“Success in business is all about making a profit and livable wage,” Miriello says. “It doesn’t matter how talented you are; if your business doesn’t make a profit, it’s not going to last. You have to calculate the
cost of everything it takes to make a cake—electricity, water, rent—and price your cakes appropriately.”
It’s also important to factor in the amount of time and skill it takes to make each cake. “The biggest cost in celebration cakes is labor,” Reilly says. She used to hire cake decorators exclusively to handle intricate accent pieces, but she now explores other ways to get the same result for lower costs. “I’ve started advertising at the local art school for sculptors, painters and illustrators, because that talent pool is much more diverse and affordable,” she says. “As long as they have an eye for design, I can teach them to work with fondant instead of clay.” Reilly also factors the cost of specialized labor into cake prices, charging a certain amount per hour of intricate design work.
Miriello focuses on cost-effectively dividing work among her bakery team. She has three employees, two of whom are newer to the business. She often assigns that pair routine tasks. “The third employee, who I pay more, only decorates cakes. I pay her to do the things I can charge more money for,” she says.
Keeping a close eye on labor and process expenses can help bakers not only ensure profitability, but also identify potential time-savers. And these efficiencies can translate to even greater profitability if they allow bakers to lower costs while maintaining cake prices. For example, using premade bakery ingredients like cake mixes, fillings and icings eliminates time-consuming manual processes, giving staff more time to focus on design efforts.
Dawn Foods Ring Cakewith macarons and strawberries is shaped like... a ring! Perfect for popping the question. Check out the recipe.
Beyond labor, another way to maximize profitability is by offering custom cakes that meet different customer budgets, ensuring you can capture a greater variety of business. Researching what competitors charge can help bakers identify ideal pricing ranges,
which vary from market to market.
Miriello, Kropp and Reilly have all recently launched collections of standardized celebration cakes as an alternative to custom creations. They’re decorated with smooth or textured buttercreme instead of fondant—with optional accents like flowers and drips—so they’re easier, cheaper and faster to produce.
“Because they’re simple cakes that we make frequently, we know exactly how long they’re going to take us and exactly how much they’re going to cost,” Miriello says. “There are no surprises.”
Except, of course, for the happy surprise when the celebrated individual sees their cake for the first time. Whatever the creation—standard or custom, simple or sculptural—that’s the one happy surprise every baker counts on. To achieve it profitably, all it takes is guarding your cakes’ costs as closely as you guard their quality.
Every successful celebration cake starts with an amazing idea. Here are three places to seek inspiration for your creations:
Baking Shows: TV shows like the Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” started the custom cake craze more than a decade ago. Today, TV remains a wellspring for cake-decorating inspiration. Check out the Cooking Channel’s “Cake Hunters,” Food Network’s “Ridiculous Cakes” and Netflix’s “The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.”
Social Media: Tune in to cake artists like Yolanda Gampp and Gemma Stafford on YouTube, and follow Katherine Sabbath, Jenna Rae Cakes and Ron Ben-Israel on Instagram. On Pinterest, check out The Cake Mamas and Ashlee Marie.
Industry Events: See creations up close and learn from fellow bakers at the International Baking Industry Exposition (in Las Vegas in September), the Baking Association of Canada’s Bakery Showcase (typically in early summer in either Montreal or Toronto) and the Sweets & Snacks Expo (annually in May in Chicago). Bakery suppliers’ regional events are another great place to find ideas and learn new techniques.