Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Harsh Reality for Cake Businesses for 2015 Part 2-Decorators Are Part of the Problem

Yes, the custom cake business has changed in the last 10 years. Yesterday I wrote about the economic result, which is basically that there are more cakes to be had at much lower prices. If you didn't see that then go read it now...Click here. So today I'll change tack a bit and look at how cake DECORATORS themselves have changed, and how this contributes to the overall direction we're going to take in 2015. And yes, I've been doing cakes long enough to be able to talk about this, unfortunately.

Okay...I did a little research...This is what I think happened to start this whole cake business explosion. 

2003-- Whose Wedding Is It Anyway
2004- Facebook started for college students only (yes, that's right. 2004.) 
2005-- Food Network Challenges
2006--Ace Of Cakes 
2006- Facebook opened up for public use.
2007--The "great recession" started.
2008--Amazing Wedding Cakes 
2009--Cake Boss 
Also, during this time cottage food laws started being passed throughout the US.

I don't know at what point the cake tv trend slowed down, but the result of all of these shows was an influx of people who thought that decorating cakes would be a super fun career, plus people lost their jobs in the recession and started their own businesses, which was made easier with cottage food laws being rolled out. I call this combination of events...

The "Everyone Wants To Be A Famous Cake Artist" Syndrome.

Too many people are interested in having a cake business because they want approval, or to be famous, or just to have fun. They don't think of it as a business, and that contributes to dragging prices down. If you're too interested in being popular on facebook and not interested enough in pricing your cakes correctly you might be an undercutter without realizing it. Or you might have overpriced yourself out of your market because you think that all those likes on social media mean you can. No, they don't.

They don't show episodes of Cake Boss where Buddy is sitting behind his desk doing paperwork because that's just boring. They don't show the preparation that goes into any of the challenge shows because that would be too much like work. They don't show how bakers set their pricing REALISTICALLY.  Your pricing will be affected by where you live, what your market will bear, and many other local conditions that may or may not be relevant in other places. I might be able to charge a lot more if I lived in San Francisco, but I'd also be paying $3000-4000 per month in rent for an apartment. That's why prices are higher there.

And if I have to hear one more person say that they think my job has to be SO MUCH FUN I'm going to shriek. If you don't take your business seriously nobody else does either,and they don't take mine seriously by association, and that's just insulting.

What people don't seem to be able to separate out is that...

Running A Business Has Nothing To Do With Being A Famous Cake Artist.

Shocking, I know...But many of the people who are considered to be "famous" decorators today aren't selling many cakes. Here's an article that I wrote about this very subject last year, click here to read it: They're all broke.

So how do people who aren't selling anything look so successful?  That would be the facebook/social media component to the timeline. I hate to break it to you, but social media lets people lie.

Facebook opened up to everyone in 2006. It then allowed you to put up a business page. So people who had thought about selling cakes put up a business page. It's free, it's easy, and suddenly you're in business! You post some pictures and get a bunch of people telling you that your cakes are gorgeous and "you are a true artist." You start to feel sassy and even though you don't have any business to speak of, you tell people that you're a cake artist when they say "what do you do?" Oh, what a pit we dig for ourselves, all because...

People Believe Their Own Press, But They're The Ones Creating Their Own Press.

The way that cake decorators have changed the most over the last ten years, in my opinion, is that there's a good-sized population of people who are more concerned about being noticed online than in having a good bottom line. This isn't a healthy way of running a business. Having other cake decorators tell you that your cake is lovely doesn't do squat to pay your bills. Posting pictures and getting likes doesn't do anything but feed your own ego. If I get my picture in a magazine I can't show it to the grocery store cashier to pay for my cake ingredients.

If your business is slow take a good long look at how you spend your time. Are you nursing a cake-artist fantasy? Do you spend more time online chatting to other cake decorators, or do you actually put work into getting customers? Maybe turning off the computer and paying attention to where your business really comes from will help you more in the long run in terms of your income. Because...

Truth Be Told, The Most Successful Decorator Is The One Who Makes the Most Money From Selling Cakes.

Maybe they're selling cakes that you think are ugly or boring or too plain or whatever. But if they're making more money than you are, they're more successful financially than you are. So you might want to take a look at what they're doing and learn from it. If you're running a real business and not an ego-stroking service, that is.

And here's another unpleasant truth...Not everyone should be running a cake business. Even people who have been running cake businesses are getting out of it, changing focus, or shifting their priorities, myself included. I'm basically running two separate businesses now, and guess which one has the worst profit margin? Surprise, it's the custom cakes!

And keep in mind that a lot of people who claim to be cake decorators aren't decorating cakes for their income. They're teaching other people to decorate cakes, or consulting on how to run a business, or posting affiliate links that they get paid for. The people who are making a living at this aren't just doing cakes even if they want it to look like that's what they're doing. Which is what I will discuss tomorrow.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at and


Kris Chinalski said...

I really appreciate how you cut through the bull and get right to the truth of the matter.

What I am truly curious about, and I've told you this before, is where is this all headed? What is the next step in the custom cake industry?

Kris Chinalski said...

Oh, and the other thing--HOW do all of these famous people make all of these fantastic cakes that they enter in shows, put into contests, (Threadless) etc? I have read where a cake will take them 200 hours--is this middle of the night hours?I could never carve the time out away from my paid cakes to devote so many hours to an unpaid contest cake. When do they do the PAID work? Who pays their bills?

Kara Buntin said...

And once again you've cut through the bull too! I address some of this tomorrow, but a lot of "famous" decorators either have employees who do the decorating work that they take credit for, or they're not really decorators who are selling cakes, they're selling an image and not cakes.

Debi Brim said...

Another "nail on the head" article! Good research and well put together. I remember reading something written by a very famous TV decorator that she tried to do at least one cake a year just to keep her hand in it and keep her skills up. I remember thinking then, "One don't pay the bills, darlin'!"

Eva Farragher said...

You forgot:
Circa 2011 - the introduction of "Craftsy", now every man and his dog can make cakes! Yay!

Kara Buntin said...

Eva, I think that in the third part of the series I linked to an article about Craftsy. I found it interesting that their most popular classes are sewing and quilting classes, not cake decorating. I guess all I ever see is ads for the cake classes but I guess it's not even their main focus!

IcingArt said...

What a great article. I was in business for 39 years and have seen the cake decorating world progress into what it is or is not today. I think the "name" or "image" is what is most important to many. The "ego stroking" of social media is what makes decorators think that their work is exceptional. I often wonder if the award winning "cake artists" could actually crank out several (plus) well designed and executed cakes a week. I've never put much as stock into awards or titles as in the actual day to day, week to week, ability to accomplish a stunning or even simple well done cake. Nor do I feel those with employees to do the grunt work or even the decorating are as deserving of their reputation as they think. Do it all, do it yourself, and do it well, and that is quite an accomplishment.

IcingArt said...
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debbie does cakes said...

Always insightful, Kara. I think about these things a lot and wish I could divine when or IF this cycle will end. It's become a "mean girls(and a scant mean guys)" world and I see no valid reason for this kind of environment.For me, being the best I can be and exceeding my customer's expectations has always been paramount to anything else. I don't need to be "famous" or important to anyone except to those who choose to order from me.