Discussion Opportunity...or My Musings, Maybe Both. Lol

Business By araymc Updated 3 Jan 2016 , 4:01am by araymc

araymc Posted 1 Jan 2016 , 3:43am
post #1 of 10

For the past several years, my husband & I have been doing a seasonal business through the holidays. I usually do baking and candies as well as hubby's popcorn. It's been quite exciting and we enjoy this tremendously--hard work and all! :) I am really thinking of expanding from seasonal to full-time. We have truly been amazed at the support & encouragement we have received from the public.

After spending the past few years working hard for someone else to build their business/wealth, why shouldn't I do something for my family? I mean I've helped take a company from $42k per year (2013) in billable to $384k (2015). We have expanded this year from 2 to 4 employees + the owner. We just picked up a major account to begin 2016 and are preparing to bid 3 more large clients.

I've been reflecting on how hard I've worked for someone else and how this year I was unable to really work my seasonal business due to this years' growth. I actually resent that I was unable to apply myself in my own venture---I missed my regular venues and people I've met who are good customers. I feel like it's time I put forth a huge effort as there are plans to move my office mid 2016 to 70 miles vs 35 miles---I just have no desire to drive further than I presently do for $15 an hour. Not only that, but I really find joy in my creations that I don't find anywhere else. At 50, I'm finding a need to reinvent myself.

Is this wrong? Is this really something I want to risk doing? Does this idea have the possibility of growing into a healthy little cottage business? How else will I know if I don't try? It's certainly not something I take lightly nor is this something that I would quit my present job to do at this time. However, what if I do have the chance to go somewhere with it but dismiss it?

How many more of you out there have been in this position? How many of you closed your eyes and jumped on it? How is that working for you? Where did you start? What is your advice on starting out? There is a myriad of information out there & I want to explore the options with 'real' folks who aren't afraid to be 'real' with me & especially who don't try to 'sell' me something. Just regular folks who are open for exploring together.

Well, that's a great way to end 2015 and begin 2016..lol!

Y'all have a safe and happy new year. If you feel the need to fall into this discussion opportunity, know that I welcome you & take you seriously.



9 replies
costumeczar Posted 1 Jan 2016 , 2:12pm
post #2 of 10

I think it will depend on where you're located and what you're planning on selling. It sounds like you have a good grasp on the business side of a job, but your location will determine a lot about how feasible it is for you to start full-time. Since you do more than just custom cakes you probably have a better chance of making a profit, but the market for custom cakes is so tremendously glutted right now I'd tell someone not to do it if they were thinking of starting a business with that as the sole focus. Diversifying is key right now.

I started doing custom cakes about 20 years ago, and I concentrated primarily on wedding cakes. It's not easy physically, so I'm at the point where I'm trying to decide whether to get out of it before it wrecks my back. I'm also 50, so I'm in your age club, haha! I also know of at least 5 custom cake businesses that have closed in my area in the past year, and those were established businesses, not just fly-by-night facebook low-bid decorators. Part of it was physical reasons, but part of it was that the owners were just sick of competing with people who were selling cakes for $2 a serving and making less than minimum wage. It wasn't worth the time they were putting into it.

I started diversifying a few years ago and now I do a good bit of my business online. It sounds like you could theoretically do that too, but the laws for shipping food across state lines (if you're in the US) are pretty strict, and you'll have to investigate that. I could mail edibles within the state of Virginia since that's where I'm licensed, but as soon as I started crossing state lines the rules about using a commercial kitchen and getting the FDA involved for licensing arise, and sometimes they're not very much help, let's just say.

In your case. though, I'd look into that, since relying on local markets is really limiting these days. There are so many cake tutorials, online cake class networks, etc that it's easy for people to either DIY or to find someone to do elaborate cakes really cheaply. Part of being successful in starting this kind of business at this point in history is going to be what reach you have, and online sales really expand that.

I'll tag @Webake2gether  in on this, since she recently opened a baking business and is doing well so far. She might have some insights into starting up a business in this economic climate.

araymc Posted 1 Jan 2016 , 4:22pm
post #3 of 10

Thanks for the response...wasn't sure anyone would be interested. LOL

Our real focus will be on the popcorn side-at least for now. I know this is a cake site, but where else would I find genuinely interested folks to converse with these days? hehehe As for my baking and candy side, I'm thinking- diversify-yes, but for now thinking of keeping those for the seasonal stuff. I also see the market and saturation of folks doing things on the 'cheap' which, in turn, runs the local shops out of business. I believe it's happening across the board--say in photography, as well. Before I digress....an easy thing for me...I'd best keep focus.

I agree on the "selling online" train of thought for us as it will be an avenue we will certainly find lucrative. I am concerned on the whole 'across state lines' thing because I'm literally 4 miles away from our state line (a very rural area) and do most everything on the other side of those tracks, including work. There is also no sales tax there on food, so naturally, I shop there as well. My customer base, for now, is over the line as we recently moved back to my home state. I know the executive director for the state's agriculture dept. in the other state very well. As a matter of fact, I opened his eyes a couple years ago to some things on the cottage food law for the state and he was instrumental in making some changes there. Not huge changes, but he said small steps are a beginning. It helps that he's the uncle to the boss and happens to love my food. {{grin}} I've expressed my concerns about crossing state lines---as I feel there should be some type of exemption just like for college tuition--if you live 'x' number of miles from state lines, you receive instate tuition--that sort of thing. Of course, I could possibly get around it by setting up something over there as well as over here, but I really don't want to operate out of two spaces.

Back to the product, popcorn. I won't bore you with the history, but we have 'accidentally' developed a following of sorts. We've now been approached by someone regarding an outlet that we hadn't thought about: fundraising. With this tidbit of info and the fact that I used it to also promote my current job- think sales tool but better than ink pens, a whirlwind of ideas have begun spinning in my mind. Combine that with a lot of frustration in my current job (aka growing pains), and I'm realizing there is an opportunity surfacing for exploring an option for my family. I have a strong background in marketing, sales and customer service which will certainly lend itself to this venture. My weakness will lie in my confidence and ability to take risks. It's the jumping into the deep end part that is scary for me. I'm sure others can relate. 

I would love insights and perspectives from others and hope others will join us as we discuss these things. I've thought of a few things that we could cover: Overcoming hurdles after identifying them, to hire or not to hire, broadening a customer base and how to open a door...just a few things we can consider. Other ideas?

I look forward to this discussion.


Webake2gether Posted 1 Jan 2016 , 9:01pm
post #4 of 10

Your story sounds very similar to ours!! Here is a link to a thread I created when we decided to take the plunge :)


It was beyond scary and exciting to really take the leap of faith and say we are going to do this for real. I never did the cottage food we seriously did not have a big customer base outside of people we knew but we said if we're going to sell we are going to do it right from the start or not at all no illegal sells period. We decided July 31,2015 to go for it and we opened September 29, 2015. 
Where we live for every legitimate baker there is 10 who are fly by nights. It is certainly something we think about from time to time but to be honest I've just told myself I'm going to worry about us and what we're doing we are going to give our very best to each customer and make a name for ourselves. And believe it or not we've had an amazing 3 months!! We are as busy as we want to be  and our business stands on its own two feet financially. We've not put a dime in it since we opened!! We had a good business plan, realistic expectations, a whole lot of determination and worked our fingers to the bone but we did it. 

As far as how we've grown our customer base well to be honest I did a lot of hard work in that and actually haven't stopped. Word of mouth is huge for us. I figure if you give people something that tastes good, looks good and you have good customer service skills it kind of builds itself. We do offer a variety of items Fudge, cookies, pies and custom cakes. The way we did it allows us to stay small and do as much or as little as we want.  My whole thing is I never wanted to regret not knowing if we could have done something great. So it was worth the risk. My husband still works full time and we figure it will either grow into him going down to part time then to cakes full time and if not we are certainly ok with that too. I by no means went into this with my eyes closed which is why I think it's going well. 

We have a lot to learn still and I'll be the first to say that I don't have it all figured out all the time and there is always room for improvement but I think we're good at what we do and there is a market for it. There is a popcorn shop here that does fantastic sales they do fudge and candies as well (never had any of it just the popcorn) but they thrive here and have for many years. Their downtown location caught fire a few months back and they had to relocate while they did construction and their customers followed us included. Hope it all works out well for you and feel free to message me anytime!! Like I said I don't know it all I'm not the greatest there ever was lol but I love what I do and love to talk to others about baking and even the business side bc that's a huge part of it that most don't consider before starting a business. 

-K8memphis Posted 1 Jan 2016 , 10:21pm
post #5 of 10

sounds like the time is right -- that 70 mile ride would be a deal breaker -- if you can replace it with what you've described that sounds reasonable and wonderful -- i'm pushing 65 and in my early 50's i got laid off from a great job i loved so i planned to go back into cakes as a business (as I had back in the 70's through the mid 90's) but it never worked out -- i only wanted to work from home and i wasn't willing to move to make it happen -- but I tortured myself about it for years --

i did open a tea room and a bookstore -- one more successful than the other -- so yes there's risk but i say go for it why not? 50 is a great time for something new -- it's very satisfying to have a great product and an appreciative clientele -- i think it's telling that you resented not getting to do your usual seasonal work -- it sounds like a momentum thing for you -- the planets are aligning -- go for it

costumeczar Posted 1 Jan 2016 , 11:37pm
post #6 of 10

@araymc  since you know the exec director I'd ask him about whether you should be licensed to sell in the other state. All it might take is being licensed to accept sales tax in more than one locality depending on the food licensing requirements for each place. It's the sales tax that will get you, but if you're working under a cottage food law that could make a difference in what you're allowed to do too. I know that the FDA has all kinds of rules and exemptions for certain types of home-based businesses, and ways to work within the rules but labelling things a certain way, but if you know someone personally who you can ask that makes it soooo much easier.

Fundraising is a good outlet for popcorn sales...And my travel agent sends "thank you" baskets when you book a trip with her and the last one was popcorn that we ate in about one day. So gift baskets are another possibility.

araymc Posted 2 Jan 2016 , 3:05am
post #7 of 10

Since we live in a very rural area, I'm wondering how well I will do. I'm only limited by my own willingness to try new things with regard to marketing and going all in so to speak. Do you have time for a story?

Let me tell you about my aunt.

My aunt is 76, lives a couple of hours away from us ---in a very rural area in the middle of no where, and a few years ago....maybe 10 at most, she decided to help her son and his family pay off some huge medical bills from a kidney transplant. She began in April and by November she had worked enough to pay off about 17k. What did she do? She planted a turnip green patch, she cooked meals and froze them, she baked some basic 8" cakes (single layer)--about 5 flavors only, made mini pecan pies, cookies, brownies and whatever else she could think of that seemed doable for her. She worked the first half of the week doing all the baking and such then on Thur & Fri she loaded down her vehicle with boxes and coolers filled to the brim with her goodies. She peddled turnip greens and food items. She literally drove around into different neighborhoods in different towns visiting a variety of businesses and any place that seemed to have prospective customers. She always told them what she was doing this for and the people just went wild over her things. On Saturdays she would go to some beauty shops in another town with what was left over knowing that her previous days had paid back the expenses for producing the stuff...she would sell the leftovers at a discount so she would have no leftovers. Those customers where thrilled for the deal and she was tickled to not have waste AND to reap a full profit off her 1/2 day of work.

She busted her tail and is still doing it today. She has honed her skills, dropped some of the things from her list, added to it according to the customers requests and truly has it down to a science. She does candies and choco covered berries packaged very beautifully for Valentines ...she really hits it hard during the end of the year holidays as now she gets calls ordering for customers events. She runs a tight ship...LOL. I went and helped her make candies a couple years ago...she has it down y'all....she's an ace! Folks from miles around call her and place orders now, but she still loads up every week and runs her 'route'. She found a niche and filled it.

I envy her but am no where near as bold as she is when it come to just jumping in the car and rolling with it to the various towns and neighborhoods. She's met some truly wonderful people and does probably anywhere from 1000-1500 in sales on those 3 days--I would say she does more but I haven't heard her say in quite a while. I have no idea of what she does during holidays. She's having the time of her life...exhausted, but living it to the fullest. I should mention, she used to be a general contractor in a fairly large city so she has been successful in a variety of businesses...she was a seamstress when I was little while raising her sons. 

I know I can do something with my goodies and she is living proof that it can be done. Her motivation began as a simple goal to pay off medical bills by Thanksgiving that year and by golly she did it. While I might not have the boldness to approach people in the way she does, I do have the people skills needed to sell in the venues where I am comfortable---at least until I develop her boldness.

It's a story of hope and how willpower combined with a motivator can be a vehicle to success. Not everyone has the business savvy, boldness, or skills to do this type of work, but for those who do...

araymc Posted 2 Jan 2016 , 4:36am
post #8 of 10


Great link! I am totally envious of that commercial kitchen! I'm pretty sure we don't have to go the commercial kitchen route, at least at this time. We will be looking into the cottage food laws first and the regulations for doing popcorn. At some point in the future, and depending on the successes we experience, I'd love to do a full-on commercial kitchen on our property. I have a great location for building upon that already has city water and a septic system. That is IF I am unable to use an existing building......don't laugh when I tell you but we have 3 unused grain bins that I would LOVE to utilize for our purposes. I am dying to turn at least one of them into something useful. My daddy would be so happy!! (I inherited the farm) Don't think I won't be exploring that as an option while I'm doing all of my research! :) 

So, my next week will be full....I'll be doing my regular job-billing week combined with end of year details with the accountants- OH JOY! BUT I will also be contacting the Dept of Ag in my state as well as the other state to find out what the options are for us. I have to get this ball rolling....information is king right now. I'm going to figure out how to post some pictures on here, too. I tried but with no luck. :(


It's funny you mention gift baskets! Over Christmas I put together some for my work clients...I had wanted to use my popcorn---white chocolate, peanut butter & homestyle, but my hubs was unable to add me to the list of orders since my boss waited for the last minute to decide we needed to make a decision on what to give out this year. LOL I did, however, manage to get a few bags out to some of my 'special' clients whom I always take our popcorn. I guess I do need to make up a list of potential clients...such as you mention--the travel agent. I had not thought of that as an avenue. I do have a large corporation who asked for some sample bags to present during their upcoming meetings with sales folks. They believe it is possible their sales team will want to use them as handouts for customers--much like I did with my own work. I've already created the label with their logo. I call this line my "corporate" line, and we also have our "team spirit" line---we did some for our Wisconsin family--Packer fans, our friends who are Kentucky fans, and our Tennessee fans as well. This weekend we have to get 50 bags ready for a school to sell at their ballgame---they want to test it out to see if it will be well received before they order larger quantities. At this point in time, I have no choice but to hit the ground running to pull out all the info on being certain we are fully legal. It's one thing to sell as a vendor at small bazaars and such but this appears to be taking on a whole new life of its' own!


costumeczar Posted 3 Jan 2016 , 3:15am
post #9 of 10

You could color white chocolate in the team colors and drizzle it on the popcorn... That way you could promote it as "team" popcorn and get around the copyright issues of using logos! My daughter's favorite is the zebra popcorn with the chocolate drizzle on it, so I bet people would go for it.

araymc Posted 3 Jan 2016 , 4:01am
post #10 of 10

That is what we do: white chocolate covered pop with team colors drizzled....same with corporate. They really look sharp and if this dang thing would let me upload my photos I would share. I can't seem to get them to load. Durn!


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