Fay Millar – Brighton Cakes
14th-20th September 2015 is NATIONAL CUPCAKE WEEK!
To celebrate we interviewed Fay Millar, founder of Brighton Cakes & Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows and mum of 9 year old Phoebe and 6 year old Maisie.
Would you mind giving us a brief explanation of what your business is and how it came about ?
I run a bespoke cake design and artisan marshmallow company. The cake business was started almost ten years ago and came about after I had my first daughter. Cake decorating had always been a passion of mine but up until that point it was confined to being a hobby. Once Phoebe, who is now 9 and a half, came along it was impossible for me to return to my old job as a news editor. Lack of flexibility from my employer and irregular working hours meant I had no choice but to quit. I went freelance instead, but set up my cake business on the side. When the recession hit in 2009 the freelance work dried up, but the cakes kept on going. Just over two years ago we rebranded as Brighton Cakes and have been growing it ever since. Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows really started by accident – when a cafe asked us if we made them. Having never made a single marshmallow before, we naturally said “yes!” then set about giving it a go. The results were pretty damn tasty so then we decided to add in other flavours and textures.
What made you Want to Start this Particular Business?
I have always loved baking and cake decorating from an early age. I often used to join my mother in the kitchen making anything from jam tarts and krispie treats to Victoria sponges and flap jack. My mother used to make fun cakes for our birthday, but never had the patience to decorate them and around the age of ten to eleven, I started taking over from her. I became interested in making sugar flowers and taught myself when I was a teenager. It really went from there, though had I not had my daughters and been unable to go back to work it would probably have still remained a hobby.
Did you have any specific training?
I have never had any formal training, although over the last few years I have attended a number of cake and business related courses.??What difficulties did you experience setting up your business and what has got you through the tough times?
Money was always the major problem when setting up the business. Never having enough start-up capital to do exactly what we wanted, and it is still that way now. Things don’t advance as quickly as I would like, because we don’t always have the cashflow. Having said that, we have largely funded our own growth and have not had to rely on banks or investors.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt so far?
Being in business for yourself is really tough!! You give up a 40 hour working week for an 80 hour working week. In addition, all the responsibility falls to you and you are never totally free of the business, it is always in the back of your mind. You have to be tenacious and want to succeed and you have to keep the bigger picture in your head. It is easy to become disheartened in the day to day nitty gritty, so it is important to have a plan and take a step back every so often to check your progress and see how far you really have come.
??What do you think it takes to succeed in business?
A lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. It is also important to have a solid plan in place and to know your target market. It is also vital to put as much effort into marketing and sales as you possibly can – you may have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it you won’t have a business. I would say 70% of my time is spent on the running of the business now, rather than actually making cakes and marshmallows.
If you were starting all over again tomorrow, what are the top 3 rules you would follow?
- I would be more careful about where I spend my money and I would do more research – we have wasted an awful lot of money on web designers who quite frankly let us down.
- I would make sure I had a solid business and marketing plan in place from the start. It is very important to have a plan of action so you know what your goals are, where you want to be in one, five and ten years time, and what you hope to achieve from the business. Not only does it help to keep you on track but it also helps you to look back and see what you have achieved.
- I would spend less money on advertising! In the beginning I spent a lot of money on pretty adverts, but I found that a great online presence, particularly Facebook and twitter, and of course word of mouth and recommendations, are the best way to get business.
As a mum, do you have any tips for dealing with the struggles of balancing work and family life?
I struggle with this one sometimes. There is the constant tug of guilt that I am not spending enough time with my children, but then when I do spend time with them I feel guilty for neglecting the business. I think it is important to spend quality time with your children, when you turn off the phone and the emails. Having said that, my two love to get involved with what I do anyway and we often bake cakes and cookies together, just as I did with my mum.
Do you have a mentor and, when you need advice, who do you talk to?
I do have a mentor now but didn’t when I began. I talk to my partner who also runs his own business for advice sometimes or certain other small business owners with whom I have a good relationship.
What tips would you give anyone wanting to start a catering business?
Do your research thoroughly and make sure you have picked the right market for you. There are literally thousands of small businesses out there doing similar things and it can be a very crowded market. You need to be sure your products will stand out from others or that you have something different to offer customers. You also need to be mindful of all the health and safety regulations involved and check with your local council about all the requirements before you start.
There are obviously a lot of rules and regulations to comply with when launching any kind of food or catering business, how did you get your head around all the red tape and where would anyone wanting to start a business in the food industry find all the relevant info?
It is best to get in touch with your local council’s environmental health department and they will give you all the relevant info for starting up a business, either in commercial premises or from home. They will inspect you and you need to be prepared for that. There are various food safety courses which can be done as well and we all hold food handling safety certificates. There are plenty of websites that offer you advice on it so it is worth checking online for lots of info.You need to keep abreast of the various regulations because food labelling does change and you need to make sure your labelling is adequate.
What are your plans for the future?
We rent a kitchen for some of our work but we don’t have a full-time commercial kitchen yet. Our plan is to grow to a point where that becomes a reality and to open a shop in Brighton in the next two years selling marshmallows and cake. We want to have a Miss Millar’s Marvellous Mallows Bar where you can choose from the menu and toast your marshmallows over burners (if health and safety allows us to do it!). We also want to increase marshmallow sales within the wholesale and afternoon tea markets and, eventually, we would like to launch a proper teaching programme for cake decorating.
STARTING A CAKE MAKING BUSINESS
According to a recent article in The Telegraph, last year we bought 110 million cupcakes, and the British baking industry is now worth £3.4?billion.
The Food Standards agency has a start up guide ‘Your First Steps To Running A Catering Business’, which looks in depth at the main topics :
• Where your business will be
• Managing food safety
• Good food hygiene
• Rules about menus
• Paperwork and finances
• The law and what help can you get
They also have a great Checklist for Starting A Food Business
For information on health and safety visit the Health and Safety Executive website.