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Love baking and decorating cakes? Novelty cakes are slowly, but surely making their way to Malaysian parties…

Love baking and decorating cakes? Novelty cakes are slowly, but surely making their way to Malaysian parties

HAVING a party? Fancy having an Angry Bird, a Chanel handbag or a miniature version of yourself? Unlike traditional round or square cakes, novelty cakes come in all shapes and sizes and are sculpted and decorated according to the wishes of customers. Individuality always commands premium pricing and a mid-size cake (about 3kg) can cost RM1,000 or more.

Belinda Jee, co-owner of café TeaRoom by Bel Jee, and Zarina Khan, sole proprietor of Cakes and Concepts by Zarina Khan, believe that they have a unique business proposition. “Novelty cakes are trendy now. Consumers want cakes that are tasty and based on a chosen theme,” Jee says.

Sue Chin, founder of Cookie Box, concurs. “My sisters and I didn’t have a business plan when we set up a retail outlet at Empire Shopping Gallery in 2010. While researching the tenants in the shopping mall, we asked ourselves: ‘How are we going to be different from more established competitors?’ That’s when we decided that we should bake small novelty cakes,” she says.

What is and isn’t needed

Work experience in the F&B industry is not a prerequisite for this business model. Before starting their businesses, Zarina and Jee had been baking and selling cakes to families and friends in their spare time while holding full-time jobs. Chin discovered her passion for cake baking and decorating in 2005 after she quit her corporate job to care for her cancer-stricken mother. Zarina, who remains a full-time healthcare professional, set up a website for her part-time business in January while Jee left her job at a pharmaceutical company to open a shop in Bangsar in June last year.

Time and management ability, however, are paramount. Zarina says, “Sculpting flowers and figurines for novelty cakes is a time-consuming affair. You really have to be passionate and patient to do well. I expect a lot from myself and I refuse to compromise on the quality of my cakes. So, I only accept orders placed one or two weeks in advance.”

During the first eight months, Chin got less than four hours’ sleep each night. “I woke up at 3am to bake. Then I’d send my children to school and deliver my cakes by 10am. Then, I shopped for supplies,” she says.

Returns in many shapes

Chin needed RM30,000 to set up her first retail space in Empire Shopping Gallery two years ago. Now she has outlets in Berjaya Times Square Kuala Lumpur and Publika Shopping Gallery in Mont’Kiara. The cakes are baked in a central kitchen before being delivered to the outlets. “All the outlets are profitable. My business has been growing faster than I had expected. I’ve been approached by many shopping malls, and some people even asked whether they could be my franchisees, but I prefer to keep all my outlets now,” she says.

Meanwhile, Jee, who set up her cafe and cake shop with an initial investment of about RM150,000, says her business has yet to break even. “The business is still not able to pay dividends to its shareholders,” she says. But she has been receiving positive feedback. “A customer ordered a Chanel handbag cake for his wife. They couldn’t bear to cut it, saying it was too pretty, until a week later!” laughs Jee.

Zarina, who has invested about RM15,000 on cake workshops, baking tools and equipment over the years, finds cake-decorating therapeutic. “I feel happy when customers express their satisfaction at the finished product. I make a comfortable side income. It’s great that I’m getting paid for doing what I love,” she enthuses.

How much is that?

Owing to the amount of time and work involved, novelty cakes do not come cheap. Jee’s customised novelty cakes cost about RM400. “My partners and I believe that we can’t just focus on selling novelty cakes alone. They are expensive, and people don’t buy them frequently. This is why we also offer lunch, coffee and tea in our shop,” she says.

Chin’s strategy is to keep her cakes small and affordable to meet the demand from low- and middle-income earners. Her off-the-shelf novelty cakes are priced from RM18 to RM78 at her outlets. Customised birthday cakes are priced from RM300 to RM400 and wedding cakes cost as much as RM1,000.

To price customised orders, Chin looks at who is involved. “When I get an order, I will ask myself: ‘Can my employees do it, or must I do it myself?’ If it’s a generic design and I can delegate the work to my staff, the cake will cost less. If the design is more complicated and I need to do the decoration personally, it will be more expensive,” she says.

Zarina, who charges between RM300 and RM800 for her novelty cakes, says pricing depends on the cost of raw materials, as well as the cake’s size and design. Jee combines all these factors as well as her overhead cost and her hourly rate.

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