Looking to start your own food business? Then the Fabulous Food Business series of articles is here to inspire you. This series of articles showcases food businesses and their owners, inspiring you to get moving on your dreams. One such business is Watford (UK) based business The Dandelion Bakery, founded by Jo Watkinson. If you would like to read about the other food businesses I have chatted to, pop to the end of this article for links to those interviews.
At the Dandelion Bakery, Jo creates bespoke made to order cakes, cupcakes, biscuits and pastries. Jo has clearly defined what she likes making and who her clients are and has a focus on modern cakes where flavor and taste are as in important as the look of her cake. There are no wedding cakes here that are beautifully iced but have no taste. Mind you that is not to say that Jo’s cakes aren’t beautiful!
Jo offers 39 flavours and is open to adding more to meet the needs of the clients, like a cake that tastes like the client’s favourite cocktail. And this applies to the icing as well as the actual cake. Where possible Jo uses organic and fair trade products to create her delicious cakes.
Why Jo set up the Dandelion Bakery
Jo has been baking with her Mum since she was aged 4 and even at that age was being complimented on her scones. Jo continued with the baking theme while at college, working in bakeries where she loved selling behind the counter.
But like so many of us, Jo headed off to the corporate world, eventually ending up in project managing large IT projects, across continents with up to 60 people working on some projects. But after a not so pleasant experience in her last job and ending up stressed and unhappy, her now husband asked Jo what she would love to be doing, probably expecting an answer of changing jobs or setting up her own project management business.
What popped out was that Jo wanted to start her own bakery. It was something Jo had expected to do when she was 50 but it is funny what circumstances can do. Low startup costs, the ability to use her home kitchen and a partner who was bringing in a good income meant that the risk was worth taking. And she is getting back to the baking she did as a child, using her Mum’s recipe for her gingerbread wedding favours.
Jo’s favourite part of her business is spending time with couples when they are so happy and excited. Jo commented that you just can’t buy that and that it is so infectious. Sounds fabulous to me too!
The Business Model
One of the things that I found fascinating about Jo’s business is that she has not gone down what I think of as the traditional bakery model with a shop front. That was the initial plan. But once Jo started looking at startup costs, the problems of find the right location and knowing the hours from her previous bakery experience this option looked less and less palatable. The whole point of Jo’s switch was to create a lifestyle where she wasn’t stressed and was working reasonable hours, not something you normally associate with a bakery with long hours, very early morning starts and the worries associated with covering the higher start-up costs.
Jo made the decision to instead focus on bespoke cakes and other bakery products. She did trial markets but quickly realized that she was spending hours working for very little return. With the bespoke product, Jo is not only able to manage her hours better but she is also able to better control her costs; the bespoke nature certainly helps keep down wastage.
While a business property is not completely off the table, Jo is not looking at perhaps setting up a tasting room in the future rather than the normal shopfront. The bespoke model is working and Jo wants to stay bespoke.
Naked cakes (and ideal clients)
You may have heard that you need to know who your ideal client is to create a business success. Quite a few food businesses seem to struggle with this, but Jo has it nailed. She is very clear about what kind of cakes she makes and who her ideal clients are for these kind of cakes. As I mentioned above, Jo doesn’t do the traditional wedding cake and focuses on brides who want something more modern.
Jo is also aware that not all brides have a pot of money to spend and are looking for a different wedding. They aren’t looking for cheap cakes, but they are looking for a cake where they can see the value in the cake. What Jo has created is a cake that has a modern feel, that can be tailored to suit a more rustic venue that her clients like and tastes great while not costing a fortune by creating a naked cake. The big cost with creating traditional wedding cakes is the time spent on the decorating. By focusing on more creative decorating of the cake and innovative flavours, Jo has managed to create a niche cake that appeals to her ideal customer.
It isn’t the only type of cake Jo offers, but it gives brides that extra option.
Jo not only looks after her clients with the cakes she provides, she also uses social media and in particular Pinterest to help them. You can check out Jo on Pinterest here. Many people see social media as a way to build their profile and make sales. And while Jo obviously hopes her profile on Pinterest does this, it is not her main focus. Rather her focus is on helping her clients and to me this is one of the best ways to use social media.
Jo has boards set up to help brides plan their weddings with Pinterest boards for different wedding themes. It is a great way for Jo to talk through design ideas with clients and get a sense of the vision for the whole wedding. It also helps that brides are on Pinterest and looking for inspiration for their weddings; understanding where your client is a key factor in social media success.
When I looked at the Dandelion Bakery website, I was keen to explore with Jo the collaborations she has set up. If you hop on over to Jo’s website, you will see that Jo has listed providers of other wedding services that she recommends, including a hair and makeup artist, photographers and florists.
These collaborations have worked well for Jo and Jo has almost stopped marketing because of the business she is receiving from referrals. But the collaborations do take time. Jo is very careful about who she recommends. They have to be tried and tested and Jo puts a lot of care in to making sure she only recommends where she thinks the supplier is a good fit. Jo makes sure she sees the work of suppliers and will go check out the supplier in person before making any recommendations. It really reflects the care Jo shows to her brides.
Through working with other businesses, Jo is also able to offer extra services to her brides at no cost. Small things like speaking to the florist directly if there are going to be flowers on the cake. This helps keep costs down for the bride as Jo can be very specific about what she needs and going this extra mile is such a lovely example of that little bit extra Jo does to help her customers.
Knowing your numbers
As regular readers know I am a big believer in knowing your numbers. And it is one area that Jo is on top of. Her background in project management and understanding returns on investment has helped her.
One of the biggest things Jo has learned is to say no. She spent the first year saying yes to things and the next two years saying no. Jo has become much more focused on what she is willing to do at cost or for free. There has to be a reason for not charging full price. It could be to fill a gap in her portfolio of cakes she wants to show potential clients or providing samples at networking meetings. But Jo is careful it is not seen as a given, there is no expectation of freebies.
Most Challenging aspect
Jo’s biggest challenge has been the food safety side of things. Not so much the actual complying in the cooking process, but working out in the first place what she needed to do to get her kitchen certified. Most of the material in the Food Safety Handbook is aimed at businesses who make products involving meat or need to keep food hot. Not something you usually associate with cakes. But as Jo has shown you can work it out and by asking questions of the Council you may not have to do everything you think you have to. Jo was very pleased to find out she didn’t need a separate sink. That may not apply to you where you live but make sure you ask the question if it isn’t clear what is required.
I did ask Jo what kept her awake at night and loved that unlike in the past when her work kept her up at night, Jo really struggled to think of something that keeps her awake at night. She did finally come up with an example of having to leave a wedding cake on a wobbly table but I sensed it was tricky for Jo to come up with an example.
Advice for new businesses
As with all interviews I do with food businesses, I asked Jo what advice she would give to someone looking to set up a food business. Her top tips are:
- Identify and know your ideal customer. Knowing who this person is makes creating the right product, knowing where to invest and finding them to market to much easier. Everything just becomes simpler. For example Jo doesn’t focus on twitter. Even though Jo likes twitter, her brides aren’t there so there just isn’t the value in spending time there.
- In working out who your ideal customer is, give them a name and pick a photo to represent them. Find out what their hobbies are, where they shop and eat. Make a pencil sketch of a real person.
- PUT YOUR PRICES UP! Know your costs and prices.
I had a great time chatting to Jo and getting to know her business and would like to thank her for taking the time to talk to me. If you are in Watford and the surrounding area and you want fabulous cakes, biscuits or other delicious pastries for your event then make sure you check out Jo and the Dandelion Bakery.
Read about other fabulous food businesses by clicking the links below: