employees issues. I am such a control freak, I would find it very hard to turn over stuff to someone else even without considering the possibilites of them "stealing" my business. icon_biggrin.gif

Hope you work it all out!


indydebi Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:07pm
post #7 of 28
Originally Posted by suzylynn58

I'm like you, when I'm up to my armpits in batter and frosting I ask myself why I'm doing it, then when I don't have orders, I am depressed. Go figure.

Yeah! I SO relate to this one!

CranberryClo Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:08pm
post #8 of 28

I don't do cakes for pay and certainly have no idea what it is to own a business, but I thought I'd just throw this out there. When my children go back to school and I have a bit of time to do something more than my Mommy-duties, I would very much like a part-time job working in a bakery. And yes, I'd love to decorate, but I wouldn't mind the little work, either, provided the environment is right. But more important than any of that, I have absolutely, positively no desire to open my own business. None. Zilch. Nada. So, maybe there are people in your area who would like working in a creative environment, who would enjoy the job without any interest in being competition.

And if you're in Tampa and can hang on for 2 more years, I'd be your icing, dishes, etc. girl! icon_wink.gif I like to be around cakes, like to participate in the process, but have no inkling to deal with taxes, payroll, insurance, etc.


KHalstead Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:10pm
post #9 of 28

I think hiring a couple teenagers is the way to go too, you can tell them they're apprenticing and pay them less LOL j/k. But seriously, do you have any family members, maybe some neices or nephews that may be able to come in and help out. You'd be surprised how happy they are to just have somewhere to go and something to do! I think indydebi is right about all that little stuff, and there are a million things that can be done that don't include the baking and decorating. I dream about one day walking into my own shop and just pulling out already perfectlly baked cakes from the freezer or countertop and unwrapping them and decorating, not having to have even had a thought about when I was going to bake them,did I remember the eggs?? etc. I think I'm going to try and sniff out some teenagers lol. Oh and also, a crockpot/slowcooker is invaluable. My DH knows when he sees that thing on the counter I've got a load of cakes to do. I throw everthing in the night before pop it in the fridge, next day pop it in the thingy and plug it in. Then I don't have to THINK about dinner at all! Sometimes if I'm going to have a busy week I'll take several meals (slowcooker meals) and pop each one into a huge ziploc bag and pop em' in the fridge at the beginning of the week and then everyday I can pull one out, dump it in and turn it on. There are millions of things you can cook in the thing. If I need more than 3 days of meals I just freeze them in the zip bags. I've thrown entire meals into that thing frozen and put it on low in the morning and it was cooked perfectlly by dinner time. Good luck, take it easy and don't be afraid to tell people you're booked!!! Especially if it's another boring cake you really don't feel like doing!

SweetConfectionsChef Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:27pm
post #10 of 28

I've been exactly where you are! Until I found out I was pregnant in February I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep going at the pace I was running at. I had 1 to 2 wedding cakes and atleast 10 custom cakes per week not to mention the 2 corporate catering accounts I picked up. One was lunch M-F and the other was spuratic but most months it was also every work day. I had 1 full time and 1 part time workers. I say had because I sold my shop in May....I could barely keep my head above water as it was and I didn't know how I would do it in my third trimester or with a baby in tow. I am still having problems cooking dinner or even baking cupcakes! Burn out of somehting you truely love really sucks. I really do understand! Had I decided to keep the shop I would have dropped one of the just wasn't worth the stress.

My full time worker was there for catering and catering only. She worked M-F and helped with the shopping, loading, unloading, putting things away, cooking the lunches, delivery and clean-up at the end of the day. It worked out really good.

My part time worker came in on Wed, Fri, Sat. On Wed she cleaned EVERYTHING in my shop (floors, ceiling fans, bathroom, ect). Friday's were bake and freeze day for the next week which she became really good and quick at. This left me to finish decorating of course after all of the catering was done. Friday was our longest and most dreaded day.

Saturday I liked running the front so she would clean, clean, clean so we could start all over on Monday.

Her job started out as cleaning only and then I added the baking which was the BIGGEST help! OMG! I was making bank with all of the catering so money wasn't tight but I'll tell you, if I were you, I would scrape up $600 a month to hire someone to help....if you find the right person you won't regret it. Start with less intimidating duties (like cleaning) and work up to other things. Also, definately make them sign a non-compete/privacy clause. I always hired people as contract workers and 1099'd them at the end of the year. You'll have to relinquish a small bit of control for their assigned tasks but it will make your life so much easier, and fuller when it comes to home time! thumbs_up.gif

summernoelle Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:29pm
post #11 of 28

Oh, I totally understand. I was so bored before this, but completely overwhelmed by it now. There isn't time for anything but cakes-and the baking and cleaning takes the longest.
If I had my way, I would hire someone to help me with my most hated issues-which was everything Indydebi suggested. Trimming/leveling cakes (aaaaack), sweeping the floor from that, scrubbing pans, dealing with tinting fondant, etc. There are so many "busy" chores to be done that I would hire a person for that, and concentrate on just the baking and decorating-let someone else do the cleanup!

Mike1394 Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:31pm
post #12 of 28

CONGRATS. I mean that in the most sincere way. It's a wonderful feeling. The baby you created is going strong, and ready to take it's first steps. The business is ready, are you though? This where it becomes hard. Do you let the child grow, or do you cut back for sanity reasons?

On a side note. I'll offer my services as a traveling baker. I'll travel from one CC member to the next helping them bake. I won't care about your recipes, why? Because I bake better than you anyway. LOLOLOL. I might even let you "steal" some of mine.

How about it when do I get my first booking? icon_biggrin.gif


playingwithsugar Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:31pm
post #13 of 28

I do not know where you are, but many counties have vocational high schools which teach culinary or bakingg/pastry arts. Would your business have you in a position to hire one of those students as an assistant? They could go on a cooperative program, and get school hour credits for the time they spend in your shop.

You wouldn't have to teach them everything you know, just have them do the cleaning, some icing and crumb coating, and piping basic borders. That would free you to concentrate on the more technical aspects of the business.

Theresa icon_smile.gif

indydebi Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:45pm
post #14 of 28
Originally Posted by Mike1394

CONGRATS. I mean that in the most sincere way. It's a wonderful feeling. The baby you created is going strong, and ready to take it's first steps. The business is ready, are you though? This where it becomes hard. Do you let the child grow, or do you cut back for sanity reasons?

On a side note. I'll offer my services as a traveling baker. I'll travel from one CC member to the next helping them bake. I won't care about your recipes, why? Because I bake better than you anyway. LOLOLOL. I might even let you "steal" some of mine.

How about it when do I get my first booking? icon_biggrin.gif


Mike, you're welcome in my shop anytime you're in the area!! thumbs_up.gif

PattyT Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 1:47pm
post #15 of 28

Oh Cakeburnout, please don't give up! I admire you so much for having the courage to put yourself out there. Your great success shows that you have the talent and drive to do what you love.

I agree with the others that you need HELP! But don't be afraid that they'll leave and start their own shop.

Some people (read here, "Me"), do not like the Sales aspect of business and negotiating with clients; we are too afraid to take the financial risk of licenses/insurance/equipment, and we would happily work away mixing green frosting, crumb coating, improving my gumpaste skills making flowers, piping hundreds of roses for you - and yes keeping the place spotless for you. I KNOW that I am truly a behind the scenes person - or better yet an invaluable, reliable right-hand assistant.

There are lots of us! And we are toiling away in office jobs, giving away everything we bake to friends because we'll never have your "balls" to be legal and licensed.

Please don't give up - just take the advice of the others. Take a deep breath, and - quoting indidebi take the next step.

...and p.s. if you are in South Jersey/Philadelphia PM me!

tchrmom Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 2:03pm
post #16 of 28

I am a teacher. If I didn't have that and a child, I'd love to help too. (I hate to clean, but I'd help with that too. I like all the ideas about high school students, especially ones in culinary classes. And there are definitely lots of people with NO interest in competing.

-K8memphis Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 2:03pm
post #17 of 28

I've done so many things I won't list them.

But an idea I wanna toss out to you is to consider using that boring section of your market to your advantage. It has the potential to pay for your helpers. Use the momentum go with the flow.

Make up enough dummies to cover the current most popular cakes, like a 3-tier that has a scroll tier, a quilted tier a plain smooth tier with ribbon--or just use a hexagon cake and do each side a different decor like that. Or on a tiered cake do one side one way and the other side another way. Like a drape, and a branchy thing and agh lace or something, a castle cake, a package cake.

But I mean the idea is set out so many cakes that are 'standard' design. But don't use that word with bridelettes. Call them what's hot right now or something. Those can be tossed out pretty easy. Boring is good. Boring is your friend because your brain is getting fried. Boring pays the bills and boring can not only be done with love but it can also be accomplished mechanically, using no brain cells that you wanna protect from any futher smoke damage.

Just a thought for you.

I can totally see and feel you are overwhelmed. I also see that you are living your dream too, GF! IT'S SO HARD!!!!! So just tweak it to re-focus and keep living that dream you worked your guts out on.


smoore Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 2:25pm
post #18 of 28

Also, be sure to schedule time off -- and TAKE that time off! The old saying in business to "pay yourself first" includes taking a break/vacation. 1/2 of your perspective right now is jaded by the fact you are dead tired. Get the rest you need so that you don't make the errors that require you to "re-mix/bake". Personally, I rather get an extra hour sleep than have to remake something because I was too tired to know what I was doing the first time.

Monkess Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 3:02pm
post #19 of 28

You've got some pretty good advice here already. I feel the same way sharing my techniques to someone who might actually be a spy for my competition (that has happened to us, but thank God we caught before nay damage was done) having said that, what I can not undermine is the importance of a helper. The middle way is to have someone do chores those small things that take SO much time, that way you will not feel totally drained all the time.
Something else we neglect, watch your health, exercise, eat well(ahemicon_smile.gif and drink water, sometimes we forget the most important things and if the body is not top notch your work wont be too. Good luck honey, and hang in there.

Mike1394 Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 3:04pm
post #20 of 28
Originally Posted by indydebi

Originally Posted by Mike1394

CONGRATS. I mean that in the most sincere way. It's a wonderful feeling. The baby you created is going strong, and ready to take it's first steps. The business is ready, are you though? This where it becomes hard. Do you let the child grow, or do you cut back for sanity reasons?

On a side note. I'll offer my services as a traveling baker. I'll travel from one CC member to the next helping them bake. I won't care about your recipes, why? Because I bake better than you anyway. LOLOLOL. I might even let you "steal" some of mine.

How about it when do I get my first booking? icon_biggrin.gif


Mike, you're welcome in my shop anytime you're in the area!! thumbs_up.gif

WOOOOHOOOO icon_biggrin.gif Thanks Debi. Indy isn't that far from Detroit. Watchout what ya wish for Hehehehehe

Mike (The Vagabond Baker)

tracycakes Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 8:35pm
post #21 of 28

What you are going through is the very thing that scares me about starting my own business. I know how burned out I got when I first started decorating and made about 3 cakes a week for about 1 1/2 years. Working my real job during the day and cake 6 nights a week just wore me out and I was young then. I hated the cleaning part - and still do.

Recently, I ran into a local decorator that has her own business and is facing burnout. I currently work 4 - 10 hour days and I'm off of Fridays. I was, and still am, tempted to offer to help her on Fridays do whatever she needs to help me gain real business experience, and to give her a break. But gosh, there I go again, working 50 hours a week when I really want to work about 24 - 32.

I agree with k8memphis about getting some simpler designs out that you know you can do quickly without a lot of work. Maybe you can get more of those type of designs. Plan a weekend off. If you don't take some time now, you will completely burn out and absolutely begin to hate. Bring in a teenager to help clean up. My BFF lives next door and has 2 daughters that want to learn to decorate. I'm thinking about teaching them some things and getting them to help with cleanup. They are great girls and it would be so much fun. BFF and I have know each other since we were 6 years old and that was (cough cough) almost 40 years ago.

Good Luck to you. Take a night off and put up your feet!

snarkybaker Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 9:01pm
post #22 of 28

I feel ya sister!! Our business exploded the day we opened the door, and has been going non-stop to this day. I guess I would first say that there is no job that is always fun. If it was always fun, they would call it vacation, not work.

Most brides do, indeed, want very staid designs. We do the same piping and the same ribbon, and the same flowers over and over again. It's part of the job, unless somehow, you can make yourself an reputation for outlandish designs, a la Duff.
If you have some wondows, make a few cake dummies that show the kind of work you'd like to do. In my window right now, we have a wedding cake with cows riding a john deere tractor that says " just married" and a four tiered cake with various scenes from the movie Ratatoullie and a silver royal icing Eiffel tower on top. We're working on Kung Fu Panda right now. Since we started doing it, we getting a lot more ordes for creative cakes ( although you may end up making a lot of Curious George cakes)
Raise your prices. You'll start to get a different customer, you'll make fewer cakes, and you'll make the same if not more money.
Try to find a way to get a little time off, even if it is just a couple of mornings a week. Do something for yourself with that time away. get your nails done. Eat sushi. Lock yourself in the bathroom and have a hot bath a read some chic lit.

If you can hire somebody to help, do it. I have a great staff, and if they are young, chances are they won't have enough money to become your competition anyway...and I live in a state that will license ANYBODY, so I could have LOTS of competition, but I don't.

Keep your chin up. It'll get better.

littlecake Posted 2 Jul 2008 , 9:53pm
post #23 of 28
Originally Posted by k8memphis

. Boring is good. Boring is your friend because your brain is getting fried. Boring pays the bills and boring can not only be done with love but it can also be accomplished mechanically, using no brain cells that you wanna protect from any futher smoke damage.

OMGosh K8 this is SOOOOOOOOOOO true....i have a lot of cakes i've done so often, i can do them on auto pilot....i have wished from time to time everyone would order them....then you can rest your brain....i can decorate some 3 tiered cakes in 90 minutes, thats what ya need, not the nerve racking ones.

i'm way past the "let's do it for the challenge it's fun"....i wanted to share this before but didn't know how to express it.

i wanna be k8 when i grow up... icon_razz.gificon_razz.gificon_razz.gif

loriemoms Posted 3 Jul 2008 , 12:36am
post #24 of 28

I haven't read the entire thread, but I have to say that I can completely relate. I know people have made lots of really good suggestions, and I wish you lots of luck. Its a very very hard life. You do have to sit back and examine if its worth it. is it worth your health, your marriage, your social life. Maybe take less orders, maybe take on help...if you are afraid someone will steal your recipes, make them sign an agreement (non compete). Hire someone to do the baking and take a day off. I force myself to take one day off a week, even if I am swamped. I go out to lunch with friends, sometimes I just watch DVDs all day and eat junk food (or sit on here and read messages all day hahaha) I stopped taking birthday cake orders, I do all weddings now. Maybe just take on the really fancy cakes if you are bored. you CAN turn down work!

Part of owning a business is reconizing you cannot do it all yourself, and you need help. Even the best of the best have help....

Again, good luck..and girl, I know exactly where you are coming from.

fancyface Posted 3 Jul 2008 , 1:49am
post #25 of 28

I wanna help!! If your in toronto pm me! to hijack this thread for a moment, .... i had posted a while back (looking for help in toronto??) this is what i would actually like to do for some one... help them out to grow... but alas .... no one had taken me up on my offer icon_sad.gif
but to the original poster.... try the local high schools , there are bound to be a few students that will do your "grunt" work for you.

melodyscakes Posted 3 Jul 2008 , 1:56am
post #26 of 28

Before you say "I can't afford to hire someone" let me throw some numbers out to you. lets say I employ a wonderful decorator to help me, and another assistant (my dad) Dad bakes the cakes, makes the icing, bakes cookies, and washes dishes. my decorator does most of the decorating...he is awesome. that leaves me to answer the phone, answer emails, do wedding cake consultations, pay bills, ect...then I decorate some.
If my orders are say $1500 for one week....I've paid them say $250.00 altogether...and I get to Go HOME and live normal life and enjoy owning my business. I didn't do this at first...I did everything, and was overworked, tired all the time, grouchy, and didn't want to go to work. a few times I even slept at the bakery.
now, Its relaxing and I can even take on more orders....without stress!

you will once again love doing what you do, if you give yourself a break.

good luck!


littlecake Posted 3 Jul 2008 , 2:47am
post #27 of 28

I wish i could find a decent decorator to help me, i've had several come in looking for a job, saying they have decorated 25+ years....

I took a clue from the places that I have worked....and just told them to come back and make a cake.

Oh was amazing, is all i gotta say...couldn't even ice a cake without getting tons of crumbs, and couldn't even do a rose to save their life...and when they were done, they thought they had done a fine job...not to mention, it took them forever to do it.

i realize people have different skill levels, but, they all told me they were experts.

CakeBurnOut Posted 3 Jul 2008 , 8:38am
post #28 of 28

Talk about burnout, it's 4:35 and I am taking a forced coffee break (for mental health reasons and because I have been up for hours). Thank you so very much to each and every one of you who took the time to read and respond to my post.

I will very much consider each word of advice and move forward with it. I don't know many people who could understand what we go through.

I must keep this short as I am pressed for time with tons of work left to do.

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. icon_smile.gif

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