Ah yes... something every custom cake decorator/designer/artist hears at least once a month. It's the one thing we complain about when you get us in a room together. While we realize sticker shock is part of our business, we do wonder why folks think custom cakes are comparable to those from grocery stores or a "high-volume" bakery. It's like comparing a filet mignon at Ruth's Chris to a hamburger from McD's or a MDF storage unit to a skilled carpenter's cabinet. There's just nothing to compare in either of these cases... apples and oranges. However, both are needed (well the McD's hamburger is debatable) and have their uses.
To me, one of the biggest differences between the two is the amount of time it takes to prepare from start to finish. From ordering to cleanup.... I, with some help from hubby, am responsible for everything that goes into one order. I have to answer emails/phone calls, discuss/sketch designs, and host consults. I (or my husband) buy all the ingredients that go into my goodies. I hunt for and buy all my pans, cutters, tips, molds, etc that I use to create each cake or cookie. At this point, I haven't even remotely touched a pan or rolled out some fondant!
Now that everything has been purchased, I need to make buttercream, fillings, and the cake. Next, I can color fondant and/or buttercream to fit the cake's theme. After that, I start making those decorations... one of those things that can take 10 minutes or 10 hours. I also need to prep a cake board, support boards and dowels (if it is a tiered cake), piping bags, and a box. And finally it's assembly time!!! Leveling and torting the cake, filling the cake, icing the cake, rolling out fondant (if applicable), smoothing the fondant, decorating the cake and making those decorations that can't be made in advance. Whew! Glad that's over... oh wait... there is a mess of pans, tips, cutters, bowls... all over my kitchen and sink... time for clean up!!!
And finally, there is the paperwork, making deposits, and all those other business related things that take time too. Those items that fall under the "other" category on your status report at the end of the week. Sure these may take a few minutes here and there, but it is still time.
So now that I bored you with my weekly To Do list... I just wanted to point out that a lot more time goes into make a cake than most people think about. Even making a simple cake with a can of frosting and no decoration will take at least 15 minutes to mix and put in the oven, 15 minutes to ice, and 15 minutes to clean up, and then there is the idle time of having the cake bake and letting the cake cool.
I am going to end with some things that I read on a popular cake forum recently. One woman said that a supermarket bakery decorator is expected to churn out at least 4 - 8 sheet or small cakes an hour. These cakes are already baked, sometimes already even iced, so all they need to do is borders, make or place roses/decorations/airbursh/toys onto the cake, and personalize it, if necessary. The icing can come is pre-made, pre-colored, and some even already in piping bags. At less than 15 minutes each, they obviously should cost less than something that take 4 or more hours.
And in case anyone is wondering... yes... I do purchase cakes from BJs or Giant on occasion...