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Making Online Sales “A Piece of Cake”: Networking Advice from CakeSafe

12 min read

Spring has sprung here in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are getting longer and warm summer nights are right around the corner. Summer means a “wedding season” rush for many Ecwid merchants. We met up with Scott, Juli and Rachel — the team behind CakeSafe – to hear about their journey, and how they’re getting geared up for what promises to be a very busy season.

I first met the team at CakeSafe a little over a month ago when they reached out to me after reading about the incredible guys at The Shoe that Grows. Rachel, CakeSafe’s office and social media manager, introduced me to this ingenious product and to the rest of the team that work full time with the company.

Social media sharing is a daily task for CakeSafe. With Rachel’s help they’re about to take their social media marketing to the next level with a Facebook LIVE event this coming Wednesday, May 11th.

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Getting Started

Let’s rewind back to the beginning… welcome to 1988, a time before the internet and cell phones. Bobby Mcferrin was topping the pop charts with Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a box office hit, and The Cosby Show was the most popular (not yet scandalized) show on TV.

Juli and Scott were newly married and welcomed their first child. Scott’s engineering career was taking off, and Juli put her pastry chef training to work by launching a home based baking business.

Life was simple back then, right?

Not if you were a baker trying to deliver elaborate cakes via the bumpy rural roads of Rhode Island on the “most important day of someone’s life.” All it took was one quick turn or a heavy foot on the breaks and gorgeous cake — that took MANY hours to create — could become confectionary roadkill in a split second. Imagine having to tell the Bride that the cake didn’t make it… no thank you!

“I loved baking, and my business was really taking off — but delivering the cakes was a different story,” Juli shared. “It was so stressful!”

Scott came to the rescue. Ever the engineer, he created the first prototype of the CakeSafe (then called “the Cake Box”) using greenhouse roofing to build a weatherproof box and a stabilizing rod to hold the cake safely in place. The family tested the box, found that it worked perfectly, and for the next 21 years Juli was the sole customer.

Juli’s getting ready to donate this cake to local homeless shelter Welcome House of South County

Making the Leap & Creating a Home-based Business

Flash forward to 2009. iPhones are everywhere, the internet is literally in our pockets. Beyonce is burning up the charts with All the Single Ladies, Reality TV has all but replaced the sitcom, and animated movies are still #1 with Avatar amazing audiences around the world.

Life is getting more complex — especially if you were impacted by the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008  like Scott and Juli were.

Juli’s baking business was still thriving when Scott’s company went through widespread layoffs in early 2009. Rather than seeking a new position, Scott saw an opportunity to create a family business and immediately began to perfect the design of the cake box.

Though the design had worked great for Juli for decades, Scott located a handful of influential bakers in the region to try the box and give him feedback on the design. Reaching out to other pros in your vertical is a great way to speed R&D and solidify your business plan. All of the testers were thrilled with the ease and function of the box. Scott made a few cosmetic tweaks, re-named the box “The CakeSafe,” and applied for a US patent.

Scott and Michelle Bommarito testing the CakeSafe

Scott also began to build out the business model for CakeSafe. He hired a web designer to create their first website. The simple site displayed images and details about the CakeSafe and contact information for phone and email orders. Orders were manually invoiced via PayPal. They hadn’t yet taken the leap to online sales, but they had proven that they had a great niche for their product and committed to growing the business online.

One of the coolest things about the CakeSafe is that they have been able to source all of their raw materials locally in Rhode Island and Connecticut. To this day they make each and every product by hand.

Scott CakeSafe Base.jpg

Scott hand crafting CakeSafe bases. May, 2016

In the beginning, Scott made every CakeSafe from scratch. Literally sawing the side panels and painstakingly constructing each CakeSafe. They have a small workshop space to store materials and construct products. As orders increased, he partnered with a family member skilled in robotics. “It was like a real-life episode of the Robot Wars in our shop!” Scott reminisced. Together, they created a CNC machine to increase speed of production tenfold and reduce the toll of manual labor.

It wasn’t until 2012 or 2013 that the business really began to turn a profit and they could bring in additional help, including Juli, who joined the business full time 2 years ago. “One piece of advice that I share with others is to keep at it everyday,” Scott shared. He added, “it may seem like our business just took off right away, but there was a good 3 year stretch where we were just barely covering our costs.”

Getting the Word Out & Winning Sales

With the groundwork laid it was time to generate business! Scott continued to network with local bakers and began to attend trade shows. For the first few years they attended every trade show they could possibly visit. Networking became a full time job.

The Team at the 2016 SoFlo Candy Expo - discounts offered for attendees.

The Team at the 2016 SoFlo Candy Expo — discounts offered for attendees

To get more exposure, they donated their products to instructors who would use the products in classes and during demonstrations at tradeshows. “We often generate interest at the shows, but don’t always sell on the spot. We tend to see a lot of sales come in after the show ends and folks return home,” Scott explained. Juli added, “we’ve run out of business cards in the past and had attendees take photos of my last copy — now we always pack extras!”

Their first sales actually came from some of the bakers they tested with, like Dianne Rockwell aka “the Cake Lady.”

Dianne is a local baker with serious clout in the cake industry. After receiving one of the initial cake boxes she called a week later in tears. Dianne was ready to give up the cake business because the stress and anxiety involved in delivering the cakes was taking a toll on her health. The CakeSafe removed the delivery anxiety and inspired Dianne to keep going.

Dianne’s belief that the CakeSafe literally “changed her life” was key to helping with early promotion. If you find an expert in your field to help promote your product the payoff is priceless.

Well known cake designers like Maggie Austin and Kara Bustos not only adopted the product, but also inspired the CakeSafe team to create innovative new products including their best selling Acrylic Disks, the Sugar Shack, and various Spray Booths. The CakeSafe got another boost when it played a supporting role on HGTV when one of Maggie Austin’s chocolate creations was delivered to the White House inside one.

Hannah Baharin transported this amazing cake in Malaysia in a CakeSafe!

Hannah Baharin transported this amazing cake in Malaysia in a CakeSafe!

Just as these new products were coming to market, Scott received news that his patent application had been approved and ownership rights to the CakeSafe design were officially theirs. A truly awesome achievement, congratulations from the Ecwid team!

Juli showing off how safe a CakeSafe will keep a cake

Juli showing off how safe a CakeSafe will keep a cake

In 2014 the team committed 100% to online sales. They hired a branding consultant and web designer to recreate the website, this time on the Drupal platform, initially using embedded Drupal commerce. Scott advocates hiring a professional for site creation since this wasn’t his area of expertise. “Drupal is probably great for developers, but it was really difficult for us to manage our store” Juli explained. They decided to stick with the Drupal site, but looked for an alternative solution to manage their store. That’s when they found Ecwid in early 2015.

“Ecwid is so easy for me, a non-techy person, to use.” Juli shared. “I love that I can just go in and update a product description, or add a new photo, without knowing anything about coding.” She’s also enjoys using the Ecwid “sell on the go” app and then raved about the recent addition of product images embedded in the email notifications when new sales come in.

CakeSafe box - No need to fear the center rod!

No need to fear the center rod!

As is true for many online merchants, shipping products has caused the CakeSafe team more than a few headaches. This was especially painful when international orders began to take off. “When we integrated our Ecwid store with Shipping Easy I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!” Juli exclaimed. Now, generating documentation for international shipments is quick and easy. The order shows up, and Shipping Easy automatically creates packing slips and shipping labels.

Sidenote: To tackle shipping — and other sales management woes — we’re branching out with lots of new solutions in the Ecwid App Market. Many of the features referenced in this story are benefits of the Ecwid Business Plan that CakeSafe uses.

Juli and CakeSafe employee Alexis shipping orders

Juli and CakeSafe employee Alexis shipping orders

One of the most tried and true sales techniques is good, old fashioned, word of mouth. The hard work the team has spent networking is paying off. Today, CakeSafe receives orders from people all over the world because famous bakers are spreading the news in their local markets. They still have a long way to go to saturate their target market, but they are well on their way. “The products we’ve given away have paid for themselves many times over,” Scott said. “But, don’t be surprised if it takes a few years to break even, building a solid business is a marathon not a sprint,” he advises.

***

At Ecwid we’re thrilled to support the CakeSafe team as they continue to grow and innovate. We’ll be tuning in on May 11th for the Facebook Live demo. Hope to see you there!

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About the author

Ashley leads Ecwid’s customer success initiatives and is passionate about creating happy customers and maximizing value. When she isn’t chatting with customers you’ll likely find her playing outdoors on a surf or snowboard.

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