Lynn Schurman, co-owner of Cold Spring Bakery, decided years ago to become a bakery owner because she wanted to gain control of her life and her business. Then she learned the cold hard facts. “There are certain skill sets you need to run a business,” she recalls of the valuable lesson learned during the early years of managing her family’s Cold Spring, Minnesota-based business, a popular cake shop in the state.
Her advice now to aspiring cake decorators who want to open their own retail shops?
“If you want to continue to be a decorator, you are going to have to find someone to do the things you don’t want to do,” she says.
Accounting, training, managing staff and other non-decorating tasks fall into the realm of what cake decorators may not think about when considering the idea of starting their own business. Yet those are the skills that are more likely to determine whether you ultimately become a success.
That’s why writing a business plan is the blueprint for building your business, bakery experts like Schurman agree. And don’t think that if you already have a business you don’t need a written business plan. Every detail of your business should be mapped out — on paper — including short- and long-term financial goals and even business succession plans.
Who will lead your business into the future? If you don’t write it down, you may be taking a big risk.
For starting a business, Schurman recommends a detailed list of what products you are going to make, what your costs are going to be, and how you are going to sell. “You can’t be everything to everyone,” she says as words of warning. “Decide what you’re going to make. Figure out ahead of time what your primary products are going to be and when to say no.”
Finding the right location is another critical decision. “Sometimes looking where there is a need for a cake shop is part of your business strategy.” Other important questions to examine are who is your competition and what equipment will you need. Schurman recommends going big with refrigeration, which means that a walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler are musts. Know the answers to questions like what’s the biggest batch you can do to be the most efficient.
Further, know your market and how to reach potential customers. Know the demographics of the neighborhood you want to serve: age, income levels and other factors. “The target age for wedding cakes is 18 to 34, and moms are also very important for the wedding cake business,” Schurman says.
And there is the essential question: Where will you get capital to fund your business? For many, a home equity line of credit is going to be necessary because banks require a personal guarantee.
Experts agree that it is never a good idea to start your business on credit cards because it will prove to be a long road ahead to recoup the interest and charges.
Schurman and her family have successfully managed Cold Spring Bakery, originally known as the Home Bakery, since it was founded in 1946 by Melvin and Floss Schurman. In 1985, the bakery was bought out by sons Dale Schurman and Bryan Schurman along with his daughter-in-law Lynn Schurman.
Additional production space was added in 2000, and in 2013, the business added a second retail location with the Cold Spring Bakery Connection in Waite Park.
The Cold Spring Bakery sells 45 percent of its products retail and 55 percent wholesale, primarily through small supermarkets in the area. The bakery employs about 75 people.