A Word for the Little Guy


I’ve been promising to write this blog for quite a while, and I think the time has finally come.  When I started decorating about 25 years ago, there were very few places to buy cake supplies.  You HAD to go to cake supply and restaurant supply stores to buy things.  Then Wilton products moved into Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Walmart and other craft stores.  Decorators rejoiced.  We could use coupons on our products and were so happy.  I remember going every week with a 40% off coupon and buying one pan…for months…back when having a bakery was just a dream in my heart.  I never once thought about the lost sales for my cake supply store or how it might affect them.

These days, Satin Ice is now available at craft and grocery stores.  Hobby Lobby has created their own tool line and are selling products incredibly cheap.  At first, we all rejoice.  Then I started talking to the owners of cake supply stores.  Many are barely getting by.  Some have closed over the last few years.  This makes me incredibly sad.

“But the cake supply store charges too much for the products”.  The supply stores don’t have the buying power of a Walmart and they never will.  Sometimes the big stores are selling things for less than the cake store buys it for.  Can you imagine?  When the cake store adds a reasonable profit onto the price they pay (remember, they have just as much right and NEED as you to make money), it looks like they are gouging the customer.  But they aren’t.

I’m writing this to ask you to keep shopping at your local cake shop, even if it costs you a little more.  Think about the extras you get from your local shop.  They help you figure out what you need to buy to create the cake in the picture you bring in.  They dispense advice on a regular basis and you don’t pay a dime for that.  They tell you how to use the products.  Guide you so that you don’t buy things you don’t need.  Help you find the tools that make your life easier.  I’ve been in my local shop many times and watched them walk people through making their own wedding cake, figure out what items are worth buying in bulk, and so much more.  They placed special orders for me and other customers so that we could get the products we needed.  Isn’t that worth paying a little extra?

Think about all the shops that have disappeared because of Target and Walmart.  What if that happens to your local cake supply store?

Your local cake shop is also the main place people learn cake decorating.  Yes, you can take Wilton classes at other places, but many people hunger for more after taking those classes.  It is the local cake shop that brings in the teachers from out of state.  It is the local supply shop that offers holiday themed classes.  It is the local supply shop that teaches you how to bake, to decorate, to run a cake business

I was at one shop in another country.  It was very small…no larger than a converted garage (which is what it was in) and the owner told me she had over $10,000 in merchandise in there.  She had made a huge investment on behalf of her students and local decorators.  Now think about the medium size shops and the large shops…how much money do they have tied up in the shop?  Can you imagine what their monthly overhead is?  They need your patronage.

This is my plea for your local cake shop.  The next time you head out for fondant, cake boards and such, I hope you’ll drive past the big box store and give your favorite cake supply store your business instead.  little guy

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14 thoughts on “A Word for the Little Guy

  1. Very true! There are 2 shops in the St. Louis area I frequent, for all the reasons you stated. You certainly don’t get the personal service or advice at Walmart that you get
    from little guys!

    • Elaine, I am in the metro area visiting my parents, and come a couple times a year, I would love to know where to go to get supplies as I am often asked to make cake while I am “home”.

  2. I wish we had a local store! Where I am, if it wasn’t for Michael’s, we wouldn’t have anything–no supplies, no face-to-face classes–nothing. I would dearly love to have a local supplier of PME and other brands. I would love to teach non-Wilton classes (and take them, too!) without having to go to a cake show. I am grateful for what we have–without it I would not have started decorating. But those of you who have a local store, you are so lucky!!!!

  3. I have several good friends who are “small cake supply shop” owners. I hear stories that break my heart. They have “customers” who come in and spend an hour or more, handling the product, asking questions, getting in effect a private mini class….only to walk out without spending a cent because they plan on “using their 40% coupon” at the big chain store across town. This just isn’t right. Please note – you may get the standard supplies cheaper at the big chains; but when it comes to the more specialized tools, you can only find them at the small specialty shops. When those shops are forced to close, you will loose that source for the special tools and toys! Michaels doesn’t carry tappits! Or strip cutters! Or lace molds! And most employees at Michael’s really can’t give you that advice you will get at a small shop where the owner (and probably all the employees) actuals USE the products they sell!

      • These small shops also often offer classes at a very reasonable rate. They make NO profit off those classes. They offer the classes (A) to encourage the art of sugar, and (B) in hopes of selling supplies to the students and making a small profit that way. I teach at a couple of these small stores. It’s insulting to watch a student come in and start unpacking a Michael’s bag full of supplies! Imagine going into a nice local steak house restaurant, ordering a cup of coffee, and then unpacking a McDonald’s bag!

  4. Beautifully said, thank you for shopping small businesses. I opened my supply store 3 years ago, and I have wonderful customers just like you that praise me everyday for opening my store. I am within a quarter of a mile (walking distance) from Walmart, Michaels and Hobby Lobby. People recommend my store to customers , especially the employees of Michaels, because they know I sell other products that they don’t sell. I do not carry many Wilton products because of the big chain store discounts. That plus our customer service is what has made my business a success . Please keep supporting small baking supply stores so there will always be a place to turn to when you have questions or need special supplies. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God Bless

  5. I work at a Michael’s as a Wilton instructor. As I said above, we don’t have any local stores. So, I send my students to stores in other cities that will do mail order. I also go to cake shows with very long lists and envelopes of money! If you have a local store, please make sure you have a web site/Facebook page with updated product info (it doesn’t have to be everything you have – just that you carry X line of tips/color dust, etc.) and updated contact info. Believe me, there are many instructors like me who have students who go beyond the scope of the Wilton line. We will send students your way if we know you are there!

  6. Sorry to be the “Comment Countess,” but this is sooo relevant. This also applies to classes. Craftsy is wonderful. I have my classes that I cannot wait to finally have the time to work on. However, if someone takes a class on Craftsy rather than taking it in person at their local store – whether it is a national store or local – someone is losing income. Some instructor is possibly cancelling a class because a student thought taking that online class was “easier.” Yes, for some people this is the only way to get that information. However, as someone who taught online classes for 20 years, the vast majority of people who start online classes do not finish them. Let’s face it, how many of us (myself included) have Craftsy classes we are “getting to really soon”? So, encourage people to take those classes, whatever they are, in person. They will have fun and get more out of the class. Again, I wish I was in a town that had a cake shop that had additional classes…….. I would love to have that outlet (and have it for my students!) without having to travel literally hundreds of miles.

  7. The reason I was excited about your store was because I found you carried many products that you could only find on the internet…and that still is the case. I mean if you need something immediately, who has time to wait for shipping? Not to mention shipping costs! Id rather pay the sales tax and have it in my hand right now. I honestly don’t find your prices that far off the mark either. If you sold nothing but Wilton then maybe it would be an issue, but where else can you find CK products and Magic Line pans, disco dust, the latest molds and such?
    I prefer to shop local and if you carry it, I will come!

  8. Another wholehearted agreement! I’d like to add another point: local shops can save you money because, since they give advice so freely, you’re a lot less apt to buy something you think you’ll love, only to find it’s not “all that”. You know all those cake levelers, icing tips, or other ephemera that we paid good money for, but are now just gathering dust because we didn’t end up using them as much as we thought, it’s just not as good as the “insert other brand here” smoother we eventually bought, or it broke not long out of the box (just past the return-by date). Sure, it’ll still happen at the local store, but I’m betting it’ll be a lot less often.

    Add up all that wasted money and compare to what you “saved” by going to the big box store and I’ll bet you’ll find you spent more than you would have had you just gone to the local store from the get go. If you add in some bucks for the wasted gas and time (and FRUSTRATION) you spent getting all those unused things, it’s even more dramatic of a savings.

    I also knit and garden, and have found this to be true with those hobbies as well. You more often end up saving a bundle just going to the local store where you’ll find choice in brands and people who know what they’re talking about who are more than willing to give you educated advice. I work at one of those places, a locally owned garden center, and know just what questions to ask a customer to find out if the $30 tool in their hand will be useful to them. Many times it’s not, so I suggest another. I’m able to do this because I actually use the things we sell. I find that holds true with other locally owned shops, so I feel more comfortable shopping there, and find that extra five bucks in price money well spent.

    (Btw, SugarZen, just found your blog and have been reading it non-stop since! LOVE IT! Thank you for all your insight.)

  9. You are so right. Thank you for explaining why we should all support local businesses–cake supply stores and others. I’m lucky to have Spun Sugar just 10 minutes from my house–will be supporting you for as long as I can bake & decorate!

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