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

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