Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's always good to feel confident in your choice

Not too long ago I got a call from a frantic woman who was hosting a small bridal show downtown.  Apparently, the baker who was providing the cake could not be reached (bells and whistles start going off in my head).  I got this call after 6pm, and she needed a cake, any cake, as a donation, for the next morning.  She tried to entice me by saying over 20 brides would be tasting and see my cake.  I am all for more folks tasting my cake and seeing my work, but I had just completed and delivered two labor intensive wedding cakes and had my own bridal show to attend and prep for the following day.

I had a customer who contacted me several times about a small party cake.  In my mind, she was a bit obsessive about a small cake.  She stopped by to drop something off for the cake, and we chatted for a bit.  It was at this point I realized why she was checking in on me.  She had ordered a cake in a previous year from someone who was opening her own cake business.  She decided to help her out and placed an order, but never got a cake after paying and repeated phone calls.  Another year she placed an order somewhere else, and while I don't remember the specific she was disappointed again and was without the ordered cake.

The moral of the stories?  Pick out a baker who is reputable.  They may be more expensive than that person on craigslist, but you won't be scrambling for a cake at the last minute.

Monday, August 29, 2011

No news is good news

I always wonder what my customers thought of their cake.  With most special occasion cakes, I get to see the customer's reaction at pickup/delivery, but with most wedding cakes, the only reaction I get, if any, is from the wait staff or venue manager.  Sometimes I get to see the bride, groom, or MOB, but it's pretty rare.

I have heard that some cake designers send each customer, not only brides/grooms, a thank you card for being part of their day/celebration and ask them for a review on google and/or weddingwire.  I have heard some even offer a coupon or discount off a future purchase for a positive review on these sites.  I am not either one of these folks.

While the thank you notes to customers seems like a nice gesture and supports good customer service, I just don't have the time, money, or desire to write out 2-6 thank you cards, address them, and mail them on a weekly basis.  In addition to that, I just don't see the point.  I don't expect a thank card from Lowe's or Target when I make a purchase from them.  And yes, I understand it's different as you get to know some of the brides/clients very well and it's a special event, but I guess the practice just seems odd to me.  I am sure it's my personality and dislike of thank you cards in general (I always tell folks not to send me thank you cards... I know they are thank you and I wouldn't have given them a gift/meal/whatever if I didn't want to and think they would be grateful) or maybe it is just my hatred of writing.  Regardless, it's just not something I do or plan on doing and I guess I hope my work is enough to have them come back

As for "paying" for reviews, I just think it is sleezy.  I want customers to leave reviews because they want to, not because they will get a free dozen cupcakes or whatever.  How many of us have filled out a survey, joined a website, or whatever to get something for free?  Do we really "care" about those things as long as we get that free item?

On the flip side, I do love thank you emails and cards from my customers, just because I like to know they were satisfied.  I know I may have contradicted myself a bit, but I like to know I did a good job... maybe I should call it a feedback note, instead of a thank you.  Again though, while I appreciate them, I don't expect them, especially formal ones.  For those I never hear anything from, I assume that I did an okay job, because in this case no news is good news.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is it time to go to Disney yet?

No... this is not my 4 year old talking... it's me... I am a Disney fanatic.  My family first took my younger brother and I when I was in 4th grade and if I remember correctly, we went again when I was in 6th grade, 9th grade, and my senior year of high school.  I then went with a bunch of friends my senior year of college for spring break.  I can't tell you the specifics of each trip, but I remember collecting a flag, pin and postcard from every country in Epcot.  I remember going on Spaceship Earth 15 times just because we could.  I remember eating at the restaurant in Mexico.  I remember loving everything and not wanting to leave.

After I graduated college, I spent my "vacations" at work, literally.  Not that I didn't take any time off, but when I did they were a day or two here or there and didn't go on an official vacation.  Once I met my husband, we started vacationing in Vegas (another love) and the Outer Banks with his family.  I had almost forgotten about Disney, but occasionally I would try to convince my husband's family to take a trip to Disney... without any success. My first child was born in 2007, and I knew I would finally get back to Disney!!  Of course, I kept hearing my mother's voice telling me that a child should not go to Disney before the  age of 5 or 6 so they can remember the trip.... 2012 seemed like a century away.

In 2009, I got pregnant with my second child and I made the executive decision that I was going to throw caution to the wind, ignore my mother's advice, and go to Disney, pregnant and with an almost 2.5 year old in diapers.  I think my mom thought I was nuts, but I didn't care... I wanted to go to Disney.  My family couldn't have been too upset with my decision as they came with us.

We had a great time and Aaron loved it, but would he remember anything from the trip?  A month or two after we were home, we went to Carlos O'Kelly, a Mexican restaurant that is in a "temple-like" building and he asked if we were going to go on the boat ride... for those of you who aren't familiar... there is a boat ride in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.  Not bad for a 2.5 year old.  In the months following, he has referred to the Dumbo ride, not liking the Pirates of the Carribean ride, the Muppet 3-D movie, and the Toy Story Mania ride.  I am sure he doesn't remember everything from the trip, but he sure does remember some of the highlights... again... not bad for a 2.5 year old (He is a very unique child... his VBS teacher said he is a man stuck in a child's body... and that is probably the best way to describe him).

So after the baby was born in Feb of 2010... I decided we were going back to Disney... again because I wanted to go back.  Aaron would be in his final year of preschool in 2011-2012, so fall of 2011 seemed perfect.  We asked around and heard that the beginning of November is a great time to visit Disney... so I was sold (and it's our wedding anniversary as well!).  Of course, we are now taking a 20 month old in diapers and a 4.5 year old, but there will be 5 adults accompanying them, so it should be manageable.  I don't know if Reid (the baby) will remember anything, but he recognizes Mickey Mouse already and loves to be out and socializing.  I know he will have a blast, and everyone else will as well.

It's getting closer (less than 2.5 months to go!) and everyone is talking about the trip, making plans, reminiscing previous trips, ... so can it just get here already?!?!  And yes... I am a very impatient person...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do you have a style?

We all have things we are attracted to, whether it is for us to wear or put in our home.  Sometimes we just like the way something looks, even if it typically doesn't fit our personalities or typical design sense.  My mom and aunt love everything "country", and needless to say I am not a fan.

I don't know if my home has a specific style, but I would put it somewhere within the traditional realm.  In the fashion arena, I am pretty basic... love jeans and casual shirts... so I guess you can say I am fashion-less.  However, when I am out shopping, I am always drawn to color, boldness, funkiness, and more modern than traditional items.  I also love retro items as well... particularly things with an art deco flare.

So when it comes to cake design, I am definitely drawn towards the simpler, cleaner, more modern cakes than the "old-fashioned" lots of piping and over-piping cakes.  I prefer stacked cakes to pillar separated cakes.  I prefer a white cake with one big statement element to staircases and fountains.  I like color, texture, and interest, not gobs and gobs of buttercream or royal icing.  I like things that are different and out-of-the-box.  I also like things that are done well and cleanly.  Nothing irks me more than seeing a bulge or a big wrinkle in the fondant.  It's just my personal style and preference, and I love to design cakes for those who want something a little different or allow me to design a cake for them.  I am not against doing a more traditional cake, but it doesn't get me as excited as trying out something new or different.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And the winner is...

Sorry I didn't blog yesterday but my older son is on vacation with his grandparents, which meant the baby spent most of the day in my lap.  I finally had to tell him to go play with some of his toys and he actually did... for about 5 minutes.  While it is nice to only have one child to feed, clothe, etc., the baby does like to follow his brother around, which gives me a little bit of a break.  On the other hand, my stress level has been down quite a bit because I don't have to argue with the older.  Anyway...

So to the good part... the winner ... via of the "Perfecting the Art of Buttercream" DVD is number 2... Stacey!!  Congrats Stacey!!  Please send me your mailing address and I will get that to you.

I will definitely be doing more giveaways... so keep checking in or better yet, start following the blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's new and fab

As some of you may have noticed, my blog has been redesigned not once, but twice in the past week or so.  Since I am a relatively new blogger, I couldn't decide how I wanted it laid out.  My first design was pretty much just to get the blog started, and my attempt at a redesign was mediocre at best.

I saw that my friend Meri at 2 Parents 5 Kids 365 Days redesigned her blog and figured I would ask for some advice as I really liked the setup of her blog.  To my surprise and appreciation, she took the time to redesign it for me!  It looks so much better!  So thank you Meri for taking the time to tinker with it!

Also don't forget about my giveaway in Friday's blog post!  Today is the last day to enter!  I know it is kinda specific to those of you who like to decorate, but it's a good base if you just want to make your kid's cakes too!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Close encounters of the cake celebrity kind - Giveaway!?!?!?

I try not to be a dork and go all crazy meeting "cake celebrities" but there are a few that I wanted to meet and talk to a bit.  I don't want to meet them because they are on TV, but because of what they have accomplished.  Not every decorator publishes a book, appears on TV, creates a new product/technique, etc.  Of course, not everyone gets recognized for their talent either.  Alright... enough of the chit chat.. and by the way... this is the most pictures you will EVER see of me...

Here is me with Edward Frys.  I took an introduction to airbrushing class with him back in March at the National Capital Area Cake show.  He has been on Food Network Challenge and does great work.  You may have seen this WALL-E cake or Yoda cake he did.

 This is James Roselle.  As I think I mentioned before, he does awesome sugar flowers... something I don't think I will ever be able to do.  He gave me some pointers, but for the most part, it's all about practice.
This is Jay Qualls of The Next Great Baker fame.  He was one of my favs from the show and he was the keynote speaker at the breakfast for shop owners.  He told us his story and how to work with social media.  One of my fav quotes from his talk was that just because you are busy, doesn't mean you are making money.  This applies to every business... not just cake... it kinda goes along with the "Work smarter, not harder".
 Of course, if you are at all familiar with cake, you know who this woman is.  She judges and critiques all the Food Network Challenge contestants, has published a book of her work, and of course is like the master of cake.  This is the only way I would meet her, so I figured I might as well ask for a pic.
Here is me with Marina Sousa.  She is probably the designer I look up to the most... and was the most excited to meet.  Maybe it's her style or the fact that she is a bigger girl like myself.  I also love her sugar molds and hopefully will find some time to give them a try.

And finally here is me with Sharon Zambito.  Sharon has a great line of DVDs that show you how to do various cake decorating techniques.  When I first started decorating, I borrowed Perfecting the Art of Buttercream and started using her tips and techniques.  I then bought all of her DVDs a few months later and learned a lot.  I still use some of Sharon's techniques, but I have also adapted some to fit me better.

 I get a lot of cake decorating DVDs... for me, I like seeing how different people do things and try to figure out what works best for me.  I have 3 or 4 DVDs on how to fondant a cake, and would gladly buy another... sure I have fondant down, but I feel the DVD is worth it if I get another tip or trick that I never heard of or seen before.  

So... to the giveaway... I have one of Sharon's Perfecting the Art of Buttercream DVDs up for grabs.  To enter, leave a comment below stating why you need/want this DVD.  For an additional entry, follow my blog and add a comment stating such (or add a comment that you are already a follower).  Entries will be accepted thru Monday the 15th of August.  Winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 16th.  Good Luck!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Credit Card Thieves Suck

I was going to write about some of the cake celebs I got to chat with at the convention, but I am going to sidetrack today because I am so angry.

A few days before I left for convention, Capital One called me to ask me if I had made a few charges on my business card.  One was from Napster for a little over $8 and the other was fit right or something clothing for $1300.  After some time on the phone and trying to figure out how to get a new card to me in Charlotte, I wondered where the thieves had gotten my card number from.  I went off to Charlotte, got a card there, and spent a ton.

So today, I called to activate my other cards on the business account and hear that my balance is WAY over what I expected.  I knew I spent a lot, but I didn't think I spent that much.  I asked the guy on the phone if the fraud charges were still on there and he said no.  Finding it impossible that I spent that much, I logged into my cap one account online and say another $1000+ charge to Dell.  I realize why that one wasn't flagged, since I had purchased a laptop from Dell before.  So I called back to report it, which let me tell you is near impossible, when one child is talking as loud as he can, the other is crying because you won't give him the phone, and you are trying to understand a muffled foreign accent.  Why is it that whenever I have a phone call the older one starts talking louder and more than usual?

On the bright side, it looks like on my convention purchases will be on my new bill, rather than the one that is coming in the mail!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ICES Convention 2011 - The Cakes

Today I am going to feature some of the cakes/techniques I found interesting for one reason or another.  Some I was just in awe of how they did it, while others I liked a particular idea or design or color combo... whatever.  Unfortunately I didn't note everyone's name, so if you know who made the cake, please post it in the comments.
This reminded me of my tye dye cake from  last year
I liked the simplicity of this.

Love the flowers!

Love the stringwork... it's not too much.

My kind of cake from Melanie Stanger.

Another one from Melanie Stanger... she had 54 TIERS displayed at ICES.


Cake by Mark Seaman

Sorry some of these pics are kinda all over the place... it's not allowing me to organize them better... or maybe it is user error.  Anyway, these were some of my favs... check in tomorrow... I will be doing my first ever blog giveaway!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ICES Convention 2011 - Charlotte, NC

It wasn't too long ago that my friend Zoraya introduced me to ICES, the International Cake Exploration Society.  I kinda giggled at the "exploration" part... is there a large cake somewhere that needs to be discovered?  Anyway, I joined and shortly after attended my first local cake show in VA.  As I got more involved with cake decorating, I learned a little bit more about the organization and found out that there is an annual convention every year where all the big names in cake decorating come together and teach classes, provide demonstrations, and introduce new techniques and products.  To me this sounded like heaven, but traveling to San Diego, CA, where last year's convention was held, seemed a bit out of my price range, plus the baby was only a few months old.  Disheartened, I found out that the following year's convention would be in Charlotte, NC... and that was within driving distance!!  So I started making plans to attend.

Fast forward several months and cakes later, and I was ready to have the experience of my cake decorating life.  Zoraya and I got down there around 12:30pm on Wednesday, unloaded, and headed over to the convention center to register, attend a "first-timers" orientation, and register our cake displays.

Thursday was the first full day of activities, and the only day I was taking hands-on classes.  I decided against taking several hands-on classes because a) they were more expensive than the demos, b) they take more time, and c) I wanted to make sure I had enough time to do everything else, most importantly, SHOPPING.  My first class was with Paul Caswell and Peter Gibson of The Sweet Guys in Orlando, FL.  They do a lot of chocolate work, so we made a sleigh and truffles.  Unfortunately we ran out of time, so I didn't get to assemble it... yet... but it actually turned out to be a good thing because I was able to carry it around with me in the molds in my bag.  Below is a picture of what the sleigh will look like.

The next class I took was Bas Relief and simple painting with Kelly Lance.  We painted a scene on a piece of gumpaste and then sculpted a fish on top of the scene.

Then came some demos... from stenciling to isomalt to making cake stands... I came home with a ton of new techniques, tricks, and ideas.... and a ton of new stuff.  Here is a pic of my "stash" after my first hour or so in the vendor hall...

I didn't take a pic of my entire stash, but needless to say I brought home A LOT!  Now I need some time to re-organize, unpack everything, and hope my credit card statement comes later than normal.  I actually bought so much I needed to empty some rolling carts filled with scrapbooking supplies that I never use, so I have more storage for my cake things.  How do you store your cake stuff?

Tomorrow I will show some of the displays I thought were neat... and then... close encounters of the cake celebrity kind...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes all you want to do is dive in head first

I have a problem... I have a lot of ideas .... from cake designs I would like to create to launching a product line to just sitting and playing with a new tool or technique.  And after this weekend at the 2011 ICES Convention, I have a million and one more things I want to do.  Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and well as I think I mentioned a few million times before I have those two little munchkins at home with me and orders I must complete. 

For me, one of the hardest things to do is wait... wait until the boys are older so I can have my time to really work on my business.  I know my boys are only small once, and that is why I gave up my original career as a Senior Business Analyst/SME (Subject Matter Expert) with a huge IT firm to be at home with them.  I wasn't looking to start a business, but it found me.  I am thankful for that.  So I will try to be patient, at least as patient as I can be, and wait for my time to shine. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Get that photographer over here!

It's been hot here... really hot here... with heat indexes near 120.  And as I have posted and reposted from others, heat and buttercream do not mix, and even with a fondant cake, things start to go south the longer a cake sits in the heat.  So I offer this piece of advice, have the photographer take pics of your cake as soon as possible, whether it is an inside or outside wedding.  Even do your place-your-knife-on-the-cake picture as soon as you can.  Why?  Because you never know what can happen to a cake from the time it is delivered to the time it needs to be cut.

But if the cake is supported correctly, what can happen... LOTS!  Obviously, one of the biggest culprits is heat... no matter how chilled a cake is, it doesn't take much time even in mild heat to start to soften which can cause sagging, leaning, and decorations to fall off.  Then there is the human factor... Uncle Jerry is enjoying the music and some drinks and whoops... there goes the cake.  Let's not forget about those little munchkins who love everything sweet and may decide to sample the icing before it is time!

I am sure we have all heard of or even a seen a cake not make it all the way to cake cutting, so just get that photographer over there!  At least you will have good pics!

Monday, August 1, 2011

But I really want a 3-D *insert famous character here* cake!

Ah yes... not a week goes by where I don't get a request for an Elmo, Mickey Mouse, or some other character/logo cake, and I have to inform the customer that I cannot make the cake they describe.  I always offer an alternative, decorating in the colors of the character or party supplies containing the character.  Another alternative is setting up a scene for the character so that a toy can be used on the cake.

Sometimes the suggestion works and sometimes it doesn't.  So why can't cake decorators do these types of cakes?  Kara Buntin, owner of A Cake to Remember in Richmond, VA is an author, certified pastry chef, cake designer extraordinaire, and blogger explains why.

"Whenever anyone starts talking about pictures of their cakes being stolen, all the other decorators rally to their defense and start talking about burning the photo thief at the stake. But if you look at the websites of the people whose pictures were stolen, chances are you might see someone's copyrighted logos or characters on the cakes that they've made.

I do mainly wedding cakes, but when grooms ask for a groom's cake that has a sports team logo, a college mascot, or a favorite brand on it, I have to get permission to use it.

If you make cakes with cartoon characters on them, you have to get permission to use them.

If you make a cake with a logo from another business, you have to get permission to use it.

Now, chances are that nobody is going to come calling to tell you that you've violated their copyrights, so it's really up to you to decide how much risk you're willing to take. If you're charged with a copyright violation, though, and the company does decide to follow through and make an example of you, don't expect it to be fun.

There are a lot of anecdotes about "copyright hunters" who go to bakeries and craft shows to see if they can find examples of violations. Disney is notorious for this, because they protect their copyrights so closely. There was one case where Louis Vuitton told a Scotttish bakery to stop making purse cakes that had their logo on it, so people are paying attention.

I have licensing agreements with a number of college and professional sports teams that allow me to make cakes with their logos and mascots. The professional teams usually have restrictions about not using photos of the finished cakes on websites or in advertising, so there are things that you have to do beyond just getting permission. Call the legal or community relations departments for the team or school to ask them what you need to do to use their logos.

Some companies are very casual about the use of their brands as long as it’s for a fan, and the logo will be used the way that it actually looks. But once again, you need to call and check with the legal departments from each company to find out what their requirements are.

Other companies are extremely protective of their brands, and won’t give you permission at all. When I wrote to Nickelodeon to find out what their policy was, they said that they don’t license their characters.

Then there’s Disney, which is the big Kahuna of characters. They own all of their own characters, obviously, and they recently bought the Marvel comics characters as well. No, you can’t get their license. No, don’t bother asking. No, you probably can’t afford it. And yes, they will prosecute you if they feel like it.

Here’s the link to the Disney Licensing page. Notice that they don’t have any pricing for the cost of the license listed? I assume that means “don’t ask” even if you do meet the rest of the requirements. And yes, bakeries and baked goods are a category, so they’re not overlooking us."

Thanks Kara!!
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