Custom Cakes and Economies of Scale

In a world of mass produced consumer goods and outsourcing, I think we have all come to expect things to be better, faster and cheaper.

Which is true when manufacturing gets done offshore in countries with a lower cost of living and people improve machines to work more efficiently. But in an industry like custom cake decorating, let’s not forget that everything is made with these –

Hands. Sure, there are certain elements that can be bought to place on cakes but it is not always possible to get the right size, shape and colour the client wants. Plus, good artists pride themselves in making all the elements themselves. I think it’s true for me to say that with most decorators, the cake and decorations are not made more than one week in advance and every element in the cake is made by hand and totally customisable – from the colours, to the size of the flowers and even how the stripes and dots are laid out.

It took just about 6 hours to pipe all the detailed print on this cake.

So based on the above it is to be expected that we don’t just have machines or stock on hand to take advantage of economies of scale. Each project is always different from start to finish and unlike a printer (for example) just because a client orders more does not mean it takes a decorator any less time to do the work.

Like everyone else, our work is based on an hourly rate. What a decorator decides to charge as their hourly rate is dependent on their skill level and is their choice. The number of decorators have certainly grown over the last couple of years which is fantastic for the consumer because it offers choice. Choice of different design styles and choice for different budgets. But what concerns me is the growing number of decorating businesses who are not doing the industry and most importantly themselves any justice.

A custom designed cake is not like a printer where you can just turn the machine on and leave it running overnight and when you come back the next day, the job is done.

The skyline on this cake was all hand cut and took over 4 hours to trace, cut and assemble on the cake.

If someone does not physically have their hands busy working on a cake, nothing gets done. Unlike a commercial bakery we are not working on volume and turning over 2,000 generic cupcakes a day (and these still get charged at $5.50 per cupcake). The cupcakes ordered from a custom decorator has been carefully thought out and designed just for each client. And when a client orders 24 or even 100, how is it right that the decorator is charging less then the amount a mass produced bakery would charge?

And when the only thing a decorator has going for their business is the price tag, I believe it won’t be very sustainable at all. When clients come back and tell me they are able to get a cake somewhere else significantly cheaper, it really baffles me. I’m not talking about 5- 10% cheaper, I’m talking about 40 – 50% cheaper. It’s great that the client got a deal, but what really baffles me is that the decorator will end up working for less than $5 an hour. 15 year olds working at McDonalds get more then that and they just operate the cash register – not liase with the clients, send sketches, bake and decorate.

So think about that and be fair to yourself, if I was averaging $5 an hour I’d much rather be spending the time with my family instead. I’ll admit that when I first started I was clueless about how to charge. I assumed that because the bakery is charging $5.50 for a cupcake, I should too. Well… we all learn from our mistakes and I hope this post inspires those decorators out there not to make the same mistakes and to be fair to themselves.

The many flowers on this cake took 3 days to create and dust.

At the end of the day, I understand that everyone has different costs to factor in (some have a shop and employees, others work from home, and some may just do it for a little spare income). But don’t sell yourself short – As everything is made by hand, no two cakes are the same even if it’s the same decorator replicating his/ her own design so comparing it just based on price is not right.

34 thoughts on “Custom Cakes and Economies of Scale

  1. Well said! I am going to print this and show it to my clients the next time they complain about pricing. It will save me time to explain exactly what you just said.

  2. Great post, Sharon. Custom cakes are edible pieces of art and should be priced accordingly… those who don’t like it should perhaps go to Michael’s Patisserie instead! :p

  3. I totally agree… people always think our pricing is steep and let me tell you its not, as you say we hand make everything and it takes time to do so why should we work for nothing.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I struggle with such comments daily. So very few people, in other professions, would do as much as we do for so little. I pride myself not only in the art that I create, but that my ingredients are simply, flour, sugar, butter, eggs. I don’t compromise. Oh, btw, Mayen sent me here 😉

  5. How true this is!! Think i will be printing this also…. saves time explaining costs so thankyou for posting

  6. Thank you so much for this post! It has taken me so long to become confident enough to start charging more for my cakes! It really makes it hard when people expect them to be the same price as a bakery or chain shop – or even cheaper! And I find that now I am charging more I am only getting customers who are happy to pay because they appreciate my work. I love seeing your posts because they inspire me to become better cake by cake! 🙂

  7. Well said and it applies to all handmade business’ People sell themselves short all the time and it’s hard to charge what you are worth and getting people to realise that you really are worth it.

    Your cakes are spectacular!

  8. WELL SAID!!!!!!!!! Your heart, soul, love, time, energy and talents are reflected in the fine works of art you create. If I am not getting paid at least a decent amount, I’d rather relax…..or make something as a gift to brighten someone else’s week!!!!!

  9. Another fabulous post Sharon!
    There’s a business in Port Melbourne selling cupcakes for just $3.50! I had a rather rude customer lately say ‘Im getting them from (wont say the business name) instead – they’re waaay cheaper than you’
    I just wished her luck. They’re more than entitled and welcome to order from whomever they choose. BUt I sell quality, and they pay fairly, for that quality.

  10. Thanks for this tip. My friend and I are a bit unsure about pricing our products accordingly. Some people don’t understand that these cakes require a lot of time and effort. I am still a beginner though, but I think it is just fair that my price should increase as my skill increases too.

  11. I think the problem lies with the fact that there are so many more cake decorators out there now. All competing for customers (in my local 2-mile area alone there are 5 of us). When a cake decorator is new and they want to build their customer base and portfolio, they often undercharge. However, this then means they are in a difficult position when they eventually have to raise their prices to stay in business.

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