How do you build an independent cake baking business that counts royals amongst its loyal customers, in just five years?
We spoke to Amy Gilmore, owner of Amy Polka Pops in Ribchester, Lancashire to find out.
An experienced baker, Amy had until six years ago sought to juggle career and a young family by working in the bakery section of a large supermarket. But in 2013, she felt the time was right to strike out on her own, as an opportunity that was too good to pass up presented itself.
“It all happened almost by accident,” she said. “I’ve got my mum to thank really. She asked me to bake some special cakes for a New Year’s party and suddenly more and more people who had seen them started asking me to bake for birthday parties and so on. It really snowballed from there, by word of mouth really, but I knew this was an opportunity to do something different and strike out on my own.”
Just like that, Polka Pops was born. “It just grew and grew,” Amy said. “In the early days it was word of mouth, but social media has been a really good way to attract customers too. These days we do cakes for pretty much any occasion; lots of weddings, but also baby showers, birthday parties and all kinds of celebrations.”
Today, Amy has a string of loyal customers, supplies cakes for local shops, and is a regular at local farmers markets and wedding shows. Naturally, she is thrilled and delighted that something she enjoys doing has proven so popular, and relishes the new-found flexibility that allows her to be at home more often.
“I love it,” she explained. “The business has grown because people like what I do and that is so rewarding. It’s been great too, to make so many new friends and contacts, whether they are regular customers or people in the wedding industry I have met at events.
“It’s been hard work, but also gives me the flexibility I need to be there when the kids need me and their dad is on shift at the fire station. I wouldn’t go back now.”
Offering her advice for anyone starting out in business, Amy said: “Don’t turn any orders down. You never know what contacts you will make from it. Charities are a great example. Obviously, you don’t get paid but it’s great to be able to help out, and you never know who will see your work and maybe put an order in later.
“Remember too that quality is everything. If it’s a good product, customers will keep coming back and help out by recommending you.”
The value of that outlook was made abundantly clear to Amy when she opened a letter from St James’s Palace. “I honestly thought it was a joke at first, but it was real,” Amy said. “Someone at the palace had heard of Polka Pops and wanted to order 600 cakes for goody bags at an event. I accepted the order and attended the event, which was a really special treat for me.
“I even made a new business contact while I was there. Every year now, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, buys a big box of cakes to give to her staff at Christmas, which I think is lovely.”
Amy, however, knows that every business comes with risks, which it is important to manage.
“Business insurance is really important to me,” she explained. “You never know what’s going to happen, no matter how careful you are. Having the right insurance cover for me is about reassurance and peace of mind that I’m protected, which allows me to get on with making cakes that put smiles on people faces.”
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