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Bake Off: Secrets To Running A Successful Bakery Business

What helped home-made cakes get back on the menu? We talk to up-and-coming bakers about what it takes to run their own cake business.


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Bake Off: Secrets To Running A Successful Bakery Business
Image: Foret Blanc (left) & Cake Saloon
Most would think running baked goods production from home or a small store is a pretty simple endeavour, but that can't be further from the truth. If your major passion involves turning your baking skills into a home-based business, we cover what you would need to know to flourish.
Image: Cake Saloon
Famous celebrity chef Martha Stewart entered the food service business with just her basement-based catering company back in 1970s. Renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver started with a lot of hard work and doing a lot of homework to make it this far in the culinary industry. While a home-based baking business comes with the perks of flexibility of working hours and lower-risk entering into the competitive food service space, it’s very crucial to understand how the food (or in this case, baking) industry works.
 

With baking shows like Next Great Baker, Cake Boss and Cupcake Wars propelling cakes and desserts into the stratosphere when it comes to trendy eats, more and more people are discovering the pleasures of indulging in cake and the likings of home baked goods. Many individuals have turned their leisure-time hobbies into flourishing home-based businesses or shops run by family. But the real question is how easy is it to turn a spare-time passion into a profitable enterprise? Is it true that with the ever-growing competition from new bakery companies, homegrown bakery businesses are finding it difficult to compete on price based on manpower and access to wholesale ingredients?
 
Operating a cake business is highly competitive and it’s very imperative to pay attention to the 5 inter-related Ps, which are to be passionate about selling the right products in the right place, at the right price and with the right promotion. You would need to understand your target market, and create or adapt products accordingly to the customer’s demands and sell at a price point that individuals are willing to pay. The one thing we noticed from hearing accounts of other baker’s experiences is if you aren’t zealous about baking or running your own business, every problem will be magnified and it will eventually be overwhelming.

What about social media? Well, in the age of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter – these platforms will help produce free advertising for you and create a buzz and awareness for your cake shop.  
Image: Cake Saloon
The ability to transition your hobby of baking or cake decorating to an official cake business is enjoyable and exciting! Although it does come with a load of responsibilities and hurdles, just think of all the lives you will make sweeter with your enchanting baked goods, lovely confections or beautifully decorated cakes. We find out just what it does take to run an emerging bakery, from two homespun bakers, Cake Saloon (based solely online) and Forêt Blanc (based in Petaling Jaya).


Cake Saloon

Established in 2015, Cake Saloon is a family-run company based in KL, with exceptional custom made cakes, cookies, and cupcakes which are all baked to order with your special occasion or request in mind. Cake Saloon is run by the Chin sisters (Charlene & Sonia) who started baking when their mom started baking butter cakes for friends. Charlene also studied at (MIB) Malaysia Institute of Baking.
(From left - Charlene & Sonia) Image: Cake Saloon 
Their dream – to smell like birthday cakes every single day! They refuse to compromise on quality and use only the highest quality ingredients available. At least 70% of their ingredients are internationally sourced to make sure customers receive the best custom made cake possible with the most flavour. Not only do their cakes look incredible, but they taste so delicious that you’ll devour them down to the very last crumb. There is attention to detail – ticking all the right boxes for freshness, flavours and textures.

We spoke to one half of the dynamic duo, Charlene Chin to get her insight on running a cake business:

What does a budding cake entrepreneur need before starting his or her own business?
A burning passion and persistence that cannot be put out by challenges and circumstances that come.

Describe the planning process of starting your business?
We didn't really have a plan for this. We were just driven by passion and purpose. That's what kept us going. And we had some friends who gave us advice on - costing, branding, marketing etc. Start small and grow from there - slow and steady wins the race. It's going to be tough at first, because we didn’t get as many orders at the beginning as we were still very new. But slowly orders increased with word-of-mouth, reviews, social media (building online presence).

Image: Cake Saloon
Did you take up any baking lessons?
Love this question because I have an amazing story to share! About a year ago I applied to a few baking schools and companies to see if they would like to grant me a scholarship to study because I am passionate in equipping under privileged women with these skills to help them earn a living. I went to a couple of interviews that seemed really hopeful but in the end there weren't any replies from them or they decided to sponsor someone else. It was when I met with some new friends and we were just randomly talking, and it turned out that the new friend has a friend who runs a baking school. Long story short, this new friend took me to the school (MIB) and I got in.

How do you build your brand online?
Social media! Mainly Instagram and Facebook AdWords. As well as having a fully functioning website.

What is your Unique Selling Point?
We use premium ingredients that really enhances the taste of our cakes & frosting!

How much investment or time does it take to run it (your business)?
On a daily basis 2 or more hours can be spent replying emails, sending quotations, and working on social media. On the baking side of it, it could be up to 4-6 hours if there are a lot of orders.

Did you have access to any startup funds and what is your advice on creating a business plan?
We didn't have a startup fund. But if there were startup funds available for baking, we would advise people to for apply it, as you will need funds for kitchen appliances, ingredients and marketing. Business plan - if you're thinking of leaving your job to jump into this field, maybe you should hold on to your job for a bit longer until your trade can provide a stable income for you. Save up the money and buy essentials that you need like an oven and a good mixer. Work your way up slowly.

How did you come up with the prices for your baked goods?
Depending on the design complexity and time needed to complete the cake or project.

What are some of the biggest struggles of running a homegrown cake shop?
Being sleep deprived, constantly.

What would your advice be to individuals who want to start their own bakery business?
Don't eat too much of your baked goods - you need to sell them. Invest in a stand mixer instead of a hand mixer.

Initial investment and how did you pull together the loan or money to get started?
When we were getting started, we had already a good oven which our dad had gotten a few years back. Initially we started with a hand mixer less than RM100 but you will eventually feel as though you lost an arm by the end of the day. So we invested in a 3 liter stand mixer, which was less than RM800.

 
Image: Cake Saloon
Is having a user-friendly website crucial for success?
Yes. I guess everyone looks for services online these days.

How do you market yourselves?
We brand ourselves as a premium customizable cakes and dessert table business.

Is finding support difficult when you are first starting out?
We are blessed with friends and family who are super supportive and frequently believing in what we do.

What would you say is the best way to get your service out there to the masses?
Corporate events and referrals.

In a week, how many cakes do you deliver?
It would range from 2- 6 a week (cupcakes, cakes and chocolates). 
Image: Cake Saloon
What sort of events or parties do you mainly cater for?
Presently, we are focusing on dessert table and door gifts for events and parties i.e. weddings, product launches and birthdays.

Website: www.cakesaloon.com

Email: cakesaloonkl@gmail.com

Contact: +603 9201 4103

Cake orders are usually picked up from the Chin sisters’ home in Cheras but they do deliver, with additional charges depending on distance.

 
Forêt Blanc Patisserie 

You don’t have to fly all the way to France to please your refined sweet tooth any longer. Alex Lim and Kenny Peck (aka the fabulous baker boys) have made it possible for you to savor some decadent French desserts right here in Malaysia. Although their desserts may seem to come across as a little costly to most people, it’s because of the amount of effort and detail put into these delightful sweets. These boys can create everything from the elegant to even the wackiest of creations at their patisserie, Forêt Blanc. They launched their patisserie in 2013, located in Petaling Jaya and their business has been booming ever since.
Image: Foret Blanc

When launching in 2013, it was a blessing and a curse for the entrepreneurial bakers because in the beginning both of them had to do all the work. It was a real struggle as there were “many orders to process in one go” according to Lim. In terms of the work hours and sweat put into the business, both had to sacrifice all their free time. They even work on weekends and sometimes up to the early mornings till 4-5am and some days they don’t even sleep at all. For any starting business especially if it’s a physical store, the need for extra hands is fundamental. Although the lack of it is not the only reason the boys were overworked. At the time, Peck spent most of his days working as a full-time auditor at Ernst and Young. Juggling a permanent job while baking is challenging.  
Alex Lim (left) and Kenny Peck Image: thestar.com.my
Will there be support given at the beginning of your undertaking, is a question most cake entrepreneurs ask before they chase a future in baked goods. For Peck, he was passionate about design but his parents felt like there was no future in the art industry so they insisted he pursued something more conservative – therefore he studied accounting.  

When the two finally met, Peck realised that he could combine his love for desserts and making pastries with his love for structural designs. Lim does on the other hand have a degree in culinary arts after doing numerous internships he realised that working under another chef in a large prestigious kitchen would not be as fulfilling as building a name from scratch, essentially from the ground up.

Image: Foret Blanc How did they come up with the name Forêt Blanc? Well, that’s the French word for “white forest” which is a combination of both their Chinese surnames. Their USP (Unique Selling Point) would be that they specialise in entremets and delicate, sophisticated desserts that are actually meant to suit any occasion while being exquisitely pleasing to the eye. They also make macarons, and splendidly decorated cakes with impressive sculptures and figurines – perfect for any festivity. Their clientele ranges from their friends with one-off orders to even popular cafes, private company events and dining establishments.

We spoke to Alex Lim, one half of the fabulous baker boys of Forêt Blanc, about his patisserie business:

What does a budding entrepreneur need before starting his or her own business?
Passion, determination and a good sense of business. You'll need a lot of passion through actions. After all, "action speaks louder than words". You will need business sense to convert your passion into something that can generate income. Having a business with a team is different from working on your own where you only need to take care of yourself. Determination is also a must. Most people think they have it, but when put into a real situation with all the challenges, they just choose to give up. This is also a reason why some businesses cannot sustain for even a year.
 
Describe the planning process of starting your bakery?
There was no proper planning to be honest. Opportunity just came along the way. I started off as a home baker selling French cakes (also known as Entremets) and at that time, my business partner was a full time auditor. And one day, a tea salon approached us seeking for French cake supplies. That was when it all started. We had to immediately search for a shop lot as the house is too small to cope with productions. At the same time, there are orders for customised cakes which we take in occasionally. Next thing we knew, orders kept coming in.

How do you build your brand online?
We started branding our brand through Facebook first. But much later, we realised that Instagram is also a great branding platform too. We rely mostly on word-of-mouth and good recommendations from clients who have trusted us.
Learning the baking trade – did you have any mentors during the process?
Honestly, we have no proper mentors to guide us along the way. We learn things the hard way. Mistakes were made and that is where we learn and grow.

How did you find your Unique Selling Point?
Our unique selling point is definitely the outlook of our product and the quality of the taste. We are also able to cater to the demands of event companies and able to fulfill their orders given a tight deadline.

How much investment or time does it take to run it?
Definitely a lot of investment is needed to grow the business. The world now revolves a lot on new technologies and upgrading of the standards of food. Even till today, we have to constantly purchase new equipment, tools and many more. To be honest, the baking industry requires a whole lot of investment; as there are too many things to buy and too little space to store them.

Did you have access to startup funds and what would your advice be on creating a business plan?
We rely on many ways to get our funds. From our own savings, small loans from banks, and borrowings from parents. We couldn't afford to get most things in the beginning. We had to earn and spend along the way. We had to slowly bring in new machines and tools needed for our business using the income generated by the business. In a way, this made us appreciate everything we had because things do not come easy. It also taught us to plan our resources wisely and only invest in what we truly need. My advice is to learn how to earn before learning how to spend.

How did you come up with the prices for your baked goods?
The price is mostly determined by the cost of the items such as the ingredient cost, overhead cost (i.e.: labour hours, electricity, water, rental). How complicated the project and the technical aspects also contribute to the pricing of goods.

What are some of the biggest struggles of running a homegrown cake shop?
Biggest struggle would be getting people to work for you. Most people prefer working for large corporations. We have to hire the right people and ensure we have enough money to pay them.

What would your advice be to individuals who want to start their own bakery business?
Be prepared to sacrifice a whole lot of things before starting. The struggle is real!

Initial investment and how did you pull together the loan or money to get started?
Sourcing for items needed to run the business at prices we could afford. We started off using second-hand items for some machines, and tools we needed. We changed them after we had money to buy new ones.

Was finding support difficult when you were first starting out?
We are truly blessed that we didn’t have trouble getting support as we had met a lot kind people who have helped us along the way. From our parents, to our supplier and most importantly our customers who have given us this opportunity and their trust.
 
Image: Foret Blanc
What would you say is the best way to get your service out there to the masses?
The use of social media. The cheapest and fastest way.

In a week, how many cakes do you deliver and what are some demands from customers?
We definitely lost count of the number of cakes we do. We have many different products. Customer would usually demand for fast, beautiful and cost friendly!
What sort of events or parties do you mainly cater for?
Currently,we cater to cafes and restaurants seeking for cakes or dessert supplies, and also working hand in hand with event planners in Malaysia handling customised cakes and desserts.  

Location: 49-G, Petaling Utama Avenue, Jalan PJS 1/50, Taman Petaling Utama, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Contact: +6012 689 1470

Website: www.foretblanc.com

Email: info@foretblanc.com


Please note that our order requires a minimum notice of 48 hours in advance.

If you do spend your days and off-hours dreaming up cake creations, experimenting with icing, or coming up with whimsical ways to help your family or friends blow out their birthday candles, you might definitely want to start a cake business, but do take heed of what we listed above and what have been shared. Like any business you venture into, to successfully make cakes for a living you’ll need lots of creativity, have a great way with people and an entrepreneurial spirit. 

So, good luck if you are planning to pursue your dreams in satisfying our sweet tooth needs thus making the world a sweeter place! We will be awaiting your next delicious creation. 
Image: Cake Saloon

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