Party Season at a Kansas Bakery

On a quiet summer morning, Jayne Torline sits inside her Kansas City suburban bakery 3 Women and an Oven and contemplates the same question that puzzles most retailers today: How do I attract more business to my store when so many customers are shopping online?

For the past 13 years since she and co-owner Stacey Webb took a gamble on creating a one-of-a-kind cake and sweets bakery in Overland Park, Kansas, the nation’s cake industry has undergone radical changes in more ways than one.

The management of 3 Women and an Oven has reacted with savvy precision every step of the way.

What they have learned is that the road to success requires both detailed organization and flexibility. “We’re doing what we can to draw people into our shop,” Torline says. “Collaborating with different groups, and other things like pop-up shops. We have to be open and conscious to what the marketplace is demanding.”

Pop-up shops were once regarded as a low-cost tool to open a new business venture, but now this model is becoming a highly effective way to extend your bakery’s brand presence throughout the local community.

“Businesses have to come to us and asked us to do a pop-up shop,” Torline explains. “We did an event at Crate & Barrel, and Pottery Barn came to us after, asking if we could do a pop-up. It starts snowballing.”

Pop-ups 101

For those retailers that have not done one, here’s how a pop-up shop works.

First, decide on the time and venue. Torline recommends 4 hours on a Saturday, Pop-ups are particularly effective from September through December because these months are high traffic times for shoppers.

Make a detailed list of all the products you plan to sell at your pop-up and figure out your packaging. “Packaging is key. It has to look pretty,” Torline says. “Most everything is prepackaged and ready for sale. You don’t want it to be messy — no knives and forks.”

Typically, the pop-up space is laid out by the host retailer, and your bakery is responsible for all products, props, signage and takeaways. Be prepared with all set-up materials ahead of time, and have a price list of your products with sales tax included. Make sure to have a mobile device to process credit card transactions.

Plan on about 45 minutes to set everything up.

At least a month in advance, remember to think through how you are going to promote your event.

Social media is a cost-effective way to spread the word, but it pays to take it a step further: Know the specific audience of customers who shop at the destination of your pop-up.

For instance, Torline and her staff determined that Pottery Barn is more connected to its customers through Facebook, while Pink Antlers Studio (a local paper, party and gift shop that 3 Women and an Oven did a pop-up with on Aug. 26) is an Instagram group. Millennials are much more likely to use Instagram than Facebook.

Further, plan on increasing the frequency of pop-up events during the busy holiday season. “I’d like to do one a month around town,” Torline says. “It expands your presence. It’s amazing what can be done in four hours in one day.”

Party season

For 3 Women and an Oven, the first week of September marks the unofficial start of party season. The bakery is busy preparing cakes, cupcakes and other sweet bakery products for numerous events, including weddings, catered events, special celebrations and other party occasions.

“With weddings, September and October are the new June,” Torline says. “We’re coming into party season. We do desserts for the Renaissance Festival and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It all starts with the customer, and our business is very customer driven. What we have to be careful of putting too much pressure on our kitchen.”

Rebecca Lampe, kitchen manager at 3 Women and an Oven, says customers often come into the bakery with special custom requests, and it’s important to manage the time and resources required to make each cake. “I never want to say no,” she says. “It’s always a much bigger question.”

For example, Torline says, if a customer comes in to the bakery to order one cake with a specific icing that you don’t have prepared at the time, “you can’t make a whole batch of icing for one cake. The freshness factor is very important to our customers and to us.”

Collaboration among the bakers and decorators is vital to their success when it comes to costing ingredients, labor and overhead. Torline adds, “Part of the issue is volume. The challenge we have is the amount of variety we offer. As soon as we take one thing away, everyone wants it.”

The bakery owner understands the important lesson that “you’re only as good as the people who work with you, and we have people who have true ownership.” Lampe agrees. “I feel like my bosses care, and our opinions are respected. The doors are always open.”

Creative promotions

Toward the end of August, 3 Women and an Oven becomes involved in promotions that include happy hours that feature cocktails paired with unique flavors of French macarons (champagne, piña colada). Strawberry Margarita Cheesecake is another popular specialty during the late summer months.

Of note, one of the groups the bakery works with locally is Top Shelf Bartending Services, a popular company for Kansas City weddings. Collaborations like this one help increase business and boost creativity in product development.

In other ongoing projects, special weekly promotions like Throwback Thursdays (when a dozen babycakes go on sale for $15) and Cupcake Tuesdays (six cupcakes for $12) help spur instore sales throughout the week. “Having specials are a way to say thank you to our customers and bring in business,” Torline says.

The product line at 3 Women and an Oven includes cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, lemon bars, French macarons, coconut macaroons, and sugar drops. Babycakes are a signature item, and these mini cakes come in a wide variety of indulgent flavors: carrot, red velvet, chocolate covered strawberry, coconut key lime, Italian wedding, chocolate Kahlua, lemon raspberry, pumpkin spice and more.

One creative and effective strategy at 3 Women and an Oven involves making colorful fondant cake decorations (like fun animals, owl faces or striped bow ties) that customers can see in the front display case and choose to add to their favorite cakes. These fondant decorations sell from $1 apiece to $7 each. This serves as another way the bakery helps customers create one-of-a-kind experiences. Holidays play a huge role in stirring demand.

“We sell pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and cookie sales are never bigger than at Christmas,” Torline says. “Customers are buying cookies by the dozens.”

For wholesale accounts, 3 Women and an Oven makes cupcakes and cookies for hotels, roasteries and cafes throughout Kansas City.

The boutique bakery is also connected to a popular local food truck, CoffeeCakeKC, which bills itself as an espresso bar food truck. There are three kinds of cookies (chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, and peanut butter) on the CoffeeCakeKC menu from 3 Women and an Oven, as well as standard flavors of cupcakes that include white wedding, chocolate peanut butter, coconut key lime, and red velvet.

Another important local partnership involves gourmet retailer Dean & DeLuca, which offers babycakes and other 3 Women and an Oven sweets at is Leawood, Kansas, location. Sara McMonigle, category manager for bakery, pastry, coffee and candy division for Dean & DeLuca, says the entire company is embracing local like never before. In Kansas City, they have carried bakery sweets from 3 Women and an Oven for years, and now are bringing in other local vendors. “Customers are more familiar with brands within their local community and that helps drive sales,” McMonigle says.

Global also plays a role in the success of 3 Women and an Oven. “We have people calling here from all over the world because they have a relative in town,” Torline says. “We’ve partnered with a courier, and we will package things for customers who want to ship.” It’s this type of can-do attitude that serves the bakery so well every step of the way. “If we can’t be flexible,” she adds, “we’re not going to be successful.”