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Even before the lockdown was announced we started getting cancellations for big party and wedding cakes. The refunds were astronomical. Not only did it decimate our cashflow, we were very uncertain about the future. The stress, gosh I won’t even try to describe it because it was off-richter. My hair was falling out in clumps.
And then as Sod’s law would have it, we got sick. Having to quarantine and cancel the orders we did have was a further blow we could ill afford (pun intended). It also raised a whole bunch of very important questions about our business - the main one being, how da eff are we to ride this out?!
There must be some luck in play here, because after lockdown, the orders for smaller birthday cakes started coming in. And they started coming in thick and fast. Now that we started feeling more optimistic we still had to make some difficult decisions to make sure we stayed in business, and stayed viable.
The current layout and size of our bakery limits social distancing. To produce under covid-safe measures, I am going to continue producing alone. This means we can only take a maximum amount of orders for each day. Despite being a lean, mean, caking machine, I can only work a max number of hours a day to ensure each and every cake we make is absolutely perfect. It sucks saying no when we get fully booked but c’est la pandemic vie.
I used to think one of our USPs was that we could deliver the most amazing birthday cakes in London last minute. Well, that was only possible when there’s a team of chefs working together, and tasks are divvied up so we can take on short notice orders. With just me, it’s no longer possible as I have to plan a lot further ahead. Plus, there’s that over-riding issue of becoming fully booked in advance due to limited capacity. Annoyingly, this “two working day notice” phrase is scattered all around the website. Between work and rearing the toddler we can‘t find the spare time to sort that out. If I do have a spare moment, I’m going to pluck my eyebrows to stop them from joining. So I’m really sorry if anyone thinks they can still get a cake last minute! It’s no longer possible. On the flip side of ditching this two day equation, I’ve realised our USP is actually delivering the most amazing birthday cakes in London. Period. (The Evening Standard said so, so it's true!).
Being such a small bakery, both in terms of premises and team, we simply can’t be everything to everybody. Stocking gluten free and vegan ingredients was taking up too much room and was also becoming a pain to source when the pandemic hit. As it was such a niche aspect of our overall business, making the odd free-from cake was soooo inefficient. I was getting home super late whenever I had to make them. And I quite like spending time with my husband and kid, and have really gotten into watching This is Us, so something had to give.
The ugliest cakes are the two-tiered 10"/12" size. They're just the most minging monstrosities. We have now taken them all off from every design it was offered on because it was just too freakin' ugly for me to be comfortable sending out. It's not even like once it's left, it's gone for good. No, because it bloody comes back to haunt on social media in tagged posts. Beauty may very well be in the eye of the beholder, but I really can't get myself to making them anymore whilst hating on them.
We are having to reassess every cake, in every size. It’s taking time, because y’know, got a lot of hats on, but it’s also a complex formula. Not only have our ingredients costs gone up, so have other costs like driving, PPE etc.
But we also realised that our bigger sized cakes were massively under-priced - we were actually making a loss on them. This was completely down to my own idiocy. I had initially priced them looking at what competitors were doing, and thinking “ooh if I we are higher we won’t get the sales, also ooh Economies of Scale n all”. Stupid Reshmi, stupid. A 12” cake takes four times the ingredients as a 6” cake (not double...duh), and way more in terms of time. And economies of scale doesn’t freakin apply to a tiny bakery with no factory line, so why was I pricing as if we were robots? Also, why was I even comparing ourselves to our competitors...when
1) I don’t know if they’re doing well at all? Choccywoccydoodah had all the press and glory, and went bust, as have others since.
2) Our products aren’t the same, so why would our pricing be??
Stupid Reshmi, stupid. Understandably, we have heard from a couple of disappointed customers, but on the whole everyone has been cool and I love that our work is valued. I just feel stupid for having run at a loss for as long as we did.
We only bake to order and have limited capacity. When someone books one of our cakes online, they are booking our time in making the cake. We also incur costs right from the moment the order is placed. These costs include transaction and admin fees, followed by procurement of ingredients. If we are given enough notice for cancellation, we would at least have the opportunity to sell the slot to another customer. Hence we have a sliding scale on cancellation fees depending on notice period. Karens will be Karening, of course, and “want to speak to the manager”. But most customers understand why cancellation fees apply especially in the context of a small business like ours, and for that I‘m grateful.
Truth be told, it hurts my brain to even think about them. Turns out, bespoke cakes are only fun when you aren’t dealing with the extra layers of stress that comes with a pandemic. Sourcing custom equipment such as cutters and ingredients became a lot more problematic. They take up way more time, not just when fulfilling the order, but long before even booking the order. And often, the price doesn’t suit the budget, so it’s time wasted. I may change my mind sometime in the future, but for now I’m passing on all bespoke enquiries.
One of the last of my fave bespoke cakes
This one was an easy plug to pull (pun intended, again). I can’t bake and chat on the phone at the same time. And since I’m always baking, the chatting’s gotta stop. Having a phone line was SO distracting. It’s not just the impossible next-day cake enquiries that disrupt, it’s also every spammy cold caller trying to sell us ad space, or PPI. I’d rather have my focus on the cakes. My phone voice is screechy and cringe anyway. I’m really hot on email so write away! Even if it’s for an impossible next-day cake, or worse, a free cake, you’ll get a response - one will be polite, and the other may be bants (I'm kidding, please don't ask us for free/exposure cake).
We are so freakin lucky. I’ve made some of our best cakes, increased my personal best efficiency, and have such a high customer satisfaction rate. All whilst working under so much pressure. With all the usual distractions paused during this time, we have been able to get into the bowels of the business and understand how we need to adapt. Difficult decisions needed to be made, but ultimately it’s all for making it a better business, and one that we enjoy. Through this pandemic, and hopefully long after.
Lots of love,
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