As the popularity of custom cakes grows larger and larger through its exposure on television, the general public’s interest in designer and custom cakes continues to grow as well. The interest in these beautiful cakes presents great opportunities for the retail bakery, but it can also create obstacles.

A structured ordering process will provide a way to capitalize on the popularity of not only elaborate cakes like customs and wedding cakes, but on anything that’s not off the shelf or out of the case. On October 12th in Austin, Texas, Beth Fahey, co-owner of Creative Cakes in Tinley Park, Illinois, offered advice at the RBA Roadshow on how to better handle cake ordering for the best results.

Time Management

Small increments of time add up to large chunks over a longer period. By the end of the week or month, little things that don’t seem like much have wasted a considerable amount of time. Do what you have to and figure out how time can be saved in your processes.

“I would definitely take time when you think you can’t, on a Friday or Saturday, and sit there with a log and just observe how long it takes your staff to so different things. This applies to order taking, baking and decorating,” Fahey says.

Many bakeries have a system in place in which decorators log in and out for each cake they do. That way an electronic record exists to be viewed whenever owners or managers have the time to access it. Other creative ways to check process times exist as well. “We have video surveillance cameras,” Fahey says. “I actually watch video tapes sometimes just to see how long a certain cake took.”

How long should a phone call take? The answer to this question differs depending on the two people involved in the conversation. Some like to have some small talk and get to business, some like to get directly to business immediately and some like to converse about any number of things for as long as it takes before getting to the business at hand. All of these types of conversation work well in moderation, but when it comes to staff spending time on the phone at your bakery, limits need to be set.

“Talk to your staff about how long a phone call should take,” Fahey says. “They should know if they’ve gone over the 15 minute mark that you need to redirect them [the customer]. Either re-direct them to come into the store or to send an email.”

Plan ahead for that inevitable caller that asks, “How much is that cake on your website?” This call has the potential to waste the most time. To combat this time waster, Creative Cakes codes the images on its website. They code floral photos with FL and then a number, for example FL26. “That way you know that the picture came from the floral album and it’s slide 26,” Fahey says.

Keep price guides, binders, photo albums, and any other materials that might aide phone in order takers, in close proximity to all the phones. Also, make sure computers are easily accessible for all phone in order takers. “We have pricing information by every single phone,” Fahey says. “We have a lot of reference materials.”

Email Inquiries

Emails present a great way to interact with your customers. Obviously, the technology of emails gives customers and bakeries a tremendous amount of options for communications, but email communications need to have structure and purpose like any other type of business communication. Your bakery needs to be seen as a single entity. “It’s important if you are having multiple people answering emails to have one voice,” Fahey says. “You have to coach your people on how to write a proper email.”

When using a contact form on your website to communicate through email, auto responders offer key elements to maximize correspondence. “Auto responders are the best thing since sliced bread because you get to give your customer a ton of information that sets up their expectations for what your response time is going be,” Fahey says. It also allows you to collect information that you can use for future outbound sales, she adds.

The Creative Cakes auto responder reads, “Thank you so much for contacting Creative Cakes, we respond to emails within 48 hours.” This message keeps most emailers from calling the bakery shortly after using the contact form and asking, “Did you get my email? When can I expect a response?”

When designing a “contact us” form for your website, use it to collect pertinent information that will streamline the process and eliminate wasted time. Each bakery needs different and specific information to get the most from the contact form, but a few general pieces will help out regardless of your specific needs. An email address, phone number, expected amount of guests, pick up date and time and budget should all be required in the contact us form.

“I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable asking about the customer’s budget, but it gives you a realistic idea right of the bat,” Fahey says.

Better Consultations

To make your cake consultations easier, remember these points:

• Anything is a consultation if somebody’s having a conversation about how much a cake costs

• Set a specific amount of time for any cake consultation

• Consultations are not a time for customers to bring a group of people for dessert

• Make pricing easy and understandable

• Let customers see your complete pricing sheet, but don’t let them leave the bakery with it

• Charge a minimal fee for consultations that can be applied to the payment if the order is booked

Wedding cake samples to go

Make free wedding cake samples available for pick up if that’s all a customer wants. “What I’m doing when they’re placing that order for a wedding cake sample to go is getting their name, their date, their email and phone number. Then we can call them back and do outbound sales,” Fahey says. “We definitely want them to try our cake because we think it’s better than anybody else’s, but we don’t want to waste our time on people just coming in for dessert.”