Entrepreneur Mary Toner took inspiration from Airbnb and Pinterest to create online platform Bakers and Cakers which connects bakers and cake makers with customers.
Having trained as a pastry chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, Chapter One, Ms Toner was running a bespoke cake business while working as brand manager for patisserie maker Ladurée in Ireland. She found she was spending a lot of time referring people to other bakers as she often didn’t have the availability or capacity to take the orders.
It soon became clear to her that while there are “thousands of amazing people out there making cakes, customers weren’t finding them”.
When she began researching the area, she discovered about 70% of cake makers were operating their business from Facebook.
“They may be doing it at a professional capacity, but they don’t have the €2,000 or €3,000 it takes to build a website.”
Bakers and Cakers allows customers to search by location, product range, and date and they are matched with bakers who match their criteria. They can also use three Pinterest-style boards to search by tag or image.
“That’s how people are looking for cakes, they go onto Pinterest. They see a cake they want, they get in touch with the caker and ask, ‘Can you do this one?’”
Drawing on her contacts, Ms Toner asked fellow bakers what the “pain points” were for their business. One of these was the time spent on emails with customers for days they were already booked up or for products they don’t make. So Ms Toner added an Airbnb-type calendar to the platform, enabling each baker to block out the days they are not available.
Another problem Ms Toner aims to solve for bakers is how to make their business profitable.
She wants to build a cake costing function into the platform having heard fellow cake business owners complain about their profit margins.
“For example, butter costs X, eggs cost Y. So when they go to cost a cake for a customer, they can just put in the recipe and how long it takes to make it, and they’ll get the basic cost, and how much to charge to make a profit,” she says.
Additional features for bakers are a messaging service, online payments through Stripe, an invoicing function, and analytics, so bakers can monitor their profile views and see what’s working for customers.
Ms Toner says the platform is about giving bakers “a proper online presence that has functionality in the background that works as a business for them”.
With 120 bakers signed up and 50 orders through the site since its launch on a demo basis in August, Ms Toner says it shows that the business is meeting a need.
Earlier this year, Ms Toner was a finalist in the AIB Startup Academy. “The opportunity was amazing. It really helps you hone down your business quickly.”
She’s currently taking part in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme. Participants receive a stipend of €15,000, which she plans to spend on advertising and development.
Bakers and Cakers is free for customers and there’s a three-tier payment system for bakers. The first is a pay as you go system with a 10% fee of any order through the site; a €9.99 monthly charge with a 2.5% fee, and larger businesses can avail of a €39.99 monthly package with no transaction fees.
Ms Toner estimates there are around 4,000 independent bakers in Ireland and the market is worth about €3.5m a year. The biggest markets are for wedding, birthday and christening cakes.
She wants Bakers and Cakers to be the No 1 site for people selling or buying cakes. Ms Toner said the global baked goods market is worth €60bn and is growing at 4% annually. She estimates the bespoke industry is worth about a fifth of that.
As the only platform of its type in Ireland and the UK —Ms Toner says there is one similar company in Toronto — she’s in a hurry to “nab” the market before potential competitors.
“The platform is scaleable, so the thing is to use Ireland as my test market. Get suppliers on board, find out what works, what doesn’t work,” she said. “If we can get a small part of that it’s not a bad business to be in.”
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