Archive | September 2013

It IS Your Job

Everyday I read a post on Facebook by someone complaining about having to answer stupid questions from their customers. There is always a complaint about the customer not giving them all the information. Pretty much, all I hear is complaints about customers.

Many of today’s bakery owners want customers to call up, place the order precisely in the manner they should, give them free reign on the design and have a huge budget. Oh my. Well, I want a cure for cancer, but complaining and wishing doesn’t make it so.

There is an award that is given out each year for the person or act that most exemplifies the “that’s not my job” mentality. I’m probably about to anger many of you, but I have to tell you that many of you are guilty of the “it’s not my job” mindset. And you know what? It IS your job.

I wrote a blog early on about how you have to educate your customers on your procedures. I wrote another about how people don’t read instructions anymore. Taken together, those blogs tell you that you can write pages and pages of rules on your web site or Facebook page, but, in the end, you will have to actually TEACH the customer how to order. Customers use the wrong words for things. They order a full sheet cake when they mean a quarter sheet. They call layers tiers. They have absolutely no idea how many people a three tier cake serves.

I always told my brides that my questions were designed to help them know what they really needed. “You don’t order cake for a living”, I would say. “I do this everyday.” I was there to guide and educate them. The time I spent with them brought them back to me for birthdays and other celebrations.

I know that it is a pain to repeat yourself over and over. I did it for seventeen years of a very busy commercial bakery experience. Did I get tired of telling people what they could have read if they would have taken the time? Of course. I’m human. I got frustrated, irritated and sometimes angry, but I still did it. As time went by, I developed a huge group of regular customers who were very well trained in the Art of Ordering a Cake. I acted professionally and my business ran that way.

The more you run through the checklist for an order with your customers, the better you will be at eliciting the necessary information. You will get catch phrases that help. You will find a routine you can live with. You will get better and better at educating your customers and life will get a bit easier. New folks will always show up and you will have to start from scratch with them, but having a tried and true routine will make it easier.

People complain about doctors’ bedside manner. They say the doctor assumes they know what they are talking about. That the doctors are brusk. That the doctors don’t explain. I know a lot of doctors. I don’t think it is intentional. They forget that we don’t know everything they know. Bakers and decorators get brusk too. I had to catch myself many times from getting curt with people. I really had to watch my employees. They would get busy on a cake and answering a bunch of questions was just going to slow them down. I understood the frustration, but had to get them to take the time with the customers.

You have to become skilled in the Art of Order Taking. The better you are, the better your customers will be. Once you get a good routine, your stress level will go down and you can get back to the part of caking you enjoy. So, the next time the customer calls, remember that you CHOSE to do this for a living. You cannot run a business without customers. It is YOUR JOB to teach the Art of Placing a Cake Order. And you can do this!


The Jellyfish

I was watching the Today show recently. They featured a young writer who had just published an advice book for her generation called “Adulting”. One of her thoughts is that rude people are like jellyfish. They swim around, stinging folks and move on leaving pain in their wake. The writer advised that you should avoid the jellyfish and let them swim on by.

There is a bit of truth in that. I think that some folks feed on drama the way that I feed on Cheetos. There are some people who are simply unhappy and seek to make others unhappy. Did you watch “The Natural” with Robert Redford? There was a character in the film that went around finding the best athletes and shooting them. She built herself up by tearing others down. These negative nellies will always have some type of stinging or hurtful remark. They like to say things that start disagreements. They never talk; they rant.

The ONLY way to take away their power is to ignore them. Delete their comments. Let their words roll off your back. The most hurtful thing you can do to them is to ignore them. They want to be in the middle of things. Acting like you don’t hear them is the best way to diffuse them.

Surprisingly, the jellyfish have people who defend them. “He’s just direct.” “She is doing it for their own good.” I have no idea why people want to justify the behavior of jellyfish, but they do. I think they cannot conceive of a person truly being so hateful. You can use whatever fancy words for it you want, but if a person is constantly hurting others with WHAT they say and HOW they say it, the speaker is rude. Plain and simple.

I watched a moderator of a FaceBook group defend a rude person the other day, all the while telling stories of rudeness done upon them by that person. Folks, you do not deserve to be treated like that. There is no reason to allow someone to speak in a deliberately hurtful manner to you. If someone has a reputation as a mean person or as a rude person, usually there is some truth in that.

By the way, I personally refuse to accept excuses like “That’s how people are from there,” or “it’s how he/she was raised.” If you are an adult, you make your own choices on how to treat people. Jellyfish derive pleasure from feeling superior. Remember that you cannot change someone’s toxic personality. All you can do is change how you react to it. So don’t. Don’t react. Take away their sting.


I Walk the Line

Recently a student and a teacher had a disagreement. The student had taken a class from an ICES approved teacher, using an ICES scholarship they had been awarded. Part of the ICES scholarship rules say that you have to share one of the classes you take by demonstrating it at a Day of Sharing. The student did just that. The teacher was upset, because demonstrating the class meant that no one there would ever take that class. It was as though money was taken from the teacher’s pocket. The student felt they were only doing what was required. The teacher was hurt.

Recently a supply shop owner/teacher hosted a guest teacher, who taught several classes. The supply shop owner/teacher took every class. The supply shop owner then started teaching the guest teacher’s classes just months after the guest teacher visited. The exact classes. The guest teacher is aware of it and is hurt, but has not addressed the issue.

So where is the line? If you take a class, what are you allowed to do with that knowledge? If you are a teacher, what should you expect from your students? I’m not really sure I know, but I am going to try to answer. As always, this will just be my opinions, but I hope that they will have reason behind them.

The first question for me is whether the class is a technique class or a project class. No one can prevent someone else from demonstrating or teaching a specific technique. For example, if a class covers brush embroidery, that is a well known technique. Numerous people teach it. Many books cover it. If you take a class with me on brush embroidery, would it be ok for you to demo that?

My opinion is that you have free reign to demo or teach the technique itself. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, you have to come up with your own project, notes and instructions. You cannot copy the handouts from your teacher. You cannot use their pattern. You cannot demo or teach the exact project you learned. You need to put yourself into the technique. You need to design your own project and write your own handout. This is my opinion for how to handle long established, well known techniques.

So, what if it is a project class making a specific figure or something? The class may involve the use of numerous techniques in the creation of the project. Does that mean that the student can recreate it as a demo or in a class they teach? My opinion is that they cannot. Take, for example, Mike McCarey’s Big Bird class. If you take that class, you are not free to go demo his Big Bird. You are not free to teach his Big Bird. You are free to be INSPIRED and to teach a different project that YOU come up with, using the skills and techniques you learned.

What if the teacher is teaching a new technique or a new combination of techniques? If the teacher has come up with something totally new, I really don’t think you have any business demonstrating or teaching that. Are there new techniques? I’m not sure, but I see creative genius in my teacher and manufacturer friends all the time. I would tread most carefully here because this is something that everyone will identify with one particular person. If you try to teach it or demo it, you will look like a thief to people. If you name your class exactly what the teacher named theirs, it really looks bad.

A student recorded a class, then filmed a YouTube video repeating the class verbatim. A student copied a teacher’s entire handout and put their own name on it. If I asked enough teachers, I am sure I would hear of even more frightening things. Students need to remember that every time they share their class notes, demo a class they took or teach a project they learned, they have essentially just stolen from their teacher.

Some students will argue that it is ok because the teachers make tons of money on a class. (Isn’t this exactly what your customers think about your cake prices?). Most teachers I know barely get by teaching. Almost all supplement their income by doing cake orders, selling products, or working for manufacturers.

Some students will say that the people they teach wouldn’t have taken a class with that teacher anyway. Maybe not. But what about the folks THEY end up sharing with? This is almost like that ripple in the water in that it just keeps spreading. A student who then teaches the same exact class is going to affect the number of available students. Maybe the teacher had planned to do a DVD of the class or a paid tutorial. You stole part of that market.

Teachers expect you to take what they share and then recreate it for your customers, friends and family. Teachers expect you to make money from the class – just not from teaching it!

If you are asked to demo what you learned, just remember that you can show the technique but that you need to apply it to your own project. Be inspired. Make it your own. Be an original. And be kind to your teachers when you walk the line.