The Cake Nest - a family-run baking business in the High Peak
PUBLISHED: 13:52 12 June 2014
A year and a half ago Derbyshire Life interviewed former banker Abigail Phillips and her husband Steve, a former architect, as they embarked on a new cake-baking enterprise from home. Lissa Cook returns for an update...
When we last talked to Abigail Phillips her fledgeling home-run business – baking and delivering slices of cake by post – was going from strength to strength. Eighteen months on, she and her husband Steve have flown ‘The Cake Nest’, set up premises in the High Peak and taken on staff.
‘It’s been wonderful – you really feel like you’re in business,’ says 36-year-old Abi. ‘We used to love working from our home in Buxworth but there’s just something about being able to shut the door at night and walk away.’
Abi’s innovative idea was not just to home-bake and sell delicious cakes but to come up with a whole new business model – selling by the slice and delivering by post all over the country. As she puts it, ‘It’s the nostalgia, indulgence, and feel-good factor baked together and put in a package that will fit through your letterbox.’ Their Cake Slice Club proved so popular she was approached by ‘Not On The High Street.com’ to become one of their retailers and it’s their best-seller, providing a reliable source of custom.
Excitingly, it’s also allowed Abi to step out of the kitchen and complete the Goldman Sachs’ ‘10,000 Small Businesses’ course – a 100 hour programme designed by international business experts and delivered at some of the UK’s top business schools. So what has she learnt? The biggest lesson has been stepping back. The Goldman Sachs mantra is ‘If you’re the diamond in the business, you haven’t got a business because you can’t sell it on.’
Abi and Steve took advice from Richard Binch at Hayfield HR and have been able to take on two local employees – 48-year-old Lindsey King and 18-year-old Ben Bailey, both from Whaley Bridge. Employing Lindsey, a former wedding organiser and events manager, to work almost full-time in the kitchen has allowed them to concentrate on administration, PR and marketing, with Ben helping part-time.
The glass-fronted premises on the main road in Furness Vale are an open-plan office, shop and kitchen combined, with a clean, professional feel that is also warm and inviting. My husband Nik and I were lucky enough to be invited to the opening night where there was a real buzz. I asked why they decided against an out-of-town industrial unit?
Abi says, ‘The building suits us. It’s not too big but there’s still room to grow. We’re mainly an online delivery business so we don’t need footfall but it acts as a great advertising hoarding for people driving past and most importantly we feel part of the local community. It also works well for our small team – no-one feels shut off in the kitchen or a back office. We’ve had parties at The Soldier Dick pub and Ben can pop over the road for fish and chips!’
Abi’s innate caution about not over-expanding stems from her former career as a banker. She says it’s how they’ve been able to buck the economic downturn and grow by an amazing 24% last year. ‘I look after the pennies. I’m very aware of how much money we’ve got and if we don’t have it, we don’t spend it. Moving wasn’t a massive deal – it had to be a small step out of the door. We initially took on Lindsey for just nine hours a week and her hours crept up slowly and now she’s baking nearly full time.’
Steve’s strength, as an architect, is attention to detail. He makes sure everything looks aesthetically pleasing, from the photographs on the website to the actual products. This is critical for inspiring customer confidence and ensuring repeat business. ‘After all,’ Abi says, ‘you don’t want to think you’re going to get crumbs through the door.’
The couple seem most proud of having built the business round their two girls – 5-year-old Francesca and 7-year-old Charlotte. ‘That’s another big advantage of being on the high street,’ says Abi. ‘There’s a play park round the corner. Steve drops the girls at school in the morning and I pop out and pick them up in the afternoon and we all eat dinner together every evening. They’ve grown up with the business and know it almost as well as we do. They even come in to help stick labels on the cake boxes.’
Abi and Steve are determined to maintain their work-life balance. Steve is a keen cyclist who buys, reconditions and sells on bikes. Abi gets time-out by running. She trained as a Jog Derbyshire leader and ran a successful weekly jog group which she’ll be restarting now she has finished her business course. ‘The more exercise I do the more level headed I am and I get a real sense of enjoyment out of helping people who think they can’t run.’
I’m keen to know if she still bakes for pleasure. ‘Oh yes! We love Sunday dinners. Steve goes out cycling and the kids and I make a big roast and a lovely dessert. Our lemon meringue Sunday pud (recipe right) is one of our most popular posts on Facebook.’
And what is her advice to anyone who is thinking of quitting their day job and setting up in business? ‘Don’t think about it. The more you think about it, the more complicated it gets and you’ll talk yourself out of it. Just do it.’