What Are The Top Challenges For Cake Decorators Today?

Business By homebasedbaking Updated 28 Feb 2011 , 1:32am by jenmat

homebasedbaking Posted 18 Feb 2011 , 7:44pm
post #1 of 27

What is your biggest challenge as a cake decorator? For example, building your client base, locating your target market, advertising, locating wholesale ingredients, dealing with competitors, developing new products or product ideas, packaging, pricing products, dealing with difficult customers or something else? If you could prioritize what would be your top 5 or so?

26 replies
1234me Posted 18 Feb 2011 , 11:22pm
post #2 of 27

not being able to charge enough to make a good profit because of my location/members of my community not finding $$$ spent on cake a priority

Dreme Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 8:19am
post #3 of 27

1. Being the only one who does everything for my business.
2. The limited number orders I can take due to being the only one and being home based. Getting over having said no to money.
3. Emails. They never end. Ever. Means money, but cost time.
4. The increased inquires for sculpted cakes. Not really my thing. Too much extra problem solving I don't have the time for. It's easier to stick with things I can design, plan, and execute quick.
5. Trying to be human and do normal human things. Somehow I have become a cake droid and I live off of random cake scraps.

I have dealt with the things that were mentioned. I'm waiting for the next set of challenges once I'm ready for a storefront and then some.

Evoir Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 10:07am
post #4 of 27

Dealing with *******s.

Loucinda Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 2:58pm
post #5 of 27

I love how my business is, everything is how I would like it to be right now. My only issue is EDUCATING people on HOW MUCH the cakes they see made on TV cost. Everyone wants a $$$$ cake for $.

(which is why I love the show Fabulous Cakes - I wish everyone could be made to watch THAT cake show!)

leah_s Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 4:22pm
post #6 of 27

Dreme, are you inside my head?

indydebi Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 7:46pm
post #7 of 27

I would go with loucinda's answer. Educating people on the cost. Since people CAN make "just a cake", they have in their head what they think THE INGREDIENTS cost and think that's the whole price of the cake. Plus "their eyes have seen the glory but their brains haven't caught up yet", meaning that back in the day, a wedding cake was a towering sugary piece of art that served 100 and cost a lot, but a birthday cake was a twenty buck cake in an aluminum foil pan that fed 15.

Today, birthday cakes are more elaborate. T hey are towering sugary pieces of art that serve 100 but people STILL have it in their head, "More than twenty bucks????? Are you KIDDING me????? But it's ONLY a birthday cake!!!"

My runner-up answer would be educating brides on the many, many lies they are told by the 'experts' in the wedding magazines. icon_mad.gif

lynn1968 Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 9:50pm
post #8 of 27

i have a convenience/trophy shop, which is fairly comparable on many levels, i believe.

1) keeping a handle on energy costs. our electric bill skyrocketed last year, and we shut down one big cooler and two freezers just to stay at the level we were paying, then just cut back selling slower selling items and condensed everything into the other coolers.

2) local competition. just today we had a customer call on behalf of his friend inquiring on how hard it would be to open up a trophy shop. we bought the store with almost 30 years worth of built-in clientele and it's still not enough. having a lot of clients is good, but if they're not the right kind of clients, you can cost yourself money catering to their whims and petty wishes if you're not careful. then we have to deal with undercutters working out of their garage (like home bakers doing cakes for a fraction of the real store price). online kills us the most, people see some outrageously low $$ figures and they go with the price, neglecting to keep money in the community and having good quality.

3) lack of funds to expand. i need a laser engraver like someone else probably desperately needs a big new oven. something simple like screenprinting would be a great addition, but i've not found a pot of gold yet (and that pot better be a hobart mixer, i feel like i'm going to need one later this year).

4) i can't say i have much overhead, but the other costs of doing business are a booger. between insurance, licenses and bonds, i could have paid this joint off by now.

5) lack of time....

Kitagrl Posted 19 Feb 2011 , 10:32pm
post #9 of 27

My biggest challenge here would probably be getting wedding orders, which I think is being solved right now by a relationship I just started with a venue/catering place. But most places in my area offer package deals which include wedding cakes, so I get a lot more groom's cake orders than weddings.

I also have a lot of competition around here (large area) but on the other hand, if I did not have all the competition, I would not be able to ask for the higher prices I am able to ask. So it evens out.

I found that once you get to where your only client base is ordering special cakes, none cheaper than $200 or so....you get less complaints about price and more people coming to you who are already anticipating a high amount....also in my area, some people actually research people like Duff and do know that cakes are not cheap. I can see how in rural areas it would be really challenging though to have the artistic talent without the richer client base.

mombabytiger Posted 20 Feb 2011 , 12:05am
post #10 of 27

I wish I had more time to hone my skills. There are some wonderful techniques going on out there that I would love to experiment with. I have incredible and innovative ideas in my head, but don't have to skill-set to translate them to a finished product. I also wish I had more money to invest in cake toys - molds, cutters, pans, etc.

mombabytiger Posted 20 Feb 2011 , 12:08am
post #11 of 27

I wish I had more time to hone my skills. There are some wonderful techniques going on out there that I would love to experiment with. I have incredible and innovative ideas in my head, but don't have to skill-set to translate them to a finished product. I also wish I had more money to invest in cake toys - molds, cutters, pans, etc. I wish I could afford a better camera.

lynn1968 Posted 20 Feb 2011 , 6:20pm
post #12 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by homebasedbaking

What is your biggest challenge as a cake decorator? For example, building your client base, locating your target market, advertising, locating wholesale ingredients, dealing with competitors, developing new products or product ideas, packaging, pricing products, dealing with difficult customers or something else? If you could prioritize what would be your top 5 or so?




what do you think, hbc? what are your top five challenges? and what's in your mind on how to resolve them?

building your client base. it's a word of mouth business for the most part, no? while there will always be the complainers, those in the know will always pay for quality product assuming the price isn't astronomical. the challenge is to bring your costs down to a point where you can be competitive with the other bakers and still earn a living. there are plenty of venues to showcase your product, such as donating cakes for events, which is really the best advertising, imo. for example, since we do all the awards for our local school, this year we're donating the cake for their main banquet. that'll be 300 kids and 600 parents/siblings/friends. while only the kids will get a serving, you betcha some of that will wind up in the mouths of people will money. just the look of the cake will stir interest, and if nothing else that should be able to get the locals into the store and ask questions. from there i have to rely on my salesmanship. i figure if i can get 25% of people to at least try something, i'll be well on my way towards building up a clientele. then again, i'm rather unsane, so don't quote me on any of this....

target market. well, how do you locate them? i'd venture to say the market is already targeted by your competition and offers product and pricing to reflect that, so use that as a baseline. still, businesses often get in a rut and neglect to stay current, so if no one is offering any contemporary fare then that's just an experiment you'll have to undergo, no? your location will, imo, dictate your market to a great degree. i believe people will go slightly out of their way if your reputation warrants turning a corner, but offering high-end product while located in the middle of a severely depressed area might not be a great idea.

advertising. as mentioned, word of mouth is your friend. do electronic billboards work? not a clue (though i've always heard billboards are terrible methods of advertising). fliers? nah. newspapers? what are those? i think local newspapers are good. check out what kind of local newsprint may be suitable for that. there are endless ways to advertise, from sponsoring a little league team to attending trade shows to just giving away t-shirts with your store name on them to driving around town with your name on the side of your vehicle. last year our local big bakery started up what they call 'the buttercream festival,' with a few attractions and things for kids to do. the options can drive you mad... not to mention bankrupt you! that said, i do absolutely no advertising and still manage to stay busy, even knowing i should at least have a nice website. try something simple, like posting on craigslist to begin with. not that i've ever seen one come back, but my store has coupons in the back of the yellow book (assuming you live in a place that still has those).

locating wholesale ingredients. that's what you have a computer for and really shouldn't be an issue. you may not like the prices or locations, but you'll know where you stand at least.

dealing with competitors. again, this is really a non-issue. the legitimate competition i have is on a friendly basis. we help one another out if we can. for me, it's the jokers working out of their garage that chaps my hide, putting out shoddy product at ridiculously low prices. they stay in business just long enough to snag customers away from me for a round or two. sure, it's easy to cut costs *when you pay no taxes*! lol. don't look for them to offer you trade secrets or anything, but most of them aren't out to see you go down in flames, either.

packaging. it is what it is. when i get around to being a real bakery hopefully later this year, you betcha i'm going with the plainest packaging materials i can find and slapping a label on it. i see absolutely no reason to have a fancy box that gets tossed out quickly. i hate having to pay extra for a shop's overly fancy packaging or the fact that they have a cafe and too many employees. not my problem, but it is my money. so, i wouldn't want to put any more cost on the customer than is necessary because quite frankly an expensive fancy box doesn't sell cakes, good cakes sell cakes. well, that's my feelings on that, anyway. and just buy in as much bulk as you can, that's rather a no-brainer, no?

dealing with difficult customers. it's a fact of life. you always have to be polite. you can never have an opinion. it's amazing i still have a tongue to bite after some of the ignorant things i've had to listen to. but, you're dealing with the public and sometimes you have to play politician. oh, i've tossed people unceremoniously out of my store before in the heat of the moment, and that's my bad. i'm a business owner and these daze such luxuries have to be taken very, very judiciously, meaning that if i want peoples' money then i can't go around being a hard-headed fanatical jerk about stoopid stuff that doesn't matter. sometimes i have to explain pricing, but that's understandable. keep your mien congenial, your attitude patient and your responses upbeat. if all else fails, just say you're sorry you can't do business and you hope to see them some other time. avoid saying, 'some other time when you've removed your head from your buttocks.' it's not rocket surgery, but it is a test of your temperament.

developing new product/new product ideas. that depends on your level of skill, does it not? you see these guys on cupcake wars raving about a cupcake with oxtail in it, but, seriously, no one's ever going to buy that crap. chances are what you can think of in terms of flavours and combinations have already been done and perhaps there's a reason why those aren't on many bakery menus, lol. i reckon you'll just have to see what works and what doesn't on your customers' taste buds, which are probably fairly unsophisticated for the most part. sorry, america, but most of y'all wouldn't know the difference between filet mignon and pig snout marinated in moonshine if you were blindfolded. i wouldn't, either, but at least i admit that, lol. i'd venture to say that if a person with no creativity knew exactly what their market wanted and provided them with that just based on tradition and trends then they'll do better than someone with imagination to spare yet can't let go of their artistic bent long enough to sell some plain chocolate cupcakes, if that makes any sense. new ideas come from research a lot of times, and the more you know the more the world of what can be done and how to do it opens up.

sorry for the long post, i do go on....

Rose_N_Crantz Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 1:46am
post #13 of 27

My biggest challenges are very similar to what others have already posted. Although I can add one.

Getting hired. I work at a grocery store as a decorator and I've been trying and trying and trying to get a job in a "real" bakery. Where I am encouraged to make a cake the best I can make it, not make it as fast as I can. I've called, emailed, stopped in, I've got a resume and portfolio, but the answer is always the same.

"We're not hiring right now, but we'll keep your resume on file for graduation time." So grad season rolls around and I call/email the bakeries.

"We're not hiring right now, perhaps later when it's not so hectic."

tryingcake Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 2:35am
post #14 of 27

I can only rehash what has already been said. People want a fabulous grandiose cake, but don't want to pay for it.

I have seriously looked at a client who said to me, but it's just cake, and I replied with, "then let's slap a sheet cake out there for your wedding if it's so unimportant."

I was just so over it that day.

No, it's not just a cake, next to your dress, it's the centerpiece of the reception. Get over it and pay what it costs... That's what I really wanted to add to my snide remark.

I want to put on my website in really big bold font:

If you watch cake shows, Platinum Bride or David Tutera or anything else that has a high budget and you don't - don't ask for it!!! That would make my day! (wink)

indydebi Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 2:58am
post #15 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by tryingcake

I have seriously looked at a client who said to me, but it's just cake, and I replied with, "then let's slap a sheet cake out there for your wedding if it's so unimportant."


BIG 'ole LOL on that one!!! icon_lol.gificon_lol.gificon_lol.gificon_lol.gif

btrsktch Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 4:44am
post #16 of 27

For me, its been getting any type of attention at all. I've done 6 bridal shows in the past with not one wedding tasting even booked. icon_sad.gif To be fair, I started as a cupcake shop that also does cakes, instead of vice versa. Funny how people can see cake shops doing cupcakes, but not the other way around. icon_confused.gif

So, instead of staying IN the pack of everyone else, I started making cakes ABOVE the pack (i.e. designer) and competing with the guys at the top. Problem is, they have been there for 20+ years and even though I am in a major metropolitan area, no one will give a newbie the time of day! I'm not discouraged... I'll just keep building beautiful cakes until someone notices! icon_smile.gif

indydebi Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 4:54am
post #17 of 27

btr, are you doing any networking prior to the bridal shows with the other vendors? visit other booths, talking, getting to know them, doing the card exchange thing, etc. The biggest perq at bridal shows is the relationship that is built between you and the other vendors. Booking brides is just a side benefit! thumbs_up.gif

btrsktch Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 5:09am
post #18 of 27

Hi Indydeby!

Yup! I did that and would go around and give away and/or save cupcake samples for the vendors as I met them!

JPMitchell Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 5:33am
post #19 of 27

I would say... Word of mouth! I swear by it, you really need to go for the wedding planners. I have two wedding planners that I've gotten mixed with and I get tons of work through them. If you smooze anyone, they are the ones to go for!!! I mean get on a personal level with them. I would check around for wedding vendors and like other posters said swap business cards, u know, pat my back.. I pat yours!! Other than that you really have to get you name out there!

indydebi Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 6:19am
post #20 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by CakesInfinity

I would say... Word of mouth! I swear by it, you really need to go for the wedding planners. I have two wedding planners that I've gotten mixed with and I get tons of work through them. If you smooze anyone, they are the ones to go for!!! I mean get on a personal level with them. I would check around for wedding vendors and like other posters said swap business cards, u know, pat my back.. I pat yours!! Other than that you really have to get you name out there!


Absolutely! In the August 2010 issue of CC Magz is my article on "How to get "in" with wedding vendors", including interviews with two vendors (planner and photographer) and what they look for before they will refer their brides to another vendor.

VanillaCoke Posted 22 Feb 2011 , 9:06pm
post #21 of 27

I'd second the "Dealing With Lies Magazines Tell."

tiaracakes Posted 23 Feb 2011 , 12:08am
post #22 of 27

For me, its been getting any type of attention at all. I've done 6 bridal shows in the past with not one wedding tasting even booked. To be fair, I started as a cupcake shop that also does cakes, instead of vice versa. Funny how people can see cake shops doing cupcakes, but not the other way around.

So, instead of staying IN the pack of everyone else, I started making cakes ABOVE the pack (i.e. designer) and competing with the guys at the top. Problem is, they have been there for 20+ years and even though I am in a major metropolitan area, no one will give a newbie the time of day! I'm not discouraged... I'll just keep building beautiful cakes until someone notices!


Take another look at your webpage. It looks very prety but the font is too tiny. that might be why...

melindak30 Posted 23 Feb 2011 , 12:21am
post #23 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Loucinda

I love how my business is, everything is how I would like it to be right now. My only issue is EDUCATING people on HOW MUCH the cakes they see made on TV cost. Everyone wants a $$$$ cake for $.

(which is why I love the show Fabulous Cakes - I wish everyone could be made to watch THAT cake show!)




They see a one hour cake show and presto a cake is done, they don't realize the other 44 employees behind the scenes and it took a week to shoot that one hour episode. I had a lady ask for a 3-d jack Russell terrier and actually offered to pay a whole $80 for it. To be polite I just said I was overbooked, to avoid me screaming any ugly things, I just want to scream at people like this to go to the big box store and by a sheet cake.

HaydenSC Posted 23 Feb 2011 , 4:18am
post #24 of 27

Top 5:
Qualified help. If you have worked at a grocery store bakery, you probably don't have the skills to work with us. If you don't work hard, don't apply for a job with us.
Correspondence. Keeping up with e-mails, phone calls, appointments, questions, etc.
Education on price. Birthday, wedding, occasion, sculpted, etc. It is all the same issue. People have champagne taste and a beer budget.
Paperwork. Keeping up with local tax laws, insurance, etc.
Having the time to promote and develop new products. Customers have gotten stuck in a rut lately.

cheeseball Posted 23 Feb 2011 , 4:23am
post #25 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by indydebi

"their eyes have seen the glory but their brains haven't caught up yet



icon_lol.gif

classiccake Posted 27 Feb 2011 , 2:02am
post #26 of 27

My challengesicon_sad.gifafter 16 years in business)

Managing employees

Paperwork

learning to say "No"

Hours of work

Last, but not least....retirement plannning and an exit plan!!! I have spent so many hours on this recently and get quite frustrated. I am not ready yet...but am at the point where i need to start getting serious about this.

jenmat Posted 28 Feb 2011 , 1:32am
post #27 of 27

Lately for me its been a bunch of silly brides asking for discounts.
REALLY??? I'm booking ahead 2 months for tastings and you want a discount?! Are you going to ask your photographer or florist for a discount too?

But seriously, Dreme was in my head too- especially with email correspondence. It gets old, but it also pays the bills.

My biggest challenge has always been my obsession with cake, and the need for boundaries with it. I need to make myself walk away and join the rest of the uncaked world once and a while...

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