It is no secret that locally owned shops are struggling against online companies like Amazon that make ordering easy and shipping fast. As a result many have gone out of business or struggle to make a consistent profit. Art is in Cakes owner Natalie Madison knew this alarming trend when she opened her baking supply shop a year ago. Instead of worrying about the trend, Madison leveraged technology in her store to help her stay ahead of it.
As I have built my career, and later business, around helping small businesses, it is something I have seen often. Dramatic shifts in the way products are sold or ideas are shared end up dooming small businesses. During my years in manufacturing I saw it with the growth in cheaper factories in developing countries. In publishing and marketing it was the rise of online media and the later the declining relevance of advertising. Along the way the small companies that found a way to use the trends to their benefit thrived, and the once that refused to change eventually died.
In Art is in Cakes, Madison decided to build a business on using the trends to benefit her shop.
“You can get decorating supplies online easily now,” Madison explains. “We started off with the rule that if we couldn’t either offer a product at a competitive price, or at least make it relevant by immediate convenience then we wouldn’t sell it.”
The immediate philosophy helped decide what products to pack into the small shop, eliminating products that would be slow to sell. Then she took things one step further by investing in technology.
3D printing is one example. Art is in Cakes already offers one of the largest cookie cutter selections in the state, but to really secure that business she purchased a 3D printer and began training herself on using it. Now if you come in with a special need and can’t find a cookie cutter, you can sketch it out or upload an image and she will turn it into a custom cutter that is ready in 24-48.
“The customers do not need any 3D modeling skill, we take care of that all in house,” Madison says. “We can also have a quick turn around for anyone who needs it fast. Plus, if we start getting multiple orders for the same basic shape I will print off multiple ones and put them on the shelf for a cheaper price.”
At just $8 a custom cutter, it is both cheaper and faster than using popular 3D printing services like Shapeways, plus most of those services require you to submit a finished 3D model.
It is a service that has worked so well that Madison has now bought a laser cutter/engraver and will soon offer custom cake toppers. It is these types of services that make it the obvious place to go. Oh and they have most of everything else you need to decorate the cookies you made using your custom cutter and decorate (and even purchase) the cakes for your custom topper.
Madison then takes things one step further with her ongoing cooking and cake decorating classes. Such classes are on the rise around Little Rock, it is a popular way to either learn something new or just bring a few friends (and a bottle of wine) and have a good time.
The increase competition naturally means decreased overall attendance. Something Madison prepared for when she build the training room at Art is in Cakes. The room is equipped with cameras galore, something that not only helps attendees see what is going on better on the screen, but also plays into the next iteration of cooking classes.
“Soon we are going to start offering virtual classes along side our in house options,” Madison tells us. “Someone can sign up and we will ship them everything they need for the class. They can then join us from their own home and go through the class remotely. The cameras everywhere make it so that they feel like they are in the class and we can zoom in and show them intricate steps that would otherwise be missed following a recipe.”
This move allows Art is in Cakes to pull attendees across the globe, not just here in Little Rock.
Art is in Cakes appears to be positioned for the long haul. Plus Madison is always looking into ways to leverage technology, trends, and competitive advantage to stay ahead of the curve and offer products and services not available by larger competition.