23rd February 2019

Sad times in the Cake World

A Wedding Cake at Combe Manor Barn

Last week a super talented baker and cake designer local to me closed her order books for good. No more beautiful wedding cakes, no more business. No more Melissa Woodland Cakes. 😔 Melissa is, of course, honouring all her existing orders so she’ll still be sharing her beautiful designs. She’s a professional and I can only imagine she felt very shitty about making this decision. It’s heartbreaking.

I also imagine she’s probably feeling very relieved and excited for what she’ll be doing next, including having more time to spend with her family.

Incredibly talented, award-winning, in fact, she’s been making wedding cakes since around 2009, and I remember when I first started in 2011 I’d gawp at her work and used her as an example if someone asked me who I’d aspire to be like.

Whilst we don’t speak any more, for no real reasons, when we did have more time to meet-up I remember Melissa telling me about how she was brought up around cakes as her Mum was also a cake designer. It was like it was ingrained in her to always at some point make cakes for people and probably why I think she may be back at some point in the future. Who knows? I hope so. Or maybe she’ll come back with something bigger and better.

The more I’ve thought about her announcement on Facebook and Instagram, the sadder it made me feel. Not for just the thought of what this must have felt like for Melissa, but also at what this incredibly competitive industry has become.

It’s an interesting industry

Firstly, for clarity, I do love it. Most of the time. Probably because it’s not my main source of income right now and I can be quite selective with what I take on. I’m confident with my pricing structure and I refuse to barter. I’ve also made some lovely friends and count some of my competitors as my bestest cake friends.

I love being a part of somebody’s celebration and special day. It’s the nicest feeling in the world to see and hear about how much they enjoyed their cake or cupcakes I made them.

I also teach, and for me, that’s one of the best bits.

I’ve been teaching at The Cake College for a few years now and it’s something that I’m so so happy to be part of. In all honesty, it’s far less pressure, less hard work and I get to meet so so many amazing people who come to my classes.

Sad times in the Cake World

Some people have done all my classes, some even more than once! You know who you are…you brilliant people 🙂

BUT. This industry also scares me! It scares me that someone so established and talented had to make this decision. I’m sure there are others who have gone through the same thing, have considered closing up or are at least doing it alongside another job like me.

Melissa posted on her social channels and I’ve extracted the following words which stood out the most:

After seven years, we have taken the horribly difficult decision to close Melissa Woodland Cakes.

Unfortunately costs are ever rising and budgets are ever tightening, which means we’re working 60 hour weeks for less than minimum wage. As much as we’d love to continue to create wonderful wedding cake confections, we just can’t keep working for virtually nothing and giving up irreplaceable family time to do so.

Please value small businesses. We aren’t expensive, we just want to earn a decent living for working incredibly hard and don’t have the buying power of multinationals. Creativity shouldn’t be cheap.

Melissa xxx

(You can read her full post here)

And I totally get it.

It’s not fair to be paid less than your worth. In any career. It’s not fair to be undervalued, underappreciated and to be taken for granted. It’s not ok that some people will ask you to reduce a price or that you’ll be undercut by someone else who’s willing to charge a measly £4 per hour! And I’m not even joking.

Coincidently, I was also chatting with someone who told she’d booked in with another talented cake designer for a gorgeous cake/dessert table to be made. A beautiful design with cake pops and those lollipop cakes that have been everywhere lately… plus more. All for £135! £135!!!!

Would you work for £5ph? I know I won’t

Now, if you read that and think it’s expensive I hear you. But what if I told you that we worked out that’s around 15 hours of fast work there, minimum. Plus costs of no lower than £48 – (I priced it up using the cheapest ingredients, equipment and energy rates I could, including trade prices). That leaves an hourly rate of around £5-6 so not as bad my dramatic £4ph in my previous paragraph, but still way under minimum wage (which rises to £8.21 in April 2019).

Cost of ingredients

As a customer would you be happy with having cheaper, unethical, non-fair trade ingredients too? I guess this is quite subjective and some people really don’t mind, but for me, I just can’t be ok with that. I promise the best ingredients to my customers which includes luxury Belgian chocolate, the best possible eggs I can buy and the most luxury of sugarpastes.

Now I’m not saying that luxury high-end ingredients are the only way to create cakes, there are lower-priced ingredients which can be just fine. Again, this is personal preference and probably goes hand-in-hand with how you market your business too.

So, not only have you got some customers who just want to get the cheapest possible cake they can, you’ve also got the under-cutters who will do anything to get the order.

It’s a shame there’s not some kind of database to marry these two types of people up isn’t there? I mean, what would you even call it? Cheap-cakes-cheap-customers? Bargain Bakes for Basic Budgets…

I’m aware I’m being a bit unnecessary now, I may delete that part… let’s see.

Whoops.. oh no, it’s still there! 😉

Is it just cake?

Creativity isn’t all your paying for when you order a bespoke cake. You’re also paying for experience – whether this is 1 year or 10 years. Your paying for that persons time and effort, and that cake designers style. It’s a unique service, not a one-off bargain kit-kat chocolate cake – because I’m pretty sure most of you can make one of those at home, right?

I remember when I started in 2011 there was probably around 8-10 established bakers in Wokingham and surrounding towns and cities. Now there must be at least around 40. I don’t know this exact number as it’s impossible to count up, but I did have a look at a few databases to try and figure it out.

It’s just impossible.

And don’t get me wrong, being a hobby baker and trying to make a bit of extra income if you’ve got talent is also amazing. Just don’t undercut the other bakers in your area – ALL THE TIME. It’s incredibly rude, insulting to the industry, unfair and at the end of the day – you’re only punishing yourself and your name. It makes it very very tricky – and if you’re one of those people who does this – read this handy pricing post I wrote a while back. It’s one of my most popular posts to date.

Starting out

I guess the only exception to this is if you’re new to the industry and need to build your portfolio. Of course, your prices will be lower. I totally get that. Just remember to increase them the more experience you have.

Oh, one last thing to any cake decorators reading this. The supermarkets are not your competitors. Our handmade, non-bulk-batched cakes and cupcakes are not even comparable. They are different products entirely. If you have a customer that says “oh but Asda do cupcakes for £1 each” send them on their merry way to Asda if that’s what they’re happy with.

Know your worth.

How to stay ahead of the bargain bakers

If you’re one of those bakers who feels like you get undercut all the time, here’s my tips to help you:

Have impeccable customer service – go the extra mile in your emails and calls. Add a friendly little note or thank you card in the cake box, be their friend. Make them want to tell their friends about you. Maybe you could introduce a reward card or recommendation scheme? I have one customer who literally tells EVERYONE about me, and I’ll always go the extra mile for her.

Start a mailing list and once a month talk to your customers. Personalise each email, talk to them. Just give them a little wave to remind them you’re there. I had to restart after GDPR but I’ve already built up a new strong database. I always ask my new customers if they want to be included – I’ve not had one say no yet!

Research competitive positioning – talk about what makes your cakes stand out, look at your language and introduce something that will make people remember and influence how they perceive you. Tell them why they should consider paying a little more. (I’m currently going through a re-brand and it’s so worth it).

Be the better person.. don’t blog about it… like me 😉 Unless you love a rant… also like me 😉

So, to round-up, I’m very sad that Melissa has made this decision, but I also get it. I feel ever so slightly envious that she’s going to get time back with her children. Or that she won’t be awake at 2am sticking on flowers or piping some immaculate royal icing design down the side of a giant hexagonal tiered cake. I do hope this isn’t going to be the start of more incredibly talented bakers throwing in the towel, admitting defeat and I do hope my lovely cake decorating friends and fellow business owners survive this crazy under-cutting saturated industry we’re currently in.

To end on a positive note I saw that Wokingham based Blue Orchid Bakery is going in completely the opposite direction and opening up her own shop in the new Wokingham Peach place development. What a dream come true for her! (read the story here).

One more lovely bit of news

I’m very excited to announce I’m going to be flying out to Morocco in a couple of weeks to teach some lovely people how to make traditional English cupcakes, cakes and desserts! I’m confirming all the final details in the next few days.

To finish…

So, bakers – know your worth. Customers – appreciate the work and costs that go into making a cake that everyone will talk about and remember.

I appreciate not everyone will agree with me on this post and I do value all opinions, so feel free to leave a comment, or click an emoji either way. 🙂

4 responses to “Sad times in the Cake World”

  1. Kerry says:

    Love this post. It’s so sad that such a talented cake maker has made this decision but I do understand why she would. As a cake maker who is a cake maker full time, it’s my only source of income, and pricing is key. It’s taken me 7 years to get to where I am and I totally love it, hard work and all, but I certainly wouldn’t be working this hard for pennies. So much time, passion and energy goes into each cake, time away from our families, we deserve to get paid what we’re worth! Fab post, I will be pinching the mailing list idea too Enjoy Morocco!

    • hellocuppies says:

      Hiya! Me too, very sad. And your cakes are fab! You’re worth every penny and have clearly worked incredibly hard. Thanks for commenting xx

  2. Michelle says:

    Incredibly well put Natalie – it’s the same across so many creative industries where the work isn’t so obvious. Photography is another one which people often complain about being expensive because “everyone has a smartphone these days” but if they don’t value the time, skill and creative talent of a photographer than they should be happy to take their wedding photos on an iPhone or pay the price. People don’t consider the hours of behind the scenes work in terms of editing or the thousands of dollars of equipment so it doesn’t surprise me that you’ve faced this too. All in all I think we need to be mindful that these things take skill. Keep at it and enjoy Morocco!

    • hellocuppies says:

      Thanks, Michelle, I think all we can do is continue to show and educate people as to how much we are worth, and how much time and effort goes into what we do. x

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