Most every home baker dreams of having a storefront. It’s something you start thinking about the moment you decide you’ve made it!
You see the financial industry, business card, credit card, and website designer commercials showing all of the smiling business owners talking about how great it is to have a storefront.
You see the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube pages, videos, and posts all touting how it’s the way to go and you won’t regret your decision if you go for it!
But is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
Well. That’s going to be for you to decide. But for me, the short answer was NO.
Today I’m going to share my experience with you.
This is the side of the story that no one else is talking about.
I decided I was ready for a storefront.
I decided after nearly two years of working from home I was ready to open a storefront. I had built a pretty good clientele of repeat customers and felt my skill level was up to par (haha!). I spent days and nights dreaming– obsessing about what I would name my shop, how I would decorate the front of house, what my logo would look like, and how customers would come strolling in one after the other from open until close. Although, the biggest dreams I had were how much money I would make, how much room I would free up in my home, and all the extra time I would have to spend with my family! <sigh>
Boy was I wrong! About most of it anyway. There is so much more to owning a storefront than you realize.
*I want to say right now, this is the story of MY experience. I KNOW that so many others have opened a storefront and loved it and it was the absolute right decision for them. I am not here to bring you down and stomp on your dreams. I am only here to let you know my opinion on owning a store. I am only here to let you know that while it can be the greatest experience you ever have it can also be heartbreaking. It can be exhausting and it is absolutely challenging. There are many people with a mind and spirit made for business. I, unfortunately, realized I was not cut out for this type of thing. I made a lot of mistakes and my biggest mistake was not knowing how ignorant I was as to HOW to actually operate a retail business.
I also want to note that I live in a relatively small town surrounded by much larger, more industrious towns, within a 30-mile radius, which people are more than happy to drive to for their shopping and entertainment. You must also take your demographics into account as well.
So here’s my story. Please read it with an open mind.
I was going to make more money by having a storefront.
The truth is I paid every penny out to others.
I did not profit a single cent even though we “made” six figures the first 9 months we were open. Yes, 6 figures. But NONE of it was in my pocket. It cost us several thousands to open the bakery plus the huge burden of overhead.
The electric bills alone were $500-800/month in the moderate size unit we were in. I also had to hire employees (please don’t think you can do this alone!). Paying sales taxes, unemployment taxes and insurance, and salaries (now the employment laws are getting even crazier), advertising, liability insurance, and credit card processing fees took a huge chunk of money each month.
I needed to constantly add new items and run promotions to keep walk-in business, as people are bored very easily, and it’s exhausting! ALL food businesses do it so don’t expect to be the exception. Even if you opened a CAKE shop as I did, people will expect you to be a full-service bakery. With all the new orders I had to buy more ingredients/packaging to keep up which was more money out the door. You will probably need to add something to bring customers in if you aren’t a full-service bakery, like an ice cream parlor, lunches, or even sell merchandise in your store.
There are busy seasons and slow seasons in the cake world.
I didn’t take into account that the summer and winter would be so slow! I never had any issues booking up at home during these times of year. But I also only needed a fraction of the business to operate. When you have employees and overheard you need steady orders and walk-in traffic ALL year long! Take advantage of busy times (Valentine’s Day, Graduation and Wedding seasons) and promote lots of specials.
It is an absolute MUST that you raise your prices drastically from what you are charging at home. Don’t be surprised when your longtime customers aren’t happy about that. Not everyone realizes how much money it takes just to keep the lights on and they will not understand why you raised your “great” prices from back when you were the “cheap” cake lady! (We’ll talk in another post about why you DO NOT want to be the “cheap” cake lady.)
Speaking of customers…
I have to be completely honest with you.
I didn’t want to deal with people EVER again when I closed my shop.
Even though there were many, many, many more satisfied customers I dealt with than unhappy customers, those very few made a huge impact on my view of the world. People change as soon as you have a storefront. They expect WAY more from you and are not afraid to tell all of social media about when they are not happy about anything. They will even expect refunds for their own mistakes they made while ordering. They become much pickier. They become hateful and quick to judge without giving any thought to the fact that this is how you feed your family. It is just a fact that not every single customer will be happy and love your work. I completely understand that. I am a consumer too! But so many people forget that you are just a lady chasing her dreams and rather than speaking with you about any issues they will just run your name through the mud instead. That’s the reality of this digital world we live in today.
When I did have a customer approach me with an issue it was ALWAYS dealt with. You can not ignore unsatisfied customers. You MUST take every measure you possibly can to turn the situation around. People remember the single negative review and will scroll right past the 1000 positive reviews you may have.
I was sure to be quick with a sincere apology (even if it wasn’t our fault) and I offered a refund as well as a replacement for the product. When customers came to me unhappy I can gladly say they left with a changed attitude and I nearly always saw them back in my shop as a repeat customer! I, unfortunately, wasn’t always given the opportunity to make things right and that really got to me. It really hurt when people chose to be negative and stir up conflict without ever addressing the issue with me.
Not only was this difficult to deal with, but I lost the personal encounters with my customers.
They just became an order form that my employee filled out. And I had to hope they had gotten all the info and had written everything down correctly. I also had customers that refused to deal with any of my employees and only speak with me because they were longtime clients. The thing is, I didn’t have time to deal with customers personally because I was busy running the business end of things.
Oh, and I was going to have so much more free time!
Except now I was the boss. Now I was not only responsible for my own quality of work but I was also responsible for my employees’ quality of work and customer service.
Finding good, reliable employees can be extremely challenging! No one cares about your business as you do. Even when you have a good staff you will still work EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I worked 80+ hours a week and had no time for my children.
I kid you not, I missed an entire year of my children’s lives. I cleaned out some boxes awhile after we closed our shop and found so many school papers and order forms for school pictures I had never seen before!
I wasn’t able to take time off or go on vacation. I had to worry about bad weather and not being able to be open during winter. Winter and Summer are extremely slow times of the year for bakeries. You also can’t just not take orders or not go to work because you are tired or don’t feel up to making cake that day.
Be sure you not only have the mind for business, but also the SPIRIT for business.
Owning a business is so, SO stressful. Especially a busy and successful business.
Stress is great though. It is so flexible and can be there for you in any situation. I was stressed out when we were so busy that I didn’t go home on Friday nights because we had to get orders finished for Saturday morning. I was stressed when we sold out of cupcakes in our case every day the first week we were open and had to disappoint customers. I was stressed every time a customer picked up a cake because I was terrified their order may not be right or they may not like it. If they didn’t like it I was stressed that they would run straight to Facebook and let the masses know without ever telling me. I was stressed when summer began and walk-in traffic died down significantly. I was stressed when my other decorator needed to take off work frequently. I was stressed when I couldn’t take even a Sunday off because I had to buy supplies for the following week from a local store.
I. WAS. STRESSED.
This eventually took a toll on not only my relationships but also my health. Thank the great Lord above for giving me a truly amazing husband. Most relationships probably wouldn’t have made it through the effects of the stress we endured, but my husband not only hung in there, he carried me through. He is my rock and I learned to love him in a completely new and deeper way.
It took another year and a half after we closed up shop for my mind to begin to heal. My body, on the other hand, decided to blow its adrenals and damage not only my thyroid but its entire endocrine system. That is a battle I’m still fighting.
I clung to God as I had never done before.
My spirit was broken and I prayed NON STOP.
That’s not an exaggeration. If I was awake I was talking to Him. He pulled me out of the lowest place I had ever been and He brought me back to life. I got to know Him like I had never dreamed possible. I promise you, He is there for you. Don’t blame Him when you are in a bad place, turn and RUN to Him!
Realizing my mind, body and spirit couldn’t handle the stress any longer (I was truly on the verge of a nervous breakdown) and after operating a storefront for nearly 2 years, we closed up shop. I wasn’t sure when we closed our doors if I ever wanted to bake another cake. The plan was for me to completely quit and I was going to return to the workforce.
I was actually called and offered a job I hadn’t even known existed. After much prayer and lots of discussion, we decided that I would decline the position and stay home. But that meant continuing my cake business. I realized in that moment I wasn’t finished. With God’s help, I knew my mind would heal and I would be able to love my work again.
And I do.
There was a silver lining though.
I can’t say that it was all bad.
I learned how to bake/ice/decorate a cake in less than a few hours as opposed to an entire day! I tweaked my recipes until they were just right. I learned how to bake a dozen cakes and only dirty a few dishes in my kitchen instead of messing my entire house!
I did gain new long-time customers.
Most importantly I learned that I would much rather work from home and pick and choose my customers. I would much rather be home working all night instead of across town until 3:00 am to only be back at 7:00 am.
I learned that sometimes you already have all you need right where you’re at doing exactly what you’re doing.
So that was my experience, here’s my advice.
Now my advice though is this: Do what God is leading you to do.
I know that it was the right thing for me to open a bakery because I was obsessed with the thought. OBSESSED I tell you. I couldn’t think of anything else. And the Lord knew that if I didn’t see all of these things on my own I would never stop thinking about it. That I would never learn the valuable lessons I learned and I’d always wonder if I could have or should have done it. So He let me do what I thought I wanted and find out that I already had what I wanted. Let’s say, I have to learn things the hard way… 😉
My advice would be to take it slowly.
Save every single penny of what it will cost you to open. DO NOT finance anything. Then have AT LEAST $10k as a cushion for operating costs once you open. For cash flow for slow times.
Get educated in business! Whether it’s taking a business class online, finding a mentor, or just reading lots of articles on how to operate a business, just get educated!! Most banks require a business plan to gain financing and even if you don’t finance, write that business plan anyway! It is so important and it will help you to be successful and profitable.
Be organized and don’t waste time! Disorganization and poor time management are two of the biggest reasons for businesses failing.
Spend your money wisely. Don’t go all out on your front area. You can update and decorate later. Work on your kitchen and be sure you have ample storage and a huge refrigerator or two.
Continue to work on your skills and enjoy your time with your family. Always remember your family comes first!!
I have always loved baking but I lost that love when I had my store. Be sure that if you start to not love it, you get out and get back to where you were when you did love it.
You will most likely profit more at home. You will only have to take a fraction of the orders and spend a fraction of the time on them to make a profit. If you aren’t making what you think you should be, you need to raise your prices! You can raise your prices, take fewer orders and send out higher quality work all while making more money. This is the most important thing I learned on the business end!
I hope that my story has helped you take a closer look at what it means to have a storefront.
Now go out there and decide which story is yours! I wish you all the luck in the world and I’m here to help you in any way I can!
Be sure you aren’t making the worst mistake of all- being the cheap cake lady! Learn how to properly charge for your cakes and other products so you can be as profitable as possible! I’ve made it super easy for you to get organized and manage your time with these worksheets I’ve created for you.
Let me know about your experience. Have you ever considered this side of the story? Have you or do you operate a retail business? What would you do differently?
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