Tag Archive | Bakery business

The Pig And The Chicken

My brother and I agreed to do a full marathon together in October in Key West. I always found a good reason why I was just too busy to go train. I was lucky to average one training session every week or two. Meanwhile, Robb got up at 5:30 every morning to run mind numbing laps on his long driveway in the country. Then he got dressed for work and drove an hour into the city for a full work day and another hour drive home. He was relentless.

I saw the following quote and realized I was the chicken.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed”…. Martina Navratilova .

He was the pig. I really wanted to become a run/walker. I wanted to shave major minutes off my normal race time. I wanted to finish by my brother’s side and not slow him down. As you might expect from reading my training regimen, I had to switch down to the half marathon and did not cut my time at all.

Robb was fully committed to what he was doing. I was INTERESTED in doing better, but never fully committed. I think many of today’s newer decorators are chickens as well. They are interested in running a business, but unwilling to compute their own costs…despite numerous blogs, webinars and software packages out there to teach them how to do it for themselves.

A representative post the other day said “I have an order for x cookies this Friday. Can someone give me a good recipe for the cookie and the icing and give me a tutorial on how to decorate those?” Are you kidding me??!! Should we pop over to your house and bake it for you as well?

What on earth are you doing taking money from an unsuspecting customer? Why are you experimenting on someone paying you money? What makes you agree to do these cake, cookie, cupcake or other sweets order if you don’t already possess basic skills and recipes?

“I’m ready, but I’m not sure I’m prepared.”…….Singer on Rising Star.

It is time for us all to become more committed to our work. Success is going to come to those who show up, do the work and prepare. I’ve agreed to do a half ironman race in April with my brother and my husband. I’ve committed to ride my bike at least thirty minutes every day I’m home. I’m finally ready to do the true work it takes to achieve better results. Won’t you follow my lead with your bakery business? Are you PREPARED for success? Or just ready?IMG_8999.JPG



Say When….

Each weekend, I read posts from overworked decorators. They cannot finish their orders in a normal work day and end up going without sleep for a day or two. Sometimes, it is because they have CHAOS.

CHAOS is normally defined as Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. The house is a wreck and you would always rather meet anywhere but your place. In the cake world, I’ve decided it means Can’t Handle Another Order Syndrome.

When I first opened my bakery, I never cut off orders. I worked a record 42 hours straight to make sure I filled all the orders. After I nearly face planted into the open oven when I started to fall asleep, it finally hit me that I had to set some boundaries.

For months I always said yes. One day, with a huge arm twist from my manager/sister-in-law, I said No. I nearly threw up after I hung up from my first disappointed customer. But I survived.

I set rules for my shop. I started letting customers “save a spot” for a cake. Much like a reservation, they just held a place on my calendar. And they followed my rules. The shop started running more smoothly.

You might not be working in the volume that I was, but you still need to be realistic on what you can handle without burning out. We lose too many talented decorators simply because they work the fun out of the job.

And don’t be fooled. As much as you love making cakes, it is still a job. For once, I want you to embrace a little CHAOS and say No. Your bed misses you. IMG_8891.PNG

The Three Questions

Many years ago at a cake event, I heard someone talk about the three questions. Norm Davis says that Pat Trunkfield from England came up with these. I’ve shared them over and over in my classes. They can truly help you focus on what is important.

As I’ve heard them, they are:
1) Will they notice?
2) Will they care?
3) If they will notice and care, are they willing to pay the difference?

Will They Notice?

Often on cake orders, we get bogged down on details and don’t know when to step away from a cake. Your first question has to be whether the customer is going to notice that aspect of the piece. If not, you want to spend less time on that part.

I use the example of my figurines. If a customer won’t notice, I often give ball hands or mitten hands to the character. It is faster for me, which means I can charge less for the figure.

Will They Care?

Some customers aren’t fussy about every single part of a cake. They might notice something but just not care.

Going with the above example, my husband would notice that I didn’t do an anatomical hand, but he would not care. If you know or believe that the customers won’t care about a particular aspect of your project, you should revert to the easiest version of it.

Will They Pay The Difference?

If they will notice and they will care, they have to be willing to pay you for the amount of extra time it is going to take. If they won’t pay for it, they do not get it. Let me say that again. If they do not pay for it, they DO NOT get it.

Why? Why must you enforce and use these three questions? Any time you spend on a cake is time you are not spending with your family, your furry babies, your friends, your TV shows or things like your laundry! You are giving up your valuable time to create an edible piece of art for a customer. They must compensate you for it.

If you went into a restaurant and ordered a steak, you would notice that it did not have mushrooms on it. If you cared to have them, you would know that you would have to pay extra for them or the chef would not be putting them on your plate.

I can hear you right now. You’re saying, “but I will notice!” That’s fine. Continue on down that same path. Give up your free time. Go ahead and sell that bed that goes unused every weekend. Don’t make a profit on your skills. But I hope you are starting to think of your operation as the gourmet steak house instead of the buffet, where folks ask for everything for hardly any money.

One more use I’ve found for the questions is to help you know where you SHOULD spend the extra time. If you listen closely as a customer places an order, they will usually emphasize a couple thinks that are crucial to them.

Those are the elements that I really focused on, because I knew it would be the first things they would look for on the cake. If I did those well, I would find a happy customer on the other side of the cake box. At the end of the day, besides a few more hours of sleep, isn’t that something for which we are all strive?


Ruth’s Top Ten

I’ve been blessed to go to a whole lot of cake events in my decorating career. Decorators always ask for my opinions on “x” show or “y” show. I started thinking that others of you might wonder what I would put on my list of the Top Ten Cake Events. I thought it might be hard to make such a list, but it seemed to fall into place with no real effort. You might have a different list, but this is mine. If a decorator wanted to put together a bucket list of things to do before they die, I would include these ten things.

I am not presenting these in any particular order. Number ten is just as important as number one. I will try to explain why I ranked it and give you a fair assessment of each event. Please let me know your thoughts…even if you disagree. And let me know your number – how many have you attended? Did I miss a major event?

top ten

Number One: Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show.
Www.oksugarartists.com. September 28-29, 2013. Tulsa, OK
Long considered the preeminent cake show in the US, this show definitely has the largest prize packages anywhere. I once called it The Superbowl of cake. It would be closer to call it the Pro Bowl. Over the course of its history, the best of the best decorators have competed there. While the players change from year to year, you will always find some incredibly talented decorators there. The show was covered for four years by The Food Network in specials about the competitors and the event. The raffle ticket prizes for the entrants would make any decorator’s mouth water.

On the down side, the event is held in conjunction with the Tulsa State Fair. While thousands of people will see your entries, you will not be in an area with just decorators. Cakes have been damaged in the past by the turkey leg eating crowd. One year, a drunk lady in a scooter took out a table full of displays before they could even be judged. While the building is massive, it is often very crowded at the awards ceremony and sometimes hard to hear, due to the ambient noise of the building. There are very few vendors, due to the lack of space. There are amazing free demos, but only one hands on class. The class is usually with a “name” cake professional and will run the two days after the cake show.

I participated in this show for about ten years. When I first attended, it was held in a horse barn. The show has grown in size and prestige until it has become one of the “must attends” for many decorators. I was excited to receive a gold medal three times and to place repeatedly in the divisional portion of the show. I always encouraged my employees to attend and paid their entry fees. We took 42 cakes from my bakery one year. A lot of what I know about competing, I learned at Oklahoma.

Number Two: National Capital Area Cake Show.
Www.cakeshow.org. April 6-7, 2013. Fairfax, VA
This show is the largest show on the East coast. The show is always in private venues, where the public pays to view the cakes. You will only be around people legitimately interested in cake decorating. There will be vendors…great vendors. There are numerous great demos and mini classes. Even better, the best live challenges I have seen at a cake show have occurred here. While it isn’t exactly a tv challenge, you will find quality similar to the original Food Network Challenges everyone fell in love with. While you have to pay to watch these challenges, you will be glad you did.

The quality of the entries is outstanding. Many of the top decorators at this show either have won at Oklahoma or earned medals there. The prize money isn’t like Oklahoma, but is enough to tempt anyone to enter a cake. The divisional competition includes areas not typical in cake decorating circles like pastillage, chocolate and sugar show pieces. If you want the chance to really be around decorators, this is a great show. One of the cool things they do for the general public is to give “cake tours”. Volunteers walk the public around the event, explaining techniques and educating them on how exceptional the sugar art truly is.

I have never missed this show. It has grown in size and prestige. In some years, it has more cake entries than Oklahoma. I was honored to be named to The Sweet Life Hall of Fame at this show. It will always have a special place in my heart.

Number Three: That Takes The Cake Show
Www.thattakesthecake.org. February 23-24, 2013. Austin, TX
I love this show. I always call it “the fun show”. When I first attended, it was fairly small, but this show is now firmly established as one of the three American cake shows you have to attend. The show is at a private venue and, like Virginia, you are only around people who came to see cakes. They promote the show heavily and have a tremendous attendance from the general public. Thousands of people show up to see the cakes. I could not believe the lines.

The show has killer demos, mini classes and celebrity classes. You need to take a week to experience everything this show throws at you. Plus, you are in Austin, where the food and music are legendary. The neighborhood of the event may not be super cool, but it features a Chuy’s across the street, so you are always assured a good meal. They have a full house of top notch vendors. They celebrate showcakes. Instead of a Wedding Division like numerous other shows, they look for cakes for an event, more like you would see on a tv challenge. I have seen some of the most creative, jaw dropping work in this category. Like at Virginia, everywhere you turn, there is another cake celebrity. If you get high on cake, this is one of your Meccas.

My absolute favorite thing that they do is reserved for the children who enter. They do not select first, second and third. Instead, each child’s cake receives an award…Best Cake For Under The Sea, Best Use of M&Ms, Best whatever that celebrates one element of that child’s work. The ribbons at this show are actually medals, placed around your neck. I normally am in tears watching these children receive their medals with the most joy filled faces ever. I know that they are building the future generation of cake decorators through this program. I work never to miss this show and it replaced Oklahoma as the favorite for my bakery. My girls would pack up their cakes and a few of us would make the drive to Austin.

Number Four: ICES Convention
Www.ices.org. August 8-11, 2013. Lexington, KY
ICES is the International Cake Exploration Society. There are thousands of members from all over the world. Each year, they hold a national convention in a different city. The convention is in July or August each summer. Many of us feel like Convention is a family reunion. Each convention features the most impressive room of vendors I have seen outside of the NEC. There are vendors from all over the world with products you’ve never been able to buy before. It is intoxicating your first year! The vendors and authors plan to debut products there to maximize their exposure.

There are hundreds of demos at an incredibly low price for registered attendees. You can watch Mike McCarey build a stand, James Roselle make a flower and a British royal icing expert like Christine Flinn pipe extension work. There are some bilingual demos offered each year. For the last few years, ICES has also offered hands on classes. The teachers supply everything and the classes are only $75. You can get two hours of instruction from folks like Nick Lodge, Susan Carberry and Norm Davis. You can watch or participate in a live cake challenge.

The one thing that really draws people in, is the cake room. On a good year, there can be over 1000 cakes from every part of the world on display. It is a sharing only show, so no one has to worry about being judged. The inspiration in that room is dazzling. People pay just to go see the cakes. There are lots of other things at Convention, from certification testing, to awards, to elections, to celebrating with friends at the annual banquet. There is always a friend waiting for you at ICES.

Number Five: Cake International (the NEC)
Www.cakeinternational.co.uk. November 8-10, 2013. Birmingham, England
This show has been called the NEC for years by many of us in America. Its proper name is Cake International. The show hosts tens of thousands of people daily…who are there just to see the cakes and shop from the vendors. The event often sells out and there is sometimes a line waiting for people to leave so new people can go in. Incredible. This show has become so popular that it has expanded to Manchester and London, with other countries to follow.

The vendors portion is outstanding and you have the opportunity to shop from suppliers and authors that you could not find at other events. There are demos, but not as many as at ICES. There are touching tables where you can learn to work with different types of mediums like gumpaste and fondant. But the thing that always draws my attention is the incredible sugar art entries. The cake competition is outstanding and the level of work is often very high. There are displays from colleges, guilds and branches where cake decorating is taught. I have spent hours photographing the cakes during my two visits. This, for me, is the real reason to attend this show.

Number Six: Cake Camp
Www.cakecamp.com. July 19-21, 2013. Las Vegas, NV
Held every other year, this is a must for many decorators. Over the course of three days, there will be hundreds of hands on classes with many of the best teachers in the industry. People fly in from all over the world to study for one glorious weekend in beautiful Las Vegas. People save up for a year to take as many classes as they can schedule. The event is now held at the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, NV. This resort is nice and has the comfiest beds! I never had a bad meal there…and I don’t like anything!

The vendor room rivals that of the Virginia and Austin shows and has something for everyone. The majority of the teachers provide everything you need for the class. You just show up and create. Since you are in a popular destination spot, there is always something to do when you are not taking a class. But seriously, most of the folks forget to sleep and eat because they take so many classes! There are always new classes and techniques debuted at this event. I have been lucky to teach at Cake Camp for a number of years and have to say that it is incredibly well run and supported. Add this to your bucket list.

Number Seven: ICES Day of Sharing (DOS)
Www.ices.org. Check for your state chapter.
There are ICES chapters all over the world. Some chapters meet once or twice a year and some meet every couple of months. These are normally one day events where you pay a registration fee to come and see 4-7 demonstrations on sugar art techniques. Some states even do hands on demos. The chapter either includes lunch in the fee or people bring covered dishes to share. I have attended events as small as 12 and as large as 200 plus. This is a great time to meet people in your area and build a network of resources. Some shows have vendors and you can buy those tools you’ve been needing.

Some chapters have Weekends of Sharing, which offer you the chance to take classes or attend numerous demos for a small charge. Missouri has one of the biggest of these that I have attended. ICES is an invaluable resource and you only get the most of your membership if you attend the DOS. Non-members are welcome, but pay a slightly higher registration fee. Many chapters bring in a featured “name” decorator to headline the DOS. It is often the least expensive way to get to learn from these folks.

Number Eight: Regional Cake Show
See the list in my Newsletter and specifics mentioned below.
I feel like there are The Big Three cake shows (Oklahoma, Virginia and Austin), but there are also some absolutely wonderful smaller shows. I call them regional shows, because they typically draw in a more local crowd. Some of these definitely have people enter from outside the region, but just haven’t grown as large as the Big Three yet. I made a list of the cake shows I have attended over the years and was stunned to find that I had attended 23 different cake shows over the years. This year, I will be attending at least two new (to me) shows. I am hoping to make it to every show in the US before I am done traveling. I also hope to attend more international shows to expand my world view of the sugar art industry.

The benefits of these shows is that it is a great place to get your feet wet. There are not as many entrants, so decorators often feel less intimidated. These shows still do the cool things; don’t be fooled by me calling them regional. They have hands on classes, demos, live challenges and great prizes. Many have vendors and make it a weekend of fun. I highly, highly recommend these shows. We have lost one Regional Show this year (The Art of the Cake in Ohio) and have another that has to take 2013 off (KC CakeFest). I constantly update my list of shows and events in my newsletter. Here are the ones I know about:

Feb. 8-10 – Denver Cake Show – Colorado
Feb. 16 & 17 – Connecticut Cake Show – Hartford, CT
Feb. 23 – Panhandle Cake CRUMBS Show – Cantonment, FL
Mar. 2-4 – Mike Elder’s CakeFest – KC, MO – on hold…plan for huge show in 2014
Mar. 8-10 – Cake International – Manchester, England
Mar. 9-10 – Garden State Cake Show – NJ
Mar. 16-17 – San Diego Cake Show – SD, CA
Apr. 12-14 – Cake International – London, England
Apr. 27-28 – North Texas Cake Show – Dallas, TX
Apr. 27-28 – Washington State Cake Show – Everett, WA
May 5 – Kentucky Cake Show – Kentucky
July 13 – Quota’s Icing on the Cake – Shreveport, LA
July 20-21 – Florida ICED Cake Show, Ocala, FL
Aug. ?? – Cove County Cake Show – Bedford, PA

Sep. 5 – West Tennessee Sugar Artists Sugar Art Show

Sep. ? – Sweet Treats Cake Competition – NJ

Sep. 27-29 – River City Cake Show – Omaha

Oct. 6 – CNY Cake Show – Ithaca, NY

Oct. 19-20, 2013 – Great American Cake Show – Maryland

Oct. ?? – Cake Decorator’s of Tidewater Cake Show – Va. Beach

Oct. 26? –Montreal Cake Show – Canada

Nov. ? – White Rose Cake Show and PA DOS – York, PA

Nov. ? – National Gingerbread Competition – Asheville, NC

Did I miss your show? Send me a link and I will include it in all my Newsletters!


Number Nine: Mini Class Event
See the list in my Newsletter and specifics mentioned below.
I have to confess that I don’t know if Cake Camp was the first mini class event, but it seems to be the most widely known. It is not, however, your only choice for the opportunity to study with a bunch of teachers. Most of the mini class events are held biannually, but you should check each web site to see their schedule. I have taught at or attended most of these events. The general schedule is classes on Friday, a banquet Friday night, classes all day Saturday and then a shorter class day on Sunday. These are incredibly well run, organized events and offer the best and most affordable choices for classes in bulk.

These are the ones I know about: Florida Mini Classes, CakeLove Vancouver, Oregon Sweet Retreat, Branson Cake Retreat, Michigan Mini Classes, Daytona Florida Mini Classes. I love the mini class environment. You meet people from all over. You can shop from vendors. You get to really hang out with your sugar friends, often in cool locations. Find the one easiest for you to attend and start saving.


Number Ten: Local Cake Club Meeting
Check with supply shops in your area or ask around on Facebook
One of the great things about my travels is that I have gotten to attend local cake club meetings in Odessa, Dallas, Vancouver and Louisiana. Sometimes the group is tied to a cake supply shop. Sometimes, it is a group of sugar friends who decide to start a support group. These groups meet every month or two. They may have a yearly fee or a meeting fee. These groups usually do member driven demonstrations and sometimes prepare cookies or cakes for charity. They become your local lifeline! These are the people who can loan you a pan or cutters, step in to help if you have an emergency and can refer business to you when they are booked. I always wished for one in my area. Maybe someday….

You may not be able to make it to all these events, but even my husband agreed that it is a good list. Remember, you have a lifetime of sugar to explore. You don’t have to make it to everything on my list and you sure don’t have to make it in one year! This is more of a life goal of events that will all make you a better decorator. How many have you attended? What did I miss? Which is your favorite?


When I first opened my shop, I took every order I could get. I was scared to say no and thought I was supposed to please everyone else. I was working over 80 hours a week, 7 days a week and was at a dead run every day. One day, as I met with a bride and her mother, they asked about the shop. I told them how busy we were and how long the hours were. At the same time, the shouted out “TOTM!!”

I am sure I looked at them like they were crazy. I asked what they were saying to me. They laughed and said “Think Of The Money”.

After they left, I made a sign to put on my bulletin board with those four letters. At 2 am on those long cake nights, I would replay their words and I took heart that my work was not in vain. Without the money, there was no business. I know that sometimes it doesn’t seem like the money is worth it, but remember that those busy weekends or months pay for the ones that are slow. You work harder and do more some weeks to afford the luxury of taking no orders to go on vacation or to a cake show.

I hope on your next all nighter, when you are close to tears because you are just THAT tired, you will hear me whispering in your ear, TOTM, and that you will remember it is good to be busy sometimes.

Disco Fever

“Death to Disco”. For a time, it seemed that this was the fate of disco dust and glitters in the UK. Meanwhile, people clamor  for disco dust in the USA. I know friends who cannot imagine decorating a cake without adding some form of sparkle. I will admit it. Cake decorators love bling. We think it makes everything look “fancy” and that it has to go everywhere!!

The problem is, there are actually rules out there about disco dusts, glitters, metallics and such. In America, items that are FDA approved are acceptable for use on our cakes. For most manufacturers today, this means that our petal dusts, edible glitter, lusters and pearls are ok to put on the cake and all accent pieces. When I say edible glitter, I mean this kind:

Of course, you need to check your labels, but most of the ones I own are food approved.

Then we get to the items marked non-toxic, for decoration only or inedible.  In the US, in most states, we can use this on pieces that are put onto the cakes, but removed prior to serving. This includes every brand of sparkles, glitters and disco dust I personally own. There could be an FDA approved one out there, but I have not purchased one yet. Some sites say that their disco or glitter is edible. I would ask for a copy of their paperwork from the FDA before I threw it all over my cake. I spoke to one manufacturer who told me that each of the ingredients in his version of disco dust is FDA approved, but that the FDA will not approve them combined as he does. Why?  He would like to know, too.

What?  You are the disco queen and have been sprinkling this all over peoples’ cakes for years?  Have you just killed off the next generation of Americans?  Are you poisoning troupes of children every weekend?  Let’s hope not. The Dictionary says that non toxic items pass through the body without adding nutrients, but also without causing harm.

Adj.    1.    nontoxic – not producing or resulting from poison atoxic harmless – not causing or capable of causing harm; “harmless bacteria”; “rendered the bomb harmless” toxic – of or relating to or caused by a toxin or poison; “suffering from exposure to toxic substances”
2.    nontoxic – safe to eat non-poisonous, nonpoisonous comestible, eatable, edible – suitable for use as food

Even if a little might not harm your customer, wouldn’t you feel safer to use the disco dusts on something that would be taken off the cake before you serve it?

Metallics are either edible or not. I have to admit that the prettiest golds, silvers and bronzes are those that you are not supposed to eat. I accept that they are for accent pieces only. There are very pretty ( but slightly less amazing) edible metallic airbrush colors on the
market. There are FDA approved metallic lusters and pearl dusts. These are permitted to be used on the cake itself. You can also splurge on gold leaf for a true gold appearance that is edible.

I have a Glow in the Dark disco dust on my site. It says clearly that it is to be used on pieces that are removed from the cake. There are edible methods of making things glow (tonic water), so you need to look at what you are making and what is the best method of achieving the look.

One last note:  I feel exactly about glitter the way I do about the overuse of super pearl. A little bit goes a long way. Back in my single days, the fashionable girls at the country bar wore just a bit of sparkle – a rhinestone buckle or earrings or such. The accent set off their
smart looking outfit and caught everyone’s eye. Then there were the girls who tried a bit too hard. If a little shine was good, why not wear a beaded, sequin dress to the country bar, add sparkly shoes, a glitter bow in your hair and shiny jewelry?  I know in my heart that those girls thought they looked cute and fancy. They never understood that being a “glitter queen” meant only that people were looking at them -not admiring their outfits. When I see (or Lord forbid, judge) a cake that looks like the glitter truck backed up and dumped a load on it, I feel like the decorator is trying to hide things on their cake. If your work is clean and nice, you won’t feel the need to splatter it completely with glitter or disco. I promise that a few well placed touches of sparkle will create a prettier cake every time.

Decorate nicely and carry a small glitter shaker.

The Harvard Experience

When I was in law school, I was always told that the A students became the judges, the B students became the professors and the C students made all the money. I was shocked that the most talented among us would not also make the most money As I researched this saying, I found that it came from Harvard. The crazy thing is, this turned out to be fairly true. Many of the students who graduated in the middle of my law school class rake in big bucks these days.

I was looking at our industry the other day and thinking like I do on a long plane ride, when it occurred to me that this phenomenon applies a bit to us. Please bear with me on this one and don’t judge me until you have read the whole blog.

We obviously don’t get grades in our profession, but I classify the A students as the decorators who are extreme perfectionists. These are those very few of us who will remake something thirty times until it is right. These are the cakers who do work so accurately that people think their flowers are real, the sculpture is not really a cake or that it really is stitching or painting on the cake. The A students in my scenario are few and far between. I think of them as tortured artists, in a fashion. They will sacrifice sleep, profit and so much more for the sake of their vision. I have some names in my head here, but am not sharing because I want each of you to think about who YOU think is the best of the best.

These are the artists who spend a lot of time on their cakes and give a lot of detail. Their profit bottom line is short, because…for the time they spend on perfection, they will not make as much most of the time. Even if their price seems high initially, it is much lower when you divide it by their man hours.

The B students in my scenario are highly talented decorators. They pursue excellence, not perfection. They do their best, but know how and when to step away from a cake. They have the skills to compete with the As, but have decided that such immersion in work is not worth it for them. Instead, they find their passion in teaching others, in passing on their knowledge and expertise. These people could also be the ones that run profitable shops, but they have chosen to not do a high volume of cakes.

These teachers will make some money, but will not get rich from this work. They will, however, be rich in students and admirers that they will have influenced. These folks hold the future of our industry. They motivate and inspire the next generation to get involved with cakes. They are not doing this for fame or fortune (as both are probably unlikely); rather they do this because teaching consumes them. It is who they are. I am sure you have all pictured a few people that fit this category, also.

Finally, there are the C students – or decorators. They might be able to do perfect or extremely excellent work, but they have made the CHOICE to turn out good quality cakes in a shorter amount of time. For these operations, they spend less time and give less detail, to increase their profit. This is where higher volume pays dividends.

Take Buddy, for example. He is likely capable of making a perfect or near perfect cake if he wants, but is not truly known for that. He is known for being ridiculously, incredibly fast at decorating. His cakes are still beautiful, but they do not compare to the work of certain perfectionists I know. I remember watching him compete in a Food Network challenge in Oklahoma. He turned out a great cake. And finished almost an hour early. He just couldn’t slow down and saw no need to fuss with his cake the final hour making everything perfect. He was able to step away.

Grocery stores and large retail operations have to do business this way. They need to turn out 20 good cakes in the time you do one great one. Their profit per cake might look lower at first blush since the price is cheaper, but they do SO MANY that they actually rake in more profit.

The toughest decision for you will be to figure out what type of decorator you want to be. You have to understand that perfection and profit are a fine line to walk. The more time you spend, the less you make. Sacrificing detail and design in order to work faster and more economically is hard for most of us. At my shop, I was determined to not do “cookie cutter” designs. I wanted everything to be custom. I did that for a few years, then figured out that I was losing money on all those cakes. And many customers had trouble seeing designs in their head. I finally set out a couple dozen “standard designs”. Instantly, customers seemed to relax. They could walk in and pick a cake in seconds. They could see the price. We knew those designs like the back of our hand and were able to crank those out, increasing our profit. The increased profit gave us a cushion for those custom cakes we really wanted to do…but knew we were probably going to just squeak by on price wise.

For my shop, we had the A cakes and the C cakes. I guess that made us a B bakery and that was probably the right place for us. We could not make it as a straight A shop and it would have killed our decorating spirit to be a straight C shop.

You need to take a look at your goals for your shop. Is your goal to be a recognized leader in cake decorating? Do you want to be known for realism? If so, you may need to accept that you are not going to get rich doing cakes. You can get by. But you can have extreme satisfaction from your work. If your goal is to be rich or to retire early, you need to consider what it will take to increase your profit level. You will probably have to sacrifice detail for speed.

I know it is hard to think that you cannot have it all, but this is a tough industry. Fame and fortune rarely seem to go hand in hand. I have always liked a quote from Oprah…you can have it all, just not all at the same time. I personally have been mostly a B. And I am totally ok with that.