Personal service, constant development and award-winning, creative window displays. How to build a thriving high street wedding cake business.
We caught up with Charlotte Wilcox, owner of Cherry Blossom Cakes in Bawtry, South Yorkshire to learn the secrets of her success.
Established ten years ago, Cherry Blossom Cakes specialises in wedding cakes and dessert tables, with a high street showroom, separate baking facility and customers across Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.
Ten years ago, however, building such a thriving business, was far from Charlotte’s mind. “I was a literacy teacher at the time,” she explained. “I’d always loved sweet things and baking but had never run my own business. It all started almost by accident, when I baked a special birthday cake for my sister’s party in a restaurant. The feedback, even from the restaurant staff, was amazing and it became a bit of a hobby, then a side job as I got more and more requests for cakes.
“In fact, I got so many orders, I decided to take the plunge and go full time, start my own business. If you never try, you never know and, as a real morning person, it really suited me. At 5am most days you’ll find me baking.”
The business was an immediate success. Within five years, Charlotte had outgrown her facilities at home and opened both a high street showroom and a dedicated commercial kitchen to fulfil orders. One of the secret of that success, according to Charlotte, is her focus on delivering a bespoke, personalised service.
“A wedding day is so personal and special, but actually organising it can be incredibly stressful,” she said. “I wanted to make finding the perfect wedding cake a fun, rewarding experience, not a stressful one and that is often about the small touches.
“That starts with cake design. Couples will often come to me with ideas or mood boards and my job is to interpret those ideas and come up with a design that fits each couple perfectly.
“But it’s about making the whole experience feel personal too, so every customer gets a handwritten quote with cake sketches, which people often frame as a memento. Equally, on the big day I also always leave a short description to explain the cake and set out any instructions they need to be aware of and I send every couple a wedding card – I’m told very few suppliers do that and it’s a touch that customers really value.”
But on speaking to Charlotte, it’s obvious that service is only part of the story. Her passion for the business, for being creative and constantly learning new skills, have helped set Cherry Blossom Cakes apart.
“I love the relationships with customers and always check in with them regularly. It’s not just take the order and deliver. I like to stay in touch right through, so they know I am on top of everything and there is no need to worry about the cake,” she commented. “I love the creative aspect and the learning process too, really immersing myself in the techniques of the trade.”
Charlotte’s high street window displays are a case in point, and saw her emerge victorious from an SME Insurance Services (smei) window display competition.
“My window display is so important,” she explained. “It’s a nice big window on the Great North Road so very visible for people as they drive past. Along with wedding fairs and so on, it’s probably my most important promotional tool.
“I love being creative and using the window to give people a feel for the business. I always get great feedback from people in town and change the window every couple of months, so to win an award was fantastic. It was a great feeling to win, especially as it’s the first time I’ve entered a competition like this.
Clearly, however, starting a new business is far from easy, as Charlotte readily testifies: “The hard part was learning to run a business; the accounts, the tax and so on.
“It’s hard work and long hours too. People think you just bake all day, but there is so much to stay on top of, from customer service, which is a real focus because I always want it to be really good, to dealing with things like cleaning in the shop, making sure it is always pristine. It was exhausting in the early days, but a good exhausting.”
Ten years later, Charlotte is rightly proud of her success. “I’m probably most proud of the trust that customers put in me. There are no second chances on the day and you have to deliver, so I’m really pleased that so many couples have put their faith in me.
“Awards are really nice too, particularly wedding industry awards, which are voted for by couples and a judging panel. I have won Yorkshire and North East area prizes twice, which were such lovely endorsements for the work we do here.”
For Charlotte, protecting the business she has worked so hard to build up vitally important, and insurance plays a key role.
“Insurance is so important,” she said. “Knowing I am covered and protected is so important to me. It’s also reassuring for customers. They know that, if I have an issue, I will have insurance to back me up and make sure I can still deliver on the big day.
“But it’s important to have the right insurance. I was lucky enough to win a year’s insurance from smei and, like my own business, they delivered a really great, personal service. It was much better to speak to an expert than just buy online, when you’re not all that sure if you have everything you need, or more than you need, and whenever I had questions, I got quick answers. They went through everything with me, so I am much more confident I have the right cover.”
Quotes from well-known and specialist insurers, including: