Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Customers and Decorators Like Different Things. Who Do You Want To Impress?

I've been thinking about this recently because of a series of events that started with Russian piping tips. I really think that this is something that cake business owners should consider if they want to maintain their incomes (or grow their incomes) over the long run.

The basic idea is that decorators tend to spend so much time communicating with other decorators, we tend to forget that they're not the people we should be listening to. We should be listening to our customers, who are, after all, the ones who are paying us.

I've mentioned the sharp edges thing many times before...It used to be that a soft, rounded edge on fondant was what people aimed for. Then decorators decided that a sharp edge was the goal. It's not if you asked my customers, they all seemed to prefer a softer edge.

Listening to your customers is always good for business. Some of the best-sellers in my online shops came from suggestions from customers. I'm going to be designing some new products soon based on requests from customers, because that's the best marketing research there is.

So about the Russian piping tips...I did a video on how to use them, and the majority of decorators' comments about them were that they looked kind of sloppy, not precise enough, too soft, etc. etc. I thought it was interesting, then, that everyone who saw them who was NOT a decorator loved them.

I took some of the cupcakes that I made in the video to a birthday party, and I heard one guest say "I wish I could make my cupcakes look like this, they never come out this nice." The photographer who was doing the project with the tips looked at them and said "Those are beautiful!" and another person said "those are so cute!"

Another incident along the same lines...I took a cake to the same party, and I had to kind of dial it in because I ran out of time. It was fine, but it was a lot of colored icing piped on with round tips to make seaweed and some orange fish on it. So I was feeling guilty that it wasn't more elaborate, but when I put it on the table at the party people started taking pictures of it. There were people who didn't know that I'd made it who were talking about how good it was...again, a different idea of what's good.

My point is that we need to listen to our customers more. I think that people spend so much time online trying to get validation from other decorators, we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect according to some random standard that other decorators have created. If you ask your customers what they'd like to see, you might find out that they want things that are totally different from what you think people want.

I used to ask the brides who came to tasting appointments a lot of questions about what they liked and didn't like about cake designs, and it was always interesting to hear their responses. They generally didn't know or care about what cake decorators thought was important. They liked what they liked, not what decorators were saying was "in" or "out."

So relax a little and don't worry about the opinions of people you've never met, who won't be buying anything from you anytime soon, and who live in places where the trends are totally different from where you are. Work on figuring out what's in demand in your area and do that. Your business will be more successful if you're actually selling what people want to buy.

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


Colleen Charles said...

As I've said before, I retired from doing hair last year after 46 yrs., and I'm 67 yrs old baking away....what's my point??? Do you know how many customers I gleaned from other stylists (even my shop) because the stylist would not listen to them or what they wanted. I was and still am 'old school' and you listen to your client first, then suggest and I emphasize 'suggest' a little change here or there. You look them in the eye ( my mirror eyes) and watch body language, tone of voice and eyes. Some stylists always were interested in only doing current styles, absolutely NO OLD LADY SETS, no curling irons and nothing just didn't advertise their 'expertise'. Well, while they sat on their butts, I rolled hair, (some I did for over 40 yrs.), used a curling iron, did hair coloring how they wanted it (well sort of lol), permed hair, did kids and updos.

The same thing goes for cakes and customers...listen, suggest and give them what they want and maybe with a little twist. Don't let all the cake trends boggle your mind (and pocket book). I do very few fondant cakes because #1 the expense for them, and #2, most people don't care for the look even as much as the taste. Keep current but don't feel just because you don't create the cake look that 'made it to the front page', don't get discouraged. Find your niche, do your best and be happy. I learned a long time ago I would never give the perfect whatever in my eyes, but the look of happiness in your customer's eyes says it all.

Eva Farragher said...

I agree, but these days a client's tastes will be shaped by the multitude of photos seen online (Pinterest is the worst), which are of 'cakes' made by professional cake dummy wranglers, and then ask you to reproduce such a cake for their event. Nevermind that it's made of gravity defying styrofoam and covered in craft glitter, it's everywhere online and that is what they want. So it's not always just about the client's personal objective tastes, because those very tastes are shaped by the stuff they see online. And those critics of your 'sloppy' Russian tip flowers are likely the same ones making these cakes that get posted on cake forums and Pinterest. The whole expectations and trend-following is the case too with the two biggest trends in the past ten years: rustic and naked. All propagated by Pinterest and celebrity wedding photos. At least those are based on real cakes, but you can't say that a client has preferences these days that aren't shaped by what they are bombarded with online IMO. Regarding edges, I can do a sharp edge but I somewhat perversely stick to my custom edge shape for all my wedding cakes - it's a slightly rounded edge. My customers love it :-)

Kara Buntin said...

True, the snake eats its own tail and nobody knows where it started...And heh heh heh on the rounded edges ;)

Cat said...

Great article Kara and so true. I'm a hobby baker though I bake a damn fine cake and after doing my daughters wedding cake was asked to make a few more by family and close friends. These were my gift. I joined a cake site which shall remain nameless as it's on it's deathbed now, and got myself in a pickle over sharp edges and various butter teams etc till I realised some of these folk (mostly now out of business) were only talking to each other. The recipients of my cakes were bowled over by them...why? Because they couldn't make them themselves.

Kara Buntin said...

YES!! if people can't make something themselves, they think it's impressive. It doesn't matter if there are fifty decorators standing behind them saying "That edge isn't straight."

Colleen Charles said...

I was on a couple of cakes sites a few years ago but I go tired of 'how much should I charge', and terrible nit picky, nastiness from other 'decorators. In the beginning it was encouraging but after awhile the negativity overtook it all. Now I'm happy just looking and knowing that most likely I will never make a 5 tiered gilded cake or a geode cake with real crystals or a 4 tier fondant covered, hand painted, covered with $1000.00 worth of flowers cake. I do what I can and do it the best that I can. When I see cakes, I click the like and try to say something nice. That's what have to start somewhere.