Start-ups: Thinking outside the cake-box

15 July, 2011

By Mellissa Morgan, aka Ms Cupcake.

When preparing our shop for opening only a few months ago, I didn't want to commit to anything. When I was asked what our menu was going to be, I told people it would rotate. When asked what our opening days and times would be, I said they would fluctuate. Some people may have thought this indecision was based on uncertainty but no. I knew exactly what I wanted to have and do with my shop, but unfortunately I didn't yet know what my customers wanted to have in my shop.

Sure I could have baked exactly what I wanted and spent thousands of pounds stocking the shop with things I would have liked to have bought, but what good would that do? Instead, I had to try to figure out what my customers would like to have in their neighbourhood cake shop.

I've created well over 100 different cupcake flavours over the last year while running my market stalls and one thing I've learned is you can never predict which ones will be popular. Sure, I can make an educated guess, but flavours I thought would be huge sellers Banana-Choc, Orange Cream, Pistachio and Rose Water, Chocolate-Ginger, Pear and Cardamom just simply didn't get bought and have all now been retired to the flavour graveyard (or the back of my recipe box).

That said, you do need to trust your instincts. If you only listen to your customers and ignore your own culinary integrity and vision, you will end up diluting your product into something very generic. Do what you do and do it well, but be willing to make small compromises to suit customer tastes.

Every day we get loads of emails from customers who tell us how much they love our cakes. With every email I feel humbled, thankful and confident we are doing something right. Also, almost every single day I get one email from a customer who says "Your cupcakes would be better if you put less icing on them". But I also get another email almost every day from a customer who says, "Your cupcakes would be better if you put more icing on them". You cannot please everyone all of the time, so sometimes you have to graciously accept criticism and then put it aside.

It has been almost three months since our shop opened and, because I have listened to the needs of our customers, we are growing organically into the shop they'd been looking for. Three months ago, I never thought we would be stocking cake boards, boxes, sugar-paste tools, nozzles, piping bags and so on but we are! Now, instead of walking out the door with just a box of our cakes, customers are leaving with a bag full of other purchases as well. It's a win-win situation, as these were things our customers were struggling to find in their local area and it also helps us as a company to grow. Diversify while still keeping true to your mission statement and you'll be on to a winner.

So, don't be afraid to think outside the 'cake' box selling other items, running classes, hosting special events. Figure out what you can do to give your business the edge. And allow your customers to help your business develop.





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