Tag Archive | bakery

Side Effects

They say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Often, as we hope, wish and strive to accomplish our goals, we forget that there will be A downside to reaching any of them. Let’s think about medicines for a moment. Commercials are rampant these days for every disease out there. After it tells you how it will help you, an announcer quickly glosses over all the bad things that medicine could cause. 

One day as I watched a commercial with friends, one of them asked why anyone would want to take that medicine. I answered that the benefits to the person had to outweigh the risks. Take me, for example. When my last leukemia medicine failed, I had to switch to Tasigna. I’ve been on oral chemo for 15 years, so I didn’t figure it would be a big deal to change. The doctor say me down and told me that I needed to fully understand the potential side effects of this drug. The number one side effect?  Sudden death. Let that sink in. SUDDEN DEATH. 

I told my doctor that I had always said that I didn’t care if the medicines made me grow two heads, I was taking them. I wasn’t through with life yet. But it still gave me pause. I remember holding the first two pills in my hand, wondering if I should take them. I documented the dose on Instagram, just in case it was the last thing I ever did. Clearly, my heart didn’t react badly to the medicine and I am very careful to follow all the rules with it. 

I see similar things in the cake world all the time. We dream of success, without thinking about its cost. If you are dreaming of more customers, you will find that invariably you are going to have less time for yourself. Those lazy days can disappear. Those weekends at the lake?  Gone. 

Many of you dream of owning a retail location. You will definitely find that your schedule is now ruled by the business. You may find that as your business grows, so do the headaches with employees, taxes, vendors, etc.  you might look up one day and realize that you aren’t even decorating the cakes any more because your day is filled with the operation of the business. To give it your all, you have to give less somewhere else. Often, I see marriages crumble and fail in this situation. 

Maybe you want to travel and teach. And then you find that you never have a date, because it is hard for someone to handle the life you’ve built. Do you board your pet?  Do your relationships at home suffer?  Do you find that you hate airports, or driving, or hotels?  

It is so easy for us to think that “if only x happened, my life would be perfect”, but that is rarely the case. The person whose life you are idolizing could have a lot of side effects that you cannot see. Remember, most of us only show the world what we want it to see. 

So as you map out your dreams, be sure to think about the side effects. Taking fewer orders gets you more free time, but maybe less money for yourself. Taking more orders gets you money, but less sleep and time with family. In the end, we have to look for the balance that works for each of us. Don’t try to live anyone else’s life. Pick your goal and the side effects that make your life happy. 

And because I haven’t said it yet in this blog:  I believe in you. You’ve got this. 

The Last Minute

What is it about a deadline that makes us focus? Why do we become our most create five minutes before something is due? I read this quote and it got me thinking:

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.
(Leonard Bernstein)

Procrastination without planning usually is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t know how to create an internal structure and you start the cake at the last minute, the bookies in Vegas will lay odds that your cake is going to collapse.

I’m sure I look like a procrastinator to folks a lot of the time. On the last day, I turn in my class applications to teaching events. However, if you could get access to my cell phone, you would see the lists of class ideas I have there. I’ve often been designing in my head as I drive across the country to get to my next teaching location. I probably have more “in process” new class parts laying around my house than anyone except Norm Davis.

I’m hoping that if you are a “Last Minute Lucy (or Linus)” that you are building a plan in your head as you watch that TV show. I hope you are watching tutorials as you kill time. The plan is often where you spend the most time.

I wish you greatness in those last few minutes of your work day.

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The Real Decorator

I have participated in 20 marathons and half marathons since 2005. I am a fast walker and love these events, but always feel like an imposter around “real” runners. Each time I make a comment about not being a true athlete, my Boston Marathon friends are the fastest to correct me and tell me that I am, indeed, an athlete. I came across this quote and it probably says what my friends have been trying to tell me for years. If you run, you are a runner. If you do athletic events, you are an athlete.

I constantly hear decorators say that they are “just a hobby baker”, “just a home baker”, or just “not a real decorator.” In their minds, they consider the real decorators to be those who run storefronts or large, busy operations. They think you have to be famous to be real. They think that they have to have a pastry degree, ICES certification or some other recognition. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My grandmother was a real decorator. She was a nurse by trade, but loved to make all our birthday cakes. The joy we felt receiving them meant that she was absolutely a decorator. Every person who takes the time to bake a cake (scratch OR box), who ices that cake and attempts to embellish it, is a real decorator. Even if you are peeling off Royal icing decorations from a sheet you bought from the grocery store, you’ve still decorated.

Sometimes, I find that some of the established cake artists post about customers making derogatory remarks, e.g., “Her mom “”decorates”” cakes…then why isn’t she doing the cake??!!). What we forget is that these artists have at least acknowledged that the cake they are ordering is beyond their skill level or time availability. They might not tell you that, but most of them know their limitations.

Just as there are a myriad of athletic levels and abilities, the same is true for cake decorators. There was a joke going around law school as I took the bar exam. Do you know what they call the person with the lowest passing score on the bar exam? A lawyer. Words to think about.

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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

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The Cake Muggles

At orientation for law school, the professor warned us that we were stepping into a black hole for the next three years. We all laughed, but it turned out to be true. To do well there, we had to eat, sleep and breathe the law. So we did.

When I moved into the baking field, it was just for fun…at first. It was a hobby that let me do cool cakes for my step son and for my coworkers. When it becomes your profession, especially if you work for yourself, the black hole opens up and swallows you. I knew when I started my own bakery that it would take long hours. I underestimated. I was easily working 12-18 hour days, six to seven days a week. I insanely thought that I would never turn down an order, so I took everything that came in the door…even if that meant I didn’t get to sleep that night. It became a source of pride to brag about how many hours straight I had been working.

Unless my friends or family helped at the bakery, they simply did not understand how the bakery life goes. Family get-togethers were invariably planned for 2 pm on Saturday…right in the middle of wedding deliveries and birthday pickups. They planned the family Christmas Eve party for Christmas Eve Eve several years in a row. That is the single busiest night of the year for a bakery like mine. Everyone picks up their orders for Christmas Eve. I was blessed that my family were not critical to my face, but I could tell I disappointed them when I fell asleep on the couch at the parties. (We decorators know that as soon as you stop moving, you are toast!).

I visit with a lot of decorators who ask me how to get their family to understand. I wish I had the answer. I really do. It is so difficult for an artist to explain their passion.

With respect to a spouse, you simply have to keep at it and negotiate a compromise that works for both of you. It could be that they let you go to Cake Camp if you let them go on a hunting trip. Or that you only do cakes every other weekend so that you leave time for family. When you do cakes from home, I think that it is harder for friends and family to look upon it as a business. To them, you are at home playing. You and I know that it is the hardest “playing” you ever did!

I decided that it is a bit like Harry Potter’s world. The Muggles don’t understand. They haven’t been exposed to the wizarding world and cannot begin to comprehend what makes the wizards tick. Your family is the same way. They haven’t experienced the rush of making the first buttercream rose you don’t hate or the first figurine that looks like what it is supposed to be! They don’t get a rush when someone posts a new Craftsy class or when your dream teacher is coming to a city near you. They don’t mean to hurt your feelings…they just don’t understand.

You have to be the one to educate them, cajole them and ply them with sweets until they offer you their support. Sometimes they are just waiting to see if this is a temporary fad. Once they see your level of commitment to making a career of cakes, they often will become your biggest supporter.

Besides, cake is still cool. My dad never bragged or got that excited about my law career. And I had a decent one…won some awards, won most every hearing, was in the paper…it wasn’t tangible to him. But put me on a cake TV challenge, have me give him sweets for his Sunday School class or let me do a cake with his race car on it, and I was brag worthy! The poor nurses at the hospital – they all had to hear about me right up until the day he died.

So my message to you is to remember that YOU are the one with the superpowers, so you have to help your family fall in love with your talents. Over and over, I have seen families embrace and support their decorators once they fully understand. Don’t give up on the cake Muggles….they’re just like us, just less “Sweet”.

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A Tale of Two Cakes

I love American Idol. I think I have watched every season. One of the things they always tell singers is that it seemed like a karaoke performance, implying that it was less than a show performance. Similarly, consider the difference between high fashion runway models and catalog models. As I was watching Idol the other night, I started thinking that there is a similar comparison in the cake world. I know that I have judged cake shows and, at least once, written “this would make a lovely cake for a bridal show.” I am betting that people don’t all see the difference between a display/bridal show cake and a competition cake. My friend Barry Dickinson asked me to write this blog to help folks understand.

A competition cake is supposed to show off the best features of your design and decorating skills. It is supposed to take longer than a regular cake order for most people. It often shows off advanced skills that no one pays you to do. It isn’t necessarily something you would do for a real event because almost no one would pay you enough to do that design. These cakes are fantasies. They are your dreams, your visions, your secret artistic desires.

A display cake is one that you know you can and will replicate many times in a very quick fashion. It is more commercial. It is production oriented. The designs are “dumbed down” so that they can be created efficiently for a profit.

A bridal show cake is similarly designed…for immediate visual impact from a distance, which can be reproduced easily on busy wedding weekends. While the designs might be impressive and detailed to a customer, we know that piping large scrolls with a tip 3 can be pretty fast. They might take longer than a birthday cake, but they still must be a profitable design. This necessarily limits what you do.

I often think of display and bridal show cakes as something you look at from a distance, like a full page in a magazine. They look amazing and really catch your eye, but if you go closer, you don’t usually get a whole lot more detail. The competition cakes, however, when done right, draw you closer and you keep noticing more details. It takes numerous photos to do the cake justice. It may need to be viewed on all sides or from different angles to take in everything that is special about that cake.

The next time you design a cake for a competition, think to yourself, is it runway or catalog? Can one photo capture all the details? Have I unleashed my full decorating potential? If not, bring the cake anyway. As I discovered at the last show, once in a while a display cake just might be done well enough to be a winner.

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An Ode to Vendors

I’ve been attending Days of Sharing, Cake Shows and the ICES Convention for years. I have shopped until I dropped. I have, at rare times, purchased nothing. I try to make a point of thanking the event organizers for all they do. I even try to thank volunteers. The group that I never fully appreciated until I became one, is the vendors. I am certain that I never thanked them for being there.

There is an old adage that you should never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. I started to get a slight peek into the world after convention one year when I helped Nick Lodge and Scott Ewing load their van afterwards. There was a never ending line of vendors carrying boxes and displays and Lord knows what else out to their respective vehicles. That was when I started to pay attention.

I watched as Diego from Fiesta Cake lugged in several boxes and suitcases of goodies in CT. He was given a dolly with a nearly flat tire, but he persevered. I watch Susan Carberry weigh and reweigh her luggage to figure out what she could bring for sale. I watched Ximena from Cakes by Ximena spend hours setting up her products and all of her display pieces. I’ve watched Edward Frys from The Sugar Art come in and be pleasant and helpful to customers even though he drove all night to get to the event.

I never really thought about what it took to be a vendor. I remember a story that Scott Ewing told me once….a customer came up, pointed at an item, and said that she could get it cheaper online. She wanted Scott to lower his price. He said, I had to package and label this product, pack it, get it here, unpack it, display it and now you want me to sell it for less than I have it marked? What a huge point Scott made. The vendor is giving you the convenience of getting your item right then and there. That is worth something. It is unfair to make the vendor feel bad about what they have to charge. Remember, they didn’t have to just pay for the product. They also pay for the overhead at home and the cost of the booth there. They pay for the bag, the label, the shopping bag, the labor to price it/pack it/ unpack it. They may have paid shipping charges to receive it. They certainly had to pay to drive it or mail it to the event.

Think of it like your cake orders. Your customers rarely appreciate all the things that go into the cake on their table. Likewise, we shoppers don’t appreciate what the vendors do for us. I’ve now spent a little time walking in the shoes of a vendor and have so much appreciation for those who do it well. Beautiful booths take hard work and money. Ximena, Nick and Diane Simmons at Cake Connection always seem to go all out. It takes a day just to pack for shows sometimes…maybe even longer.

I have now taken over much of my house when it is time to pack. I spend days putting cutters and veiners into bags, making labels, filling them out and then trying to pack in an organized fashion. I’ve learned to pay for extra baggage fees and to gear up for long drives. I’ve accepted that I don’t get to shop at other booths or visit with friends as much as I used to…I need to be at the booth. So why on earth would I do this? Because my class prices are lower and my enrollment is often lower, so I may not break even if I don’t sell products.

So, since my eyes have been opened to the gifts from the vendors, I want to say Thank You. Thanks for being there when I really needed that tool, fondant or cutter. Thank you for all your hard work before, during and after the event. Thank you for supporting my addiction to sugar art and for always bringing out the latest products to inspire us. Thank you for all the free demonstrations on how to use the products. Thank you for your giveaways, for your newsletters and for your sponsorship of the events. I am grateful.

On a final note, to those of you who have shopped from me over the last year, thank you! You help me get to the locations to offer my classes, which is my true dream.

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Find Your HappyPace

As many of you know, I do marathons and half marathons to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Since I am a walker, I am out on the course for a long time. I like to observe human nature and always seem to find a way to relate it to my cake life. I was thinking about how differently people approach a race and realized that it is very similar to how people approach business. As always, I am not going to tell you one method is better than the others, but you need to think about your choice and what it means for your business.

Forward Focus
My first marathon mentor told me that she picks out someone ahead of her and works towards passing that person. She is very goal and task oriented. She achieves time goals and feels a reward for her efforts. This symbolizes the bakery owners that pick out their biggest competitor and decide that they want to work to be that good. They don’t copy what their competitor does, but they strive to come up with their own signature items or style. They will put in whatever work is necessary to achieve their goals.

When I first opened my shop, I was definitely a forward focus girl. I decided what I wanted my bakery to be known for and went through the necessary steps to create that image. I pushed myself to always do more, to give more, to do better. I did not choose any particular shop that I wanted to “beat”, I just wanted to be one of the most recognized and respected.

This is a great type of focus for a new business. The hard work usually pays for itself. The important thing is to not lose focus on your goals. At some point, once you start achieving goals, you may find that this approach is exhausting. It is hard to push yourself twenty four seven for the life of your bakery. Unrelenting focus can flat out wear you out. I equate this with when runners “hit the wall”. When you see people burn out at the top of their game, I think this is caused by the mistake of not taking a break.

Rear Focus
Even if you’ve never done a marathon or race, you’ve probably experienced this type of person. This is the runner always trying to make sure that no one is going to pass them. I see this on the highway all the time. Drivers will feel threatened if you start to pass them and they will speed up to prevent it.

I think this is so much more involved than that. It is almost an over zealous protectiveness of your business. These bakery owners are constantly worrying about whether someone is copying their cakes. I understand that you might feel violated by it, but really…how does it truly impact you if someone in another state posts your picture as theirs? What is the real damage to YOU? Not much. The greater damage will be to their own credibility when they cannot recreate your work. I see so many decorators who seem to burn a lot of hours checking to see if their cakes are being copied. That has got to be incredibly draining.

There is an old racing adage that you don’t look behind you because that motion to look back actually slows you down. People have lost races for years doing this. I worry that this contributes to the burnout some decorators experience. You’re so busy holding on to what you have, that you forget to look ahead to the next goal. Invariably, you will be passed by someone who is running their own race. The next time you sit down to start scoping out what competitors are doing and whether they are copying you, consider looking forward to doing something no one else is doing instead. What will be the next big thing in your town? Try to go out for a new goal instead of looking at your past goals.

Wavering Focus
I am a walker on race day. I maintain a pretty uniform pace and I can do it for a long time. Invariably, I end up crossing the finish line with the run/walkers. This is a well supported run method where you run for a set amount of time, then walk for a set time. The theory is that for runners who cannot maintain a fast speed the whole time, this gets them time to rest and keeps the run portion of their race productive. I have a lot of friends who do marathons with this method and it does make them faster.

For the bakery world, this is someone who sets goals, achieves them, then coasts for a bit before setting the next goal. Maybe they only focus strongly on their business during the busier times at their shop. They use the rest of the time to simply enjoy the bakery and cakes. They do not burn out nearly as much as the Forward Focus owners. This became me at some point. I had established my bakery brand and would not push for another goal until I could sense that it was time to introduce a new product. Sometimes I would go to a cake show and come back with a new idea or focus. This allowed me to conserve my energy so that I could love the bakery for many years. I firmly believe that many long term bakeries fit in this category.

No Focus
I have a few friends who run races like this. They have no time goal. They don’t care who passes them. They just run or walk as the mood hits them. If they see a picture opportunity, they are off the course for a bit. On the highway, these are the folks putting on makeup, eating or texting while driving. Their focus is NOT on the road ahead. While they will pay attention from time to time, they really just wander.

I see these bakery owners on Facebook. I guess calling them bakery owners might be a stretch. These are the folks who will do a cake order every now and then. They might focus for a brief time on building a business, but they cannot seem to commit one hundred percent to being in the cake business. This isn’t to say that people who do cakes on the side, but have a full time job are this type. In fact, I know many people who juggle what amounts to two careers. These are people like one of my former employees.

She started a web site to do cakes from home. She struggles to get through any order she takes. She usually had to enlist help from friends to complete the order. She had an idea in her head of running a business, but not the focus to see it through. If you keep stopping and starting your business, I am probably talking to you. If you truly want to move forward, you will have to find a focus.

Internal Focus
This is my marathon personality. I have an internal rhythm and keep to that steady pace. I have forced myself to stop worrying about who beats me. I forced myself to work at the pace that keeps me happy and that I can maintain without injury or burnout. I know that a run/walker may pass me during their run portion, but that I will pass them when they start to walk. Neither passing truly matters.

In business, this person does their own thing without worrying about what anyone else in town is doing. They don’t go in the other bakeries. They don’t troll websites seeing what others are doing. They decide what they want for themselves and they simply do that. I think one of the best examples of this is my Sugar Sister, Pat Jacoby. She has had her bakery for over thirty years. And she still loves it! She decided a long time ago what types of cakes she wanted to do, established that brand and does her thing. While she has been copied by competitors when she introduces new things, she does not attack them. She just lets her work and the taste of her cakes do her work. She sets goals, but realizes that sometimes the line isn’t straight and sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.

I have been finding that, since I shifted to just teaching, I am having to work on building an internal focus for my business. It is easy to worry about things like someone teaching a similar class. It is easy to feel like I got passed when people get to teach internationally or get picked to do a Craftsy class. If I am completely honest, I struggle with not letting these things make me feel bad. We decorators can get down on ourselves so easily. What I try to remember is that I cannot look at anyone else’s race. The truth for most of us who do marathons is that we are not going to win the race. Therefore, the goal has to be something different. I am working to remind myself that my steady teaching pace will pay off in the end. People might pass me professionally here and there, but that doesn’t make me less of a teacher. In the end, I must be true to myself and my goals. I am not Marina or Nick Lodge. I am not anyone but me. And if I just focus on that, perhaps thirty years from now I will be like Pat Jacoby…still in love with the business I built. And, in the end, isn’t that much better?

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Lessons From Lombardi

I know what you’ve been thinking! You’ve been patiently waiting for me to tell you how to succeed. You want to win the cake show. You want to run the best bakery. You want to know the secrets of success. I’m not sure that I am the perfect person to tackle this subject, but I do know that I am passionate enough about the subject to give it a try.

I tend to hold jobs a long time. My second job was at Casa Bonita in Little Rock, AR. (Some of you may know the restaurant chain from Southpark episodes). I had just moved from Oklahoma to Arkansas and turned 16. Casa Bonita had a rigorous training program. You had to attend six training sessions before you ever waited on a customer. I think that some of the principles I learned in those six meetings helped to shape who I am today. In one meeting, we were given a card with five rules for success, which I have kept to this day. (It lives on my makeup mirror and reminds me of what I need to do). I am going to share this with you, in hopes that it will guide you as it has me.

I think that all these principles came from Vince Lombardi. I am a huge fan of his philosophies on life and business and encourage you to read about him. I am not going to try to tell you what Vince would say to you, or even what Casa said to me. Instead, I am going to tell you what these five principles mean to me today.

Mental toughness is essential to success

The bakery business is tough. Entering cake shows can be intimidating. The only way to thrive in this industry is to be mentally tough. You have to believe in yourself and your talent. You have to be able to hear a customer tell you that you are a terrible decorator and be able to let that roll off your shoulders…because YOU KNOW BETTER. You have to see judging scores lower than you’ve ever imagined, and yet know that you are far more than the scores on a piece of paper. If your self image is wholly dependent on the opinions of others, this business will break you.

How do you gain self confidence if you don’t have it? Do as Vince did when he began his NFL career. He didn’t try new plays, bring in new players or revamp the entire program. Instead, he set out to have his team master the basics. He believed that if you have the basics under control, success will follow. For us, this means that we master mixing our batters, knowing when something is done, knowing how to preserve moistness until you decorate, knowing how to ice a cake well, knowing how to pipe borders and write on a cake and knowing how to take a customer’s order. If you get good enough at those things, they become second nature and you gain confidence as you go. This is your foundation. No matter how extreme a cake might be, how original or jaw dropping…it still has to start with great basics. Master those and you will find you have increased your mental toughness. I promise.

Control the ball

I have written before about retaining control. To be successful, it is imperative. Your customers will try to “steal the ball”. Your employees might fumble it. It is up to you to control your business. You are the only one who can. You have to decide how much notice you require, what customers cannot order, when to take deposits, when to turn down an order and all the other decisions that are part of being the boss. You have to train your customers and enforce it.

Every time I read people posting on Facebook that they are burnt out, frustrated or sad, it almost always stems from a lack of control. When you pass the control of your business to someone else, you will start to hate making cakes. It is not easy to define your comfort zones and it is even harder to stick to them, but for your business, you MUST!

Fatigue makes cowards of us all

I used to think it was a badge of honor to tell people how many hours I worked or how little sleep I had. I was wrong. It only showed how poorly organized I was at that time. Every time I worked past the point of exhaustion, I became weepy. I felt insecure in my work. I lost confidence. I’ve watched it happen to you guys, too. I have seen one of my closest friends burst into tears over simple things going wrong. When you are THAT tired, you simply cannot handle life’s every day stresses.

There are days that it may seem impossible, but you have to allow yourself to rest. You have to take care of you. Your entire business depends on you.

Operate on Lombardi time

Vince Lombardi said that you had to be fifteen minutes early for any appointment. If someone showed up ten minutes early, he considered them five minutes late. You know how irritated you get when brides don’t show up on time and when people don’t pick up their cakes when they are supposed to do so. You owe it to the customers to have the cake ready fifteen minutes before the due time. You need to be at the delivery fifteen minutes early. At weddings, someone always freaks out until the cake arrives. I learned quickly that being on time was rarely enough for them. I had to be early.

Make that second effort

Sometimes I have started a cake, only to think that I could not finish it. I’ve considered throwing in the towel. Invariably, it was my second effort that helped me get it done. So many people stop right before they are about to succeed. You may feel like you’ve given a second effort and maybe a third, too. I still say, don’t give up.

I watched a special on Lombardi as I was writing this blog. I only knew what Casa taught us about him and that he was a successful NFL coach. I only saw the end. That is the part of the story everyone remembers. The reality was that Vince was repeatedly passed over for head coaching jobs. That Vince was not respected as a coach for many years, in that they thought he could only be an assistant. He wanted to coach in the NFL so badly, but it just wasn’t happening for him. When he got his big break, it was to coach the worst team in the smallest, most out of the way (at the time) market. He knew that it was finally his chance and he took it. Even then, he struggled to make things work with the team. It took a great second effort for him to realize his dream.

You could name almost any decorator that you think is a great success and I bet they could tell you stories if failures. They could tell you about disappointments. They plugged along until they changed their circumstances. One of my favorite movies is “A Knight’s Tale”. In it, the father tells the son, “You can change your stars”. That has largely been my philosophy in life. When I think about where I came from, how I grew up and how my life is today, I know that I changed my stars. And the key on all of it has been that I make another effort.

Conclusion

So that’s it. My five rules for success, via Casa Bonita, via Vince Lombardi. Try them in your life and career and see if they help you. I wish you all the best.

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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….

Conclusion
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?