Thursday, April 3, 2014

STOP STEALING MY BUSINESS! an alternative look at home bakers.

" These damn bargain bakers are killing our industry!!" they say... I’ve heard it from a multitude of sources lately, discussions ranging from minor comments to raging rants about how much small time bakers are hurting our industry and how so many people are loosing orders because someone was willing to do it cheaper…   The general idea is that a client called in regards to a cake order and because of budget concerns, or a simple lack of understanding of what good is, ended up going with some home baker or hobbyist because they were willing to do it for next to nothing.  The consensus being that these people lessen the value of what we professionals and high quality artist do.  In a sense they keep us from being able to charge what we need to charge because they offer such a drastically cheaper alternative for what the client perceives as a fulfillment of their needs.  I.E. they sell stuff so cheap we can’t make any money on our quality product!

The fact is the market is saturated with all levels of baker from low end beginners ( who probably shouldn’t be charging any more than they are for what is essentially their education)  to professional shops like Wal-mart, Costco and grocery stores, to high end craftspeople like myself and so many of the people shouting out in protest against the bargain basement baker!   “ I lost another order to some crazy baker willing to work for $.75 a serving!!” they shout... I have to wonder, is it really true?  Sometimes perception can cloud reality so badly that instead of focusing on ways we can better market  and improve ourselves, we get bogged down in looking outward and blaming the environment for our troubles.   Maybe the answer isn’t as much in creating concentration camps to confine these crazy. well meaning but hurtful folks, but rather to stop and look at what we’re doing, and focus on our marketing and accepting that not everyone is going to see the value in our work!

As I am by self proclamation one of the “high end”  cake designers in my area it serves to reason that someone is going to be cheaper than me…  Even if you don’t consider yourself one of the elite in your area, you still must come to terms with your own level of quality and learning to market yourself.  For me this means setting a standard below which I try not to fall ( not that I never do) and also setting a base price for which I can charge for a minimum and still make something (notice I said something).  Both of these things by design will, whether I mean it to or not, exclude some people from ordering cakes from me!  Just as it is for me ( I am far from the most expensive shop in my area!) it is for you as well.  Your prices, no matter how reasonable you may think them to be, will just not work for some people, the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can move on to more productive ends!

There are so many  challenges to our craft…  We have to practice, learn and master the skills required to make the cakes we sell,  and by doing so gain an appreciation of the degree of work, skill, talent and creativity it requires.  It’s unfortunate and very frustrating however that our clients for the most part wont ever get that!  In a perfect world our clients would care that we were up all night stressing about their cake and working til we could barely stand…  In a perfect world the degree of stress related to our work and the toll it takes on body and mind would have a fair monetary value…  And likewise, in a perfect world those willing to do that work for nothing would come to their senses and charge what it is actually worth, or just quit!   But a perfect world it is NOT.  Times are tough, and although people may respect quality to a degree, for a vast percentage of our population it’s all about the bottom line.   It’s a culture that is becoming more and more the norm as we all try to get a good deal and save as much of our cash as possible.  It's a problem that affects us all, from professionals to beginners.  The challenge is being smart enough to figure out ways to convince enough clients that although Walmart only charges 1/3 the price and Betty down the street will attempt to do it in her kitchen even cheaper, that our product is worth the money.  It all comes down to marketing yourself and sending a message to would-be clients that drives home the message as to why you’re worth it!  And that’s a challenge grand!

One of our biggest obstacles is that unlike shopping for jeans or tennis shoes or even eating out, where a restaurant can list what each meal is, cake is very challenging in that we can’t really show the client what it is that we’re trying to talk them into ordering, because it doesn’t exist yet…  I can’t begin to tell you how many times, despite how many pictures of past cakes they’ve seen, I’ve delivered a cake and had a client literally in shock at what was delivered.  While it’s great to have a happily stunned client, it underscores the point that while they agreed to a price and placed an order, they really had no genuine concept of what they were getting for their money!  So then it begs to question how can we impress upon them what to expect and how can we get them to justify the cost if they don’t really get what their ordering?  Again it comes down to marketing and finding ways to create value, and add reasonable expectations to your work.
The solutions:

First off let me say that each of us is different…  we all have different strengths and we all know our market better than someone on the outside.  That being said I do have some words of caution, gained from experience, both in success but largely in failure! 

First:  Be careful over specializing…  This may sound odd but just because you’re really good at one thing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still work to keep your “less desirable” work.  This one was huge for me, as I had come from a shop where I worked with my mother and we stayed busy primarily with wedding cakes, which, lets face it are the bread and butter of our work.  They pay great and can be pretty steady if you market yourself for them!  When my mother and I split, I focused more on what I was known for and what I enjoyed doing the most, sculpture cakes.  I spent all my time making them and allowed my wedding business to slack off as I was bored with tiered white cakes with bows and dots on them.  They didn’t present as much of a challenge to me and I at first didn’t miss them.  As time progressed the economy would dip, I got fewer corporate orders, fewer people were willing to spend the money for sculpted stuff and I found that many people, even though they loved the look of a previous cake, found it such a challenge to cut and serve a 3D design that they went else where for their next cake, which usually meant a simple round or tiered cake… ( and they didn’t think I did those… money lost)   I had clients that wrote letters to me thanking me for the wonderful and yummy cake, not return because they ended up stressed out by having to figure out how to chop up an odd shaped cake, or made to such of a mess and ended up with a pile of cake covered structure!  Several years ago a dear friend who no longer owns her bakery blew my mind one day as she explained to me what her biggest money maker was.  She did beautiful cakes, and my perception was that she was a cake shop and one of very high quality, magazines, TV and newspapers covered her all the time.  As we talked one day her staff was opening large boxes of Dawn foods frozen cookies and placing them in the ovens.  She explained that she made more money off of pre-made dawn cookies than off of her cake business…  The cake business occupied the vast majority of her time and caused the stress that we all know and understand, but these simple cookies, that they bought frozen as dough and baked, paid the bills…I only wish I would have listened to her more!

Second:  Accept that you’re not going to get every order that comes your way.  People shop around…  It’s frustrating for us cake people as we are largely creative people as we take it as some kind of personal attack when someone goes with another caker..  For me this means I let too much of my emotions get in the way of my business.  All it does is stress me out and cost me money.  Neither of those are good!  I’ve come to realize that I do have to have a standard that I can work for.  If someone is outraged by my cost, so be it…  I have to remember that even for me, a couple hundred bucks for a cake, IS a LOT of money!  To Joe Public, who doesn’t understand the cost and talent required to create something simple like cake, it’s doubly so.  My advice is don’t take it personally! You will rarely find someone who understands how much work it is but you will find people willing to pay for good work.  Not everyone buys a Cadillac, for some an 89 Buick is all they can afford, but Cadillac doesn’t loose the sale of their new CTS-V because some guy has his Chevette for sale down the street!  Stick to your standard, market yourself as best and as aggressively as you can and leave Betty Homebaker to do her own thing.  She’s not hurting you as much as you might think!

Third:  I’ve referred to marketing yourself many times.  This doesn’t really mean that you have to out do anyone or take business away from anyone, as there is more than you think out there.  The idea is to find new ways to add value to your work, get your name in front of as many would-be clients as possible and keep it there.  If you don’t have a big promotional budget, focus on your word of mouth,  website, or online marketing.  Send a flyer with clients when they pick up cakes with info, offers and things they may not have thought of.  If you have the time, keep a calendar of clients orders with birthdays and anniversaries.  Email them cake offers just to remind them to order from you again.  You can’t always rely on them remembering to do so!
The main thing is to look at yourself, focus on what works for you and forget about what you think someone else did or what walmart charges for their stuff.  Focus your energy on being open and receptive to new potential clients even if they start the dialogue by making it obvious they don’t understand the ins and outs of the cake world.  Don’t take it personally if a client calls and has no concept of what a cake cost, or if they are shocked with your prices.  Likewise don’t try to explain that sugar cost X amount and fondant cost Y and then delivery cost Z, as it’s really not their job to care about any of that.  When you run to walmart, and gripe about the cost of eggs or milk or the DVD you want, no one explains that transportation cost have increased and that a plastic plant in Vietnam shut down causing the cost of DVD blanks to rise!  Instead think of it as a chance to market yourself to the client.  I handle the situation by explaining that I am a custom cake shop and my job is to create amazing, one of a kind original cakes for their event.  Just as they’ve seen on TV, my job is to give them that special moment, the special yummy cake that becomes a part of their memory of the event.  Not only is it my job to provide the tangible cake, but also to serve them with the best and most polite and professional service I can give them.  This means arriving in a clean delivery vehicle, wearing appropriate attire and looking as best I can!  Clients love a delivery van, even more so they love a cheerful person in a crisp chef shirt carrying their cake in.

More times than I care to count, I will give a client a price only to hear that it’s “way more” than they were expecting.  Again, don’t take it personally, and remember it’s often hard for someone to admit their financial constraints.   Usually when this happens I will ask the client if they had a budget in mind, sometimes it will be extremely un-realistic and other times it may be close, and you’ll be able to compromise.  I always tell clients that we are happy to try to work within their budget, and though sometimes it’s just not possible, many other times you can make it work for them and potentially gain a lifelong client.  If you took their balking at your price as rude and reacted in kind, you can count on them taking their business elsewhere!  YOUR JOB is not just to create the cake they ask for but also to figure out how to meet the clients needs while still making enough money to be worth the time.  This means that if their request is unrealistic, you NEED to offer alternatives.  It’s important to remember that looking like your cutting corners is a bad deal for everyone, instead of saying “ we can do it, but smaller, with less stuff“, simply explain that you’ll be happy to design a custom cake for them in the same theme/ Colors/ Style, but that fits their size and budget.  Make the compromise seem like a good thing instead of like their having to settle for less!  In short there’s only one expert in the conversation…  You be that expert!

Finally in a related subject…  Never copy!  Not even your own stuff….  This can be a challenge when it comes to some designs.  It’s pretty hard to smooth ice a round tiered cake with dots on it differently every time, so obviously try to understand where I’m going with this…  Most cake inquiries begin with a picture exchange.  The client sends a pic and says “I want this cake.”  Most likely they found it online and liked it so much they figured they’d order it.  My first reply is always that we never copy a cake as we pride ourselves in creating one of a kind cakes that are special to each client.  Sometimes they haven’t even began to think about the cost or serving size of the cake they like, just that they liked it!  I’ve had people send pics of extremely detailed (Styrofoam) show cakes, and ask if I can do it.  Many times they need it for 20 people but the cake they sent is 7 tiers, or took the original decorator 3 weeks to create.  I try to explain again that we never copy but that we are happy to design a cake for them in a similar fashion.  Trying to copy someone else’s cakes opens you up for attack by the cake community as an idea thief, and it can also create pitfalls for you if your work  which you had to do in a day, doesn’t quite meet the level of detail the original which came from some magazine article and took hundreds of hours to make.  Again, it becomes a marketing concept in which you must explain that your job is to create something they will love, but is theirs and only theirs!  Not a copy of “someone else’s cake”

I guess what I’m trying to say can be summed up in much fewer words.  Stay positive.  Focus on yourself and that includes Not judging yourself by what you perceive someone else’s standard to be.  It’s very easy to blame others, and maybe in some cases it can be so, but hey, it happens…  Focus on being positive and think of ways to shape your future dialogues with potential clients.  Come up with a standard phrase or marketing pitch.  When someone wants something unrealistic, be prepared to manage the situation.  Think of it as a planned response and deliver it knowing that it may not ALWAYS work.    You’ll find you can spend more time working on cakes and less time frustrated by client request.
Peace n love
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  1. I think you make great points, Mike! i don't like being undercut either, but I have always figured that undercutting "bakers" will either under deliver (think Cake Wrecks), or burn out after working night and day for 75 cents a serving. Their only other option is to get better and increase their price to market levels. I look forward to hearing more from you!!

  2. So are you upset that some poor, pitiful *ahem* *sneer* home baker stole your business or not? If you are not willing or able to work for .75 a serving, why do you care if someone else does? I don't understand which position you are trying to take here. Is Betty Down the Block hurting your business or not? You start out complaining that she does but then later use the analogy that Cadillac isn't losing business because the guy down the street is selling his used car. Is there enough cake for us all? You say yes but act no.
    Some people cannot afford custom cake, no matter how inexpensive you try to make it. A struggling family on food stamps or with seven children isn't going to buy a cake from you no matter how you try to work with them. Grocery store cakes and cheap home bakers (see sneer above) serve a purpose and a demographic you aren't, so why do you care? And if you do because you think they’re cheapening the industry, then why even bother trying to educate people since you aren't going to make those two competitors go away? To say, insinuate or imply that a home baker’s cake is less worthy than yours is disingenuous at best, lying at worst. You spend money on classes? I spend money on classes. You have 20.00 silicon flower veiners? I do, too. You spend time explaining your craft, traveling to cake shows, educating yourself on new techniques, coloring fondant for one piece to match granny’s antique brooch… well, you get the point.
    Why am I less worthy than you? I’m not.
    Guess what I am? Yup. A *sneer* home baker. Guess what I do? I provide an array of cakes and pastries to suit any celebration, I do everything I can to educate everyone who contacts me about why I do what I do, what it is I do, what they get with me that they don't get with the grocery store, and red flags to look for when choosing a baker, be it me or anyone else. What don't I do? Dog other bakers, say a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g negative about any of the other bakers or bakeries in the area, whether I know bad things or not (Unless it's a proven safety concern), put down cake mix or grocery store cakes (I do explain the difference between mine and theirs but it's fact, not put-down) or get offended when someone doesn't order cake from me. I look at every person I talk to as an opportunity to do something positive: either sell them a freakin’ awesome cake (or pie or cookie or pastry tray) or educate them. For someone who advises everyone to be so positive, you sure have a negative opinion of others in the industry.
    If your intention with this article is to make people focus more on themselves than BDtB, you did a poor job. This is already circulating and isn’t helping us as an industry. If you don’t want others to focus on poor Betty, you shouldn’t either, and you shouldn’t be so negative about her or other alternatives. A simple acknowledgement of what people in the industry say about Betty would have been sufficient instead of the Death By A Thousand Cricut Spatula Cuts you gave her.
    Two things in closing to people who feel the same: It’s not YOUR business to steal and up your game and you won’t have to worry about us pitiful, pathetic home bakers. I’ll leave the last sneer to you.

    1. Well, someone completely missed the point of the article and has anger issues! The article is defending home bakers! The first paragraph explains the commonly heard complaint to which I was responding to. The second questions the point and the entire rest of the article is intended to offer an alternative to blaming someone else for your problems! The woman I love.... home baker.... my mother.... home baker..... myself.... home baker.... get a grip... geez

    2. Not everyone knows how to read Mike haha! Great article and I completely agree! I especially liked the part about accidentally over-specializing! I do this too and need to remember my less than portfolio worthy cakes pay the bills too :) Good stuff!

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  3. I actually read past the first quote Mike. ;-)

    And as a home baker, I agree with you. So many times we view our industry solely from our "cake cliqu-esh" viewpoint, and forget to put ourselves in the client's shoes. We get on the cake forums and stew about the demands and lack of perception about the cake industry. But this is true in any industry. I started as a master tailor and I found myself educating my clientele on a daily basis. Talk to any person in a service industry, you will hear the same frustrations.

    Perhaps our first mistake is we, as artists, invest so much personal energy into the creation, we forget, in fact, we are offering a service to persons who have a budget and are trying to get the most for their money. It's easy to do. I know. I've done it. It's fun to snicker about.

    I do think the the cake industry got a real boost from the TV cake challenges; but with the attention it garnished, came the drawbacks. When the client sees a massive 7 tier or sculpted cake come together in an hour, the actual reality is lost-- along with the enormous amount of time that a cake actually takes to create. So the client has to be brought back to earth sometimes. Of course, there are always those who want something for nothing. I've learned to cut them loose and move on.

    But perhaps, as you pointed out, if we can step back and take a fresh look at how we operate as an industry- what works and what doesn't, we can better manage the many frustrations that comes with the business.

    Getting a cake designed, decorated and to the venue- on time and in one piece- in all weather conditions is stress enough. Perhaps we should focus on that, and lay all the needless self induced stress aside.

    I love your last paragraph. "Stay positive. Focus on yourself and that includes Not judging yourself by what you perceive someone else’s standard to be."

    Words to live by!

    1. THANKS JACQUE! The final paragraph is the point! I got a bit long winded! Theres little to be gained by pointing your fingers at someone else and blaming them for your problems.... it happens so often in every aspect of life (believe me I've done lots of it in the past, and been blamed for more than my share too) culpability is rare these days. The idea is focus on what you CAN do and stop sweating so many external forces.

  4. Thank you for this article. I became licensed last year as a CFO. I have been working on and will not lower my price just because an unlicensed baker will do it for $2 seen her work enjoy the final product. My prices are where everyone is in my skill level and I know it will take work, work and work to get people to come to be and I am fine with that. I will not do copyright images (figures - unless it a bought edible image - no toys), want to have my style of cakes will take time and work. Will never be like you but every cake decorator is unique and to me that is how the good ones will succeed and hopefully I can have a business that makes me happy because sitting at my table make flowers or seeing the end work is awesome

  5. How about you stop complaining about the undercutting home baker and reach out with your acquired knowledge and skill and help her? I was that undercutter until someone reached out and helped me with simple knowledge to come up. I do not like the way you contradict yourself with saying schooling and how much you paid for culinary school is a way for you to distinguish who is the better baker-the home baker versus the shop owner. There are tons of home bakers who NEVER stepped a foot in culinary/pastry school and can run circles around those who puff themselves up to be the uber pro baker. You can't say focus on yourself while you care complaining about Betty's prices and that she is 'stealing' business from you. There are some in cake world that are so full of yeast that they don't think that maybe Betty just needs someone to help her understand cake world a little better. Reading articles like this make me thankful for my mentor who reached out with a little 'cake love' and helped me without thinking acting like I was beneath her because of my skill level. 'Preciate ya' Peach.

    1. Im sorry you missed the point of the article.  I AM A HOME BAKER!   I teach classes all the time.  I have people who come and hang out just for fun.  Im not judging anyone with this blog!   I thibk some people get so caught up in the title they dont slow down to realize my blog is supposed to debunk the bitch people have about home bakers.  Like I said... I am one... I've never been to culinary school.  My mother is one.  The love of my life is one.  Get over yourself!   Slow down and read it without taking offense to the first paragraph in which all I did was state the case I've heard constantly online from so many people! its called provocation.... jeepers..

  6. Jesus Christ. I can't believe some of these comments. I'm a home baker too and I saw nothing within your article that sneered at or was meant to be derogatory towards us. I've sold cakes for far too little and I think the majority of us have done it at some point. When I see someone just starting out and posting in cake forums that they don't charge for labor it does make me cringe. For them, for myself, and for the industry. I had a lady bite my head off just did telling her that she should factor labor into the price of her cakes. She was insulted, combative, and proceeded to go to my page and point out flaws in each of my cakes. I sat wondering what the hell I did to piss her off. Telling her that she deserves compensation for her work was apparently the wrong thing to do.
    I really like the point you made to focus on yourself. There will always be someone cheaper. And that's ok. I know what I need to charge to make my business profitable and focusing on that and on the customers comfortable with my prices will further my business much more than trying to get others to raise their prices.

  7. Leana, I agree with your pricing comment. I enjoyed this article and it actually made me feel better about my prices. I feel if I’m licensed, which I am, I owe it to myself to honor my hard work, as well as that of other licensed bakers, and our skill levels.

    You make a good point with regards to copyright images. My question to you is, because I was just asked to make a Lilo and Stich cake for a terminally ill child, do you turn them away, modify the character, or buy the character? What if the character isn’t large/small enough for the cake size? I’m wondering how I would handle this in the future. Thank you.