Business

How I took my london bakery online and moved it to Devon because of the pandemic

When the first lockdown hit, London based brownie maker Katie Cross saw wholesale orders dwindle overnight.

Cake or Death brownies were sold in some of London’s poshest coffee houses, including the Royal Court Theatre, but demand for her vegan chocolate brownies fell away when they were forced to shut.

And it led to her pursuing a long held dream to move from the capital to the countryside – without as much thought as you might think.

With her husband working from home and a chance to take her business online and direct to customers via mail order, she realised she could work anywhere and that anywhere was Devon.

She said: “It’s very hard for people in London who during the lockdowns and the restrictions found themselves on a massive housing estate without anything to see or do, which is essentially what London is without all the restaurants and theatres and everything else open.

Katie set up in 2019 but when lockdown hit in March 2020, she realised that she would have to take her business direct to customers in order to survive and that’s when she set up her ecommerce website for mail order delivery.

She knew her products would go down well – they’ve bagged complimentary reviews from the Independent, Metro, BBC Good Food and Huffington Post among many others.

And the move from Dalston in East London to Exeter in Devon soon followed: “I’d like to say we thought about but we really didn’t. We saw a house on Rightmove and I thought, ‘Wow, that could be our house.'”

Katie has now launched her business at 68 Bartholomew Street, Exeter – just off Exeter’s thriving indie quarter on Fore Street.

And her move to online sales has really taken off. On average, Cake or Death saw orders grow from 20 a week in March 2020 to 700 per week in January 2021. Christmas orders were so popular that they were closed mid-December so the bakery could fulfil purchases without being overwhelmed.

Katie has a retail counter too but sells most of her brownies mail order.

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Here she explains five key steps she took to transform her business….

1. Find the right commercial space

“I just assumed it would be easy to find a commercial space, which was absolutely not the case when I got down here. Exeter is amazingly positioned from the M5 and virtually every agent laughed at me when I said I was after a small commercial space. If I’d known that before, I definitely would have been more hesitant. It took about six months from starting to look and eight months to finally move in.”

This is the first time that she has properly embraced retail from her bakery site, selling her brownies direct to customers and installing a coffee machine too, selling six days a week 10-4.

2. The pitfalls of ecommerce

Katie said she had to learn very quickly how to create an enticing website when the pandemic hit. Luckily, she already had the bones of a site up and running which she could build on to make an ecommerce site.

She said: “I soon learned that ecommerce is complicated and it is not as simple as taking a few pictures yourself and putting them up. It doesn’t work.”

When I first started up the site, I was getting five orders a week max, and that was sympathy orders from family and friends and I was doing all the work of taking it to the post office myself where they would congratulate me on getting the orders in.”

“Now, I would say 80% of my business is from people buying gifts for friends and family and I have a lot of repeat business.

“One of the things to consider with ecommerce is the amount of queries you need to answer from queries about allergies or making bespoke brownies. Factor in the amount of time that takes to respond to those.”

3. The value of instagram

“I can honestly say I would not have a business without instagram,” said Katie. “It has been amazing.”

From being a sceptic two years ago, Katie has amassed a 17.2k strong following and said it has been essential in building her brand and audience.

She explained: “You can engage and interact with customers in a way that the big brands just cannot compete with.

“I love writing posts and posting pictures and getting feedback from people. Our instagram followers have been so supportive.”

4. Look after your staff

The team of staff I have now I pay at the same rate I was paying my staff in London because I just think if you value your staff and recognise that what they do is hard work and takes skills then you should pay for that.”

With a background as a professional fundraiser, building income streams for big charities include Greenpeace and the NSPCC, Katie said: “You can’t work for the non-profit sector for years then move into business and become a tyrant. It doesn’t work like that.”

5. Have a business brain

Katie explained that she has already been incredibly target driven and is able to use those skills of business development she learned in the charity sector in her new venture.

“If all you want to do is stand by the oven and make brownies for the rest of your life then it would be fun but you are not going t grow your business, it’s as simple as that.

“I love baking but I also really enjoy coming up with new ideas, product development and thinking about how the business can grow – the whole business part of it, really

“Having the idea, seeing people enjoy it and coming back for more makes me happy.”

Be part of the conversation: Tell us if you’ve escaped to the country during the pandemic – what have been the highs and lows. Share your story in the comments section.

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