No matter how you slice it, wedding cakes are big business. According to an XO Group Inc. survey of nearly 20,000 U.S. brides married in 2012, the average amount spent on a wedding cake was $560 (up from $535 in 2011), and at The Blue Cake Company in Little Rock, Arkansas, wedding cakes make up approximately 30 percent of their yearly sales. With so much money to be had in the wedding cake category, how can you position your retail bakery as a market leader?

1. Encourage customer loyalty.
Each time you create a cake for an occasion other than a wedding, consider sending it home with a flyer about your wedding cake program. This consistent reinforcement will ensure that your bakery is top of mind when those same customers are ready to purchase their wedding cakes.

“We've been in business for eight years, so some of our younger customers who’ve purchased their birthday cakes and graduation cakes from us have come back for their wedding cakes, and it's so fun to see them all grown up,” says Steve Lewandowski, owner and operator of The Blue Cake Company. “On the flip side, many of our wedding cake customers now use us for their children's cakes.”

2. Stay on top of decorating trends.
It is vital to keep up with wedding industry trends and offer the colors and designs that brides are craving. According to Lewandowski, stripes, dots, and swirls are out, and ruffles, lace, and textures are in.

“Textured buttercream is really popular right now, which we love because it doesn't require much time to produce,” Lewandowski says. “Intricate piping with fondant accents to mimic lace textures is also trending with our customers. Our biggest challenge with these lace designs is finding a quick and consistent technique to produce them; we usually use a variety of fondant lace and flower molds as filler and embellish with buttercream piping.”

Lewandowski predicts 2014 will bring more mixed textures, metallic accents (especially gold and bronze), and big, romantic cakes.

“The cakes we've been designing have a bit more glam,” he says. “Even the textured cakes have some bling added to them. We’re also seeing more formal cakes with sugar flowers, which is a change for us from last year when most of our customers would use fresh or silk flowers to help cut costs.”
In addition, there will always be a market for themed and sculpted cakes.

“We recently made a Zelda themed cake with a matching bride and groom topper and have also made wedding cakes incorporating Tardis, Futurama, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter,” Lewandowski says.

3. Offer a variety of flavor options.
Another key to wedding cake success is offering several flavor combinations. According to New York magazine, staples such as chocolate devil’s food cake with vanilla buttercream are as popular as ever, and more unique flavor combinations, such as coconut cake with lime buttercream, are also on the rise.

“Our vanilla butter cake with almond or vanilla buttercream is always the favorite, but most of our couples will choose two to three flavors for their cakes,” Lewandowski says. “The Strawberry Lemonade, which is our strawberry cake with fresh strawberries and lemon curd, and the Italian Cream Cake with cream cheese are both popular. Our most popular groom’s cake flavor is the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, which is chocolate fudge cake with peanut butter whipped cream and chocolate ganache.”

To encourage productive cake tastings, The Blue Cake Company encourages brides and grooms to look on the website in advance and generate some ideas about what they might want.

“We have suggested combinations that are really popular, but the customers can also sample a variety of our cakes with assorted fillings and buttercreams and create their own combinations,” Lewandowski says.

4. Develop a marketing strategy.
Your bakery may produce the best wedding cakes in town, but if no one knows about them, they will not sell. Developing and implementing a marketing strategy can help spread the word about your wedding cakes and turn your creations into cash.

“We participate in the local bridal fair in August and January, where brides can speak with us and sample our cakes,” Lewandowski says. “We also post pictures on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, and our website has information and pricing for our wedding cakes. This helps brides determine in advance if we’re the right place for them, and as a result, most of our tastings result in the brides booking us for their event.”
To avoid appearing outdated, rework your wedding cake marketing materials each year to reflect new trends.

5. Use time to your advantage.
To make the most of your marketing dollars, push your wedding cakes more heavily during the times of year in which it will matter most.