HarleyDee Posted 16 May 2012 , 7:46pm
post #1 of

Only read this post if you have about 10 mins to spare. It's a lot to take in, lol. I used to post on the forums here a lot but then I took my baking business full time and I have 19-month old twins so very rarely do I have spare time.

Anyway, I started my business about 6 years ago renting kitchen space and only doing wedding cakes. Almost 2 years ago I opened up a store front selling items daily Tues-Friday and also taking special orders, as well as doing wedding cakes. My store is little bitty, only 300sq. ft. total, with my kitchen only being maybe 100sq. ft. of that. I run my business with one standard home oven and one 5qt. mixer because that's all I have room for. It is just me and my mom there, which means I have to limit the number of orders I can do per week (we both do the baking, but I'm the only one who decorates). Recently, my husband got a new, much better paying job so we no longer rely on the income from my shop. I dropped the shop down to only being open Thurs-Fri, and still taking special orders and doing weddings on the weekends. I had hoped this would ease the stress on me, as I was previously working about 60+ hours a week. I was wearing myself out physically and mentally, I missed my kids and I missed my husband. I have found that even with the shop only open two days, we are just as busy with special orders. Weddings are almost becoming more of a hassle for me, because it seems like everyone around here A.) is hateful when it comes to weddings and B.) bothers me non-stop for months leading up to the wedding, and gets angry when I tell them they have to schedule consultations to discuss weddings. Even knowing that information they still drop by/call/email whenever they want and get upset when I cannot stop working on orders that are paid for and due just to answer a question.

I love what I do. My business is like another child for me.. I built it from nothing and have made it decently successful in the two years I have had a shop. I'm not rolling in the dough by any means, but I did make a small profit ($4k cleared) last year. I am not opposed to hard work. I have been working since I was 14, and I don't like to NOT work. However, I do feel like all of this is wearing me down and making me a little, well, edgy icon_smile.gif I have considered just no longer doing wedding cakes, but it has become what I am known for, and I am in the only place in the city I live in to get a wedding cake (legally, lots of home bakers out there). I guess that makes me feel a little obligated.

Here comes the advice part. I may have the opportunity to expand into the building next door to me. If so, my rent would double (but would still be doable) and would allow me to get a bigger oven and more mixers (which I would have to purchase though). It would also allow me to hire employees, which I haven't been able to do because we physically do not have the room to have any more people in the shop besides me and my mom. However, I do have a standard when it comes to the decorations of my cakes. I am NOT the best decorator in the world by any means, but whatever goes out the door has my name and my reputation with it.

I know I can't keep going like I'm going or I will burn out totally. Part of me is already there a little, but I have worked so hard and love my business. Even if I scaled back to special orders only I would still be just as busy. I have to turn down just as many orders as I do during the week.

So I need thoughts.. opinions.. anything. Even if you just say, "wow, you're dumb," it would be nice to have some input from others who do this every day icon_smile.gif I've talked about it to my mom and my husband, but they just don't get it. All I get from them is, "Do what you think is best." Gah, I hate that phrase, lol.

35 replies
leah_s Posted 16 May 2012 , 8:03pm
post #2 of

Well, they are right, "do what you believe will make you happy and fulfilled and that will not damage you or your family."

Random thoughts:
Taking on the additional space will make you a business manager, not a cake designer. Managing employees is a job in itself. One that you may not like.

Having employees also means payroll, additional taxes and a lot of extra record keeping and reporting. You may not make enough $ to hire that out, so assume that you'll have to learn to do it.

If you think you have pressure now, just wait until you double or triple your business. 60 hours will become 80.

Raise your prices to manage your workflow. It's always better for you to make 1 cake for $100 than 2 cakes for $50.

Weddings and brides suck.

jgifford Posted 16 May 2012 , 8:20pm
post #3 of

Wow, you're dumb. There. Feel better? icon_wink.gif

First of all, no one can make you feel obligated if you don't let them. If you prefer not to do wedding cakes, don't do them. These little bridezillas will find someone to bake their cakes.

Second, you've got to decide what's important to you - - money, cakes, time with your kids while they're small? Which will you be giving up to expand?

I've just had to put my cake business on hold indefinitely, so I understand not doing something that you love. If money is not THE issue anymore, why not raise your prices and only take half as many orders? (Yes, leah_s is right on target with that one.)

Unless mom can take on the business/paperwork/employee side of the expansion, I think you'd be setting yourself up for a super fast burnout. JMO

HarleyDee Posted 16 May 2012 , 9:06pm
post #4 of

Lol, I knew y'all would bring up things for me to consider that I might not otherwise have thought about, such as payroll and all that.

I just don't know what to do about the business currently. We have already lost some customers by closing two more days a week (walk-in business). Part of me wishes that I had waited until later in life to start the business but that's just wishes in the wind at this point. I could always close and reopen *if* I ever feel like it, but that would mean doing something with all of the massive amount of stuff I have. Plus, I have weddings already booked through November..

Why are there no easy answers? icon_smile.gif

MimiFix Posted 16 May 2012 , 9:14pm
post #5 of

You should seriously think about the suggestion to raise your prices. Some people will not be willing to pay more, but there are many others who will. So you may end up with fewer orders but will make more money.

I hope things get better. But as Leah said, doubling your space will only cause more headaches. If you are open only two days but working there the other days, I hope you are able to work without being seen. And I strongly suggest you make it clear to a potential customer that you will not tolerate certain behaviors. Put it into the contract - list what you expect from a client. I began to dread (and then hate) dealing with some of my customers. Once I realized that these people were acting like children, I acted like the strict parent. "No" became my favorite word.

Best of luck.

HarleyDee Posted 16 May 2012 , 9:19pm
post #6 of
Quote:
Originally Posted by MimiFix

If you are open only two days but working there the other days, I hope you are able to work without being seen.




Lol, this becomes an issue all in itself. We have a huge display window that can't be covered, so people can see us in there working. Which means lots of knocking on the door and lots of locked-door pulling. icon_rolleyes.gif

jgifford Posted 16 May 2012 , 9:41pm
post #7 of

Have you considered closing the store front and doing special orders only?

matthewkyrankelly Posted 16 May 2012 , 10:03pm
post #8 of

Leah is right. Raise those prices. Work load will drop significantly and hopefully, the money will stay the same. It will be a good solution.

Sparklekat6 Posted 16 May 2012 , 10:07pm
post #9 of

I am not really sure what you are getting out of the second space? It sounds like you are over booked as it is?

Could you open up into the second space and take on a business partner who could keep the place open during the week? Like say someone who doesn't do cakes but wants to maybe sell sandwiches or gourmet goods and you could just have the cake business as a special order thing? That may end up being a more financially beneficial relationship than doing it all by yourself.

HarleyDee Posted 16 May 2012 , 10:21pm

The second space would allow me to take on other decorators, hopefully taking some of the decorating responsibility off of me. I was Of the mind set that more people would spread out the workload..

Norasmom Posted 16 May 2012 , 10:41pm

Sounds like you need a vacation. After your November cakes are done, take some time off to think.
I agree with Leah. Raise those prices and also don't book as many cakes! If you expand your business you are going to be expanding your hours, guaranteed! I may be in the minority, but I have a "no wedding cakes, ever" policy.

dldbrou Posted 16 May 2012 , 10:51pm

Have you thought about opening up just half days? Start up early morning, stop at noon. This leaves you with the afternoon for your family. When I was doing cakes many years ago for family & friends that actually paid for cakes, I was getting burned out and raised my prices. I was stunned that they were still willing to pay whatever I asked. It did not slow my part-time business at all. I finally stopped when I had hand surgery twice within 3 months.

btrsktch Posted 16 May 2012 , 11:39pm

Would your mom be able to take over the daily staff management and allow you to focus on the decorating and going out the door aspect of the business?
I agree with Leah in that the staff is a huge headache onto itself, but with two of you to focus on the vision and growth of the business, as long as you both agree who will do what, I think it is very doable. AND, raise your prices!

HarleyDee Posted 16 May 2012 , 11:50pm

It's unfortunate that I have to say this, but I wouldn't really trust my mom with the paperwork and management. Only because she had a heart attack a couple of years ago and it has "changed" her.. She forgets things a lot.. She gets distracted and offput easily, and she doesn't handle stress well at all... So it really would e all on my shoulders..

jason_kraft Posted 17 May 2012 , 12:38am
Quote:
Originally Posted by jgifford

Have you considered closing the store front and doing special orders only?



This. Maintaining a walk-in retail presence as opposed to appointment-only consultations is at least twice as much work, and in this case it doesn't sound like it's adding much value.

Apti Posted 17 May 2012 , 12:57am

You've been given superb advice from professionals who have been in similar situations. The general consensus seems to be:
raise your existing prices
do not do wedding cakes
do not expand next door

I suggest that you have a "role-play" dialogue with yourself. If your best friend came to you with the information you provided in your post, what would you advise that friend to do?

It sounds as though you have been blessed with a darling family, financial success, talent, and business acumen. I wish you well.

step0nmi Posted 17 May 2012 , 1:19am

sometimes your answers are already hidden inside what you've written:

"already stressed out"
"i miss my kids and family"
"overwhelmed as it is"

whatever you may have put in there...technically you've already decided for yourself, but you are not ALLOWING yourself to make the decision that best suits you. listen to your gut and heart icon_wink.gif

jenmat Posted 17 May 2012 , 2:12am

Little different take.
I agree with Jason that having walk-in hours is a total time-sucker.
However, there is no way I could work in a space like you describe. ONE home oven? ONE 5qt mixer? NO separate space between kitchen and public space? EEKK!!
If I could be you (not saying i want to!) I would be looking to expand the space without expanding the business. I have 3 mixers, one of them 10 qt, and a huge oven, lots of fridge space and 6 tables and then separate shelving and a separate storage area. And I'm a HOME baker, appointment only (licensed).

Having more equipment and more workspace will make your workload take less time. Being more organized with adequate storage and adequate workspace will work wonders when you're near burnout.
I made a change last year of only offering most cakes above a certain price point and it has changed my outlook on everything. AND I expanded and doubled my workspace. I am working smarter, calmer, faster, and better since I made all those changes.
I wish the best for you!

jason_kraft Posted 17 May 2012 , 2:31am
Quote:
Originally Posted by jenmat

However, there is no way I could work in a space like you describe. ONE home oven? ONE 5qt mixer? NO separate space between kitchen and public space? EEKK!!
If I could be you (not saying i want to!) I would be looking to expand the space without expanding the business.



That's a good point. If you can reconfigure the existing floor plan you can make a 100sf space for appointments and devote the remaining 300sf to the kitchen. You may be able to offset some of the cost by renting out the kitchen space when you are not using it, since there is a CFL in your state you won't get as much interest but if you have a nicely optimized workspace you might attract expanding home businesses or those looking to sell without CFL restrictions.

HarleyDee Posted 17 May 2012 , 3:12am

I have very seriously considered being special-order only.. That's what I was going for a little bit when I took the shop down to two days a week. So far though, it has only been a great hassle with people constantly calling and emailing wanting to know when they could come in to talk to me. Before they could come in any time we were open.. now I'm scheduling times all over the place just to talk about an 8" round cake with roses..

I don't mind answering phone calls and emails, but I am spending almost as much time keeping up with orders that way as I was being in the shop.

I never dreamed my business would get as busy as it did with only word of mouth. Like I said though, I'm the only place in town to get a homemade cake... until now peoples' options were two other grocery store.

jason_kraft Posted 17 May 2012 , 3:32am
Quote:
Originally Posted by HarleyDee

I have very seriously considered being special-order only.. That's what I was going for a little bit when I took the shop down to two days a week. So far though, it has only been a great hassle with people constantly calling and emailing wanting to know when they could come in to talk to me. Before they could come in any time we were open.. now I'm scheduling times all over the place just to talk about an 8" round cake with roses..

I don't mind answering phone calls and emails, but I am spending almost as much time keeping up with orders that way as I was being in the shop.

I never dreamed my business would get as busy as it did with only word of mouth. Like I said though, I'm the only place in town to get a homemade cake... until now peoples' options were two other grocery store.



Sounds like you have a significant competitive advantage in your area so you can afford to be picky about your customers. I recommend sending all your incoming calls directly to voice mail with an announcement about your new appointment-only policy (a similar announcement should go on the contact form of your website). If necessary, start charging for in-person consultations to discourage face-to-face meetings when phone or email would suffice.

Amylou Posted 17 May 2012 , 4:40am

My brother runs a music repair shop. Initially he was always open, but as he got busier he found he was taken away from his hands on work more often by walk-ins, phone calls, etc. He decided to close the store front, open only for a certain number of hours/week, and devote most of his shop time to doing the hands on work. To me it's very similar to cake decorating...when you're hands are busy and you're constantly interrupted it takes so much longer to get everything done.

If you love doing it so much, ease the stress of it. Cover your windows with displays and a backdrop so they can't see you. Put a sign that you are a custom, appt only baker, put on the voicemail. Yes, and raise your prices!

Tails Posted 17 May 2012 , 9:20am

Everyone has suggested raising your prices, but you havent commented on this.

What are your thoughts on raising your prices?

scp1127 Posted 17 May 2012 , 10:04am

I have a business plan that works around me and I do only what I want. Here are a few suggestions, some others have already made, but I actually practice and it helps.

1) Phone to voicemail. I only check it about three times a day and have time to decide which jibs to take and which to refer to other bakers, or just turn down.

2) I have a posted calendar on my site that allows me to be booked when I need to be. This includes family time, experiment time, time before a big event, etc. This way I can tell a customer who didn't look that I am booked, or offer a suggestion I can do.

3) When I have more than I can handle, and this means my personal limits, not physically, I can cut off the orders. I do it almost every day. Learn how to say no, inform customers to call as early as possible the next time, but you wil always fit in an order if you can.

4) Big One: Only take the orders you like, not every order. Give yourself a quota on wedding cakes and other services.

5) Raise your prices. Here is the economics 101 definition of your situation about the wrong place in the market: Sell lower than you are worth and you will be bombarded with work at very little profit. Sell too high and you will have very little work. Sell at the correct price point in your market and you will balance labor and a fair income. My prices are the highest in the area and I turn down business.

6) I agree about the space. I have a very large space, about 1000 sf kitchen and 300 sf display and seating for clients. I have already outgrown this area in my wholesale business. Not having the larger equipment does slow me down, but the investment is high and it is still growing. I can't purchase now because what I buy may be too small six months from now. But in the mean time, the orders take double and triple the time. This is actually my historical candy-making portion, but growing pains are still tough. You need to invest in more oven space and a bigger mixer. You will be so surprised at the time savings.

7) I would suggest investing in the equipment in the smaller space first. It may be tighter, but only for a short run. It will give you a trial period.

icon_cool.gif Find the right amount of hours to suit you and stick to them. You can pull out your appointment book with walk-ins, schedule, and be back to work in 5 minutes. Keep your shop open for walk-ins only if you can control it.

9) Finally, you are lucky, but you can't see it for being tired. Take control of the amount of orders, amount of hours, types of orders, and prices. Do what makes you happy and nothing more.

jason_kraft Posted 17 May 2012 , 9:44pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by jason_kraft

That's a good point. If you can reconfigure the existing floor plan you can make a 100sf space for appointments and devote the remaining 300sf to the kitchen. You may be able to offset some of the cost by renting out the kitchen space when you are not using it, since there is a CFL in your state you won't get as much interest but if you have a nicely optimized workspace you might attract expanding home businesses or those looking to sell without CFL restrictions.



It's been brought to my attention that I misinterpreted the OP and that her state does not have a general CFL (only limited selling of home-baked goods at farmers markets), in which case offering a commercial kitchen for rent could be much more lucrative, assuming the health department actually does its job.

cakesbycathy Posted 19 May 2012 , 9:49pm

I would invest in some serious BLINDS that you can close so that no one can see you working in the shop when you don't want them to. thumbs_up.gif

costumeczar Posted 20 May 2012 , 9:06pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by cakesbycathy

I would invest in some serious BLINDS that you can close so that no one can see you working in the shop when you don't want them to. thumbs_up.gif




This, and raising your prices, are the two best pieces of advice so far!

HarleyDee Posted 21 May 2012 , 3:24pm

I do need to raise my prices, my mom and husband tell me that all the time. When I first opened I was afraid to price any higher because people already looked at me funny when I quoted them $32 for a simple 1/2 sheet cake, due to the fact that for years people have been used to grocery store prices. In the almost 2 years I have been here though, I have realized that the people who do NOT want grocery store cakes are the ones who will pay whatever I tell them the price is.

Apti Posted 21 May 2012 , 4:58pm

Well, whatcha gonna do? You've vented, gotten some superb advice (all kinds) and have acknowledged that your mom and husband were right: You need to raise your prices.

If you raise your prices, do not expand next door, take all the wedding cake photos off your website and offer only NON-wedding cakes, will that meet your needs?

If you expand next door, raise your prices, hire someone, make more cakes (including wedding cakes?), increase your output to pay for the extra employee wages, overhead and equipment, will that meet your needs?

Do you want to get some blinds or pretty signage that blocks the window and an answering machine?
---------------------
Basically, it sounds like you need to take out the business plan you started with 2 years ago with hopes and dreams and dust it off and update that puppy! You have met all your initial goals and rightfully have pride in what you and your mom have been able to accomplish in a limited space.
Where do you want to go from here? Retain the small boutique shop specializing in custom (non-wedding) celebration cakes? Or expand your business with an employee, paperwork, and more output in a larger space that you design? Either of these choices could be very rewarding!

What an exciting time for you!

Please keep us updated. We LOVE success stories!

Lynne3 Posted 21 May 2012 , 5:13pm

Are you a "store open to the public" the days your are open? Or is everything special order cakes? It makes a huge difference

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