hello i am new to this site.i own a small cake decorating business here in Oklahoma for 5 1/2 yrs now.this road has been hard.i didn't know that much when i started but believe me i have learned thru my mistakes.several of my types of stores has closed down in Oklahoma. know there is only two left in okc.you would think that was a good thing.but i still have not gotten enough business to operate the way i need to.my dollars are having to stretch even further now that the price of almost everything has gone up.what hurts me is that cake decorators doesn't support there cake supply stores.they go out and buy from big corporations like wal-m.hobby lob,michea.... you get the point i understand money's tight.any body have maybe some advice they can give me.can't afford advertising locally and flyer's only goes so far.i have been struggling with the money issue for a while.i love my business and don't want to go under like others here in Oklahoma.
Everything I can think of costs money!
Coupons...maybe just specials for previous customers
Free classes (will get people in the door...I know I buy something at Hobby Lobby after every class)
Holiday Open House offering samples and door prizes
Participating in lots of craft fairs, etc. where you have a display of your work and free samples and/or coupons
Honestly, the big stores can probably sell decorating tools for much less than you can. So, you have to counter that with something special...you have to show the customers HOW to use the tools, the designs they can achieve, and then, when they realize that it's WAY too much work, they have to know that you can provide and delicious and gorgeous cake for them.
This is very novice advice...I don't have a store...I'm a home baker.
Sorry to hear about your business problems. I completely agree about supporting local business though. There is one local place where I live that I try to shop at as much as possible. They are very helpful and can usually get anything I have seen on line that I want. They also carry stuff that the big guys don't.
I hope things work out for you!
Having decorating classes creates customers for you. The price of the class can include the supplies needed (that you buy from yourself) OR they can get a discount if they buy them from you. Then they will need to buy add'l things from you as they progress in their hobby/craft.
Carry the things that walmart/HL and Michael's dont' carry. If you all have the same stuff, why would they come to your place? I have a walmart right behind my house (seriously ... my kid goes thru the fence when she wants to go shopping). I have a HL and a Michaels just 12 minutes from my house, and these two stores are 2 minutes from each other. Yet I will drive 45 minutes to the other side of town to get my supplies ... because Marsha ALWAYS has what I need and she always has really cool stuff that just can't be found in any of the above mentioned stores. Plus her expertise is too valuable to put a number to. Can't get my questions answered from chain-store-clerks. (No slam to those who work in these stores ... Marsha just knows so much more than anyone I've ever met about cakes.)
If you go to www.usps.com, there is a page about "create a card" or something ... you can create a postcard mailing and it only costs you the postage. You can get an upgraded card, like adding a color photo, for a small cost, but even this is cheaper than a color copied flyer (and then you have to add the envelope, the postage, the time). Just enter the info online on the Post Office website ... the card will print in the post office and they will mail it for you. YOu never have to touch it. You can mail one or mail 100 or mail 1000. This is the most awesome tool I've ever seen.
Have you collected addresses or email addresses of your customers so you can do a monthly newsletter or email newsletter? It's a great way to remind folks that your Christmas supplies are in, and they should "...get yours now before they are sold out". "Constant Contact", http://www.constantcontact.com/index.jsp , is a site that manages your customer database, enabling you to mass email your newsletter for as low as $15 a month.
A few ideas:
Add a coupon on your website. This will allow people to print it off and bring it in. Doesn't have to be anything major, maybe 10% off or even a freebie. People LOVE freebies. Maybe a free decorating tip with purchase (offer 3 or 4 different tips for people to choose from).
Update your website. While the layout and overall look is great, there is very little information. You have photo gallery, but you say that you aren't a bakery. Whose photos are they? Maybe have a student photo gallery like Colette Peters. This helps "plug" your classes while keeping photos on your site. Make your home page more of a this-is-why-you-should-come-to-me. I agree with IndyDebi, if you are the expert (as Marsha is) people will come to you. Also, like Debi said, if you carry things that Michael's, HL and Walmart don't, then you are the specialty store n town. A big draw for our local shop is that she has virtually EVERY tip in stock. When people need just one for a cake, what sense does it make to pay $6 in shipping when a quick drive will get it for you.
Consider adding some very basic classes. I am a WMI and always have students that ask for just a single two hour class on how to frost a cake smooth or just work on the rose. As a side note, if you get to know the instructors at the local craft stores, then they will help your business too. I don't know how many times I've sent people to our local shop. I even carry her card with me (maybe she should offer me an employee discount )
Invite the local news media in to do a piece on your store. Perhaps a "unknown gem" type story. This is huge free advertising.
Contact local girl scout, boy scout and 4H groups. Offer classes for badges and 4H projects.
Spend $15 on a car magnet to advertise your business. This is advertising every time your are out and about.
Ask someone to get you shirts or sweatshirts with your business info printed on them for Christmas. Wear them to work and when you are out, again free advertising.
Hope some of these help. I am by no means a marketing expert, but I am always looking for inexpensive ways to do things!
Spend $15 on a car magnet to advertise your business. This is advertising every time your are out and about.
Oh, yeah this is a good one! Just days after I got my van lettered, someone called and when I asked "How did you find us?", she said, "My mom saw one of your vans on the highway." (ONE of my vans! )
Just last week, I parked in front of the shop and a lady stopped me. She had seen the van and followed me into the parking lot to get my number! She came in and it resulted in a $500 order.
Maybe have an online store???
I live in the Tulsa area, and I've actually shopped at your store when I've had a reason to get to OKC. Unfortunately, that's a bit of a drive and since we have no cake supplies stores here, I shop online 99% of the time.
Honestly, I don't think your real competition are the WalMarts and Hobby Lobbies. I think it's online sales. If I'm looking for a hard to find widget or the absolute lowest price for an item, I'm going to find it online. And honestly, how you compete with that I just don't know.
The Tulsa area doesn't have a single supply store in town and I suspect the reason is just what I stated...they just can't compete with online stores that don't have the overhead a brick and mortar store does.
Best of luck to you, I really enjoy your store and would hate to see it go!
I looked at your website. I think you need to expand it. Do you do cakes out of that location? If you do can you expand your menu?
While I don't live anywhere near you, one of the cake supply stores in my area offers unique one of a kind classes every so often. She was featured in the local newspaper and that is how I found out about her store. She offers a 4 hour class on a specific cake decorating idea on a Sunday afternoon. She taught basic fondant that covered so much more than all the Wilton classes I took. She also did a class on frozen butter cream transfers, a purse cake, a topsy turvy cake and a shoe box and shoe cake. These types of classes really appeal to a lot of people and she always has a full class and has to turn people down until the next class. She is sponsoring a cake decorating contest with some pretty big name decorators in Jan. The contest is open to everyone and will have categories for the professional and the amateur. She carries a lot of great supplies. When she does her classes she sells the supplies needed for that class that you would not be able to buy from Wal-Mart, etc. She opens her store that Sunday just for the students and most of us end up buying other things beside the things needed for the class. Just an idea for you.
I live in Los Angeles and I know of only two well-stocked cake decorating stores. They are both around 15 miles from my house. I only shop at Michael's if it is an emergency and I have a coupon. Otherwise, I go out of my way to shop at the indies. They have a great selection of supplies and suppliers. The Michaels's closest to me has only Wilton and not even a good selection of their product line. I never shop at Walmart so I don't know what they have.
I think the suggestions above were excellent. I would add offering a student discount to folks taking professional courses at a commercial school, if there is one nearby.
Sometimes you do have to spend a little money to make some.
Since I live in a area with just Walmart, Michaels and Hobby Lobby I don't have the option of shopping at a cake store. If there was one here (and believe me I have thought doing it myself) I would shop there. But the prices of items I could get at the other stores would have to be somewhat in comparison. I'm not going to go pay alot more for things I can get cheaper. So if you can't sell those items for the same or near cost, then I would do away with those things and bring in items the cakers can't get in your area.
I love the idea of classes. That is why Michaels and Hobby Lobby have Wilton classes. It isn't like they really care who learns. It is because it brings people into the store, they have things they need to buy for the class and then they always pick up extra. Same reason they do the sales and coupons. It brings people into the store and they usually pick up more than one item.
If you don't want something like the Wilton classes you can still do little groups of classes that cover how to use things you sale in the store.
Demo's would be another good way to get people into the store and attention. But you would have to advertise these in some way. Demo's get people excited about what they are seeing and make people want to buy the items needed so they can go home and do it themselves.
What about a cake club in the area? If there isn't one you could always start one. It is a way to get people excited about cake decorating and getting people into the store.
Sales or discounts when you can. What about a little punch card. You can either do a punch for every time they buy something, or based off the amount they spend. If they get 10 punches you can give them something free (something nice but cheap for you to give) or so much off their next purchase. It gives people a reason to come in and keep coming in.
I have been in this store once. You have a nice store with alot of wilton stuff. But I would like to see more supplies and sizes of boards/boxes, fillings etc. Also would like more mats, cutters etc for cookies fondant. I thinking going beyond wilton is needed for the more serious baker. Also classes would be great interest. More than the standard wilton classses. Maybe scultpting, specific designs like topsy turvey. We don't have the opportunty in oklahoma for specific classes or any of the big artist. That would be a huge draw.
I only really shop my local cake store for things I can't get elsewhere or not worth the shipping cost. I just bought lorann oils from there this last time to try them. I have bought americolor and hi-ratio shortening from there. The one time I wanted to purchase a magic line pan theirs was more than double the online cost. So I totally agree on the carry more non-standard items.
I live in OKC and have never heard of your shop. I have a hard time making it to the other store in town because of their hours. I'll have to stop by some time and check you out. You don't happen to sell hi-ratio shortening in less than 50lb blocks do you?
I just looked at your site, do you only stock Wilton products? Maybe offering non-Wilton products might bring more people in. The only cake and party supply store near me carries a large percentage of Wilton products. They only have a few Country Kitchen items and they only carry 2lb tubs of Satin Ice. I personally don't care for Wilton products. If I lived near the Country Kitchen store I'd be in a lot of trouble because I'd be buying stuff left and right.
I lived in OK for 9 years but that was before I got interested in cake decorating. It's always sad to see businesses struggle and go under. I hope that things start to turn around for you.
As a supply shop owner myself, I can absolutely appreciate your problem. #1 Stock what you use, what you like. Chances are others will too! If you don't do a lot of decorating, start asking every customer what they are buying elsewhere and on-line and offer to stock it so they can buy without paying shipping!
#2 Take advantage of any on-line free advertising sites. You may have some locally (start looking at your local TV stations sites), even craigslist can't hurt. Sure you'll get some spam, but sometimes if it gets you a couple of new customers, every little bit helps!
#3 Classes are definately a help. It gets the newbies to start buying regular stuff that rarely gets replaced by the regulars. Check about advertising them in school papers or college bulletin boards.
#4 When you do advertise ($$), make sure it gives you the most bang for your buck. Newspapers are a waste of time, try radio or TV. They don't cost as much as you might think and reach a much broader audience.
#5 Don't forget landmark stuff that can get you a little free press. Five years in business is a big deal, send out a press release to every paper, TV station, etc. No matter what, keep your chin up, things will turn around! -Lori
i agree, dont sell the wilton items that the craft stores carry,people always buy there using a coupon. How about starting a cake club or inviting the local cake club to meet in your store, do you have a room they can use? this will bring lots of cake decorators to you who otherwise might not know about you. What about a monthly lock-in like the scrapbook people do. Where you all get together to work on a project. But what you really need is sales, so unless you have something to sell to your customer or at least keep them coming back its going to be tuff. Do you rent cake pans and stands, this might be something to look into. I wish i was a bit closer i would certainly support your business. If you carried what i needed.
One of the cake deco stores that I go to, offer a free candy demo class. I think she offers the class like once or twice a month. She demos things like cherry cordials, filled candy, also candy similar to peppermint patties, peanut butter cups, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered ores and other items too. Then after the class the students buy the products that they will need to make the items the liked. Just a thought. I hope things will get better for u real soon.