I've been as many of you know who read this blog on a tough and deeply spiritual road since entering this industry. (most of my life really) Unlike most in this field, I never wanted to do cake, yet now I can't get away. Easily enough I got into cakes to try to please my mother. That failed obviously because I haven't spoken to her in over a year now. before all of that, I was an enthusiastic cake guy, who, when approached with the possibility of Tv shows featuring me doing cake, I saw it as an opportunity that would be life changing. Well... It was life changing, but is it all good? it even makes me wonder, has it been good for the industry in general?
I can't complain to much as I do on occasion get to do some really great stuff. It could be argued even that you wouldn't even be reading this blog if it not have been for the time I've spent before a camera. But has Tv created a business opportunity for me to make a living off of cake. The answer is apparently shocking to many. NO. As you may have read in a previous blog, there is a rampant disease among cake artist in which they fake it. Fake it sounds bad and maybe I should just say they ( and I've been guilty of it too) allow people to believe they are more successful than reality proves. I've rarely been paid enough for a cake to say it was lucrative. More often than not I barely break even and if I'm truely honest, I could make more per hour flipping burgers. (not to mention I'd have scheduled hours, days off and benefits, none of which I have now)... The Up side of what I do is that I do love the people side of it. I love that in writing this I feel as though I'm chatting with you. You are in a sense my own personal private shrink. My sincere hope is that by sharing my own struggle and story with you that you and I both might grow in some way. I absolutely love to see and meet new people. I honestly believe that I can feel the energy of those around me and for the most part, the energy with cake people is amazing! So, as an industry of artist, sharing and learning together, we can't be beat. But TV has changed the way the world, and many people within the cake community view what it is that we do.
As the bonified 3 time winner of Cake off, I'm supposed to be, or maybe atleast I'm supposed to feel like I am a successful champion. So it can be said for many of the others who, like me have had success on TV shows. The appearance presented on Tv is of success, and so the pressure to be successful in reality is intensified! And so, in my opinion anyway, many of "us" (TV personalities) put on a continual show long after the cameras have stopped... I've been flat out disgusted by some of the B.S. that has been said in public about what we do. I had one fellow cake off winner tell me proudly and publicly, they regularly get over $1000.00 for car cakes. I've read articles from another where they claim that they frequently do cakes that cost more than most people's car. I don't buy it for a second, but the fact is, many of the people who hear it will believe it, and when they quit their day job to persue a glamorous money making life as a cake shop owner, they will be greatly discouraged when they find out that to 90% of the public thinks anything over $100 bucks is Crazy! expensive!... If success on Tv translated directly to financial gains in business, than I as the supposed champ of a series should be at the top of the price and income brackets, and I wish I was! I know fist hand that I'm not the only one that expected it to change my business for the better only to be sadly disappointed by the sting of reality ( and I don't mean the TV kind of "reality")
In the begining Cake TV was about cake and you could actually learn something from watching it. It wasn't because the producers wanted it to be educational, as I can assure you they're far more interested in it being entertaining than anything else. Many of the general public and most all cake enthusiast watched and loved the work portrayed on TV. This gave rise to litterally thousands of new and budding decorators/artist and increased the demand for great cakes. But as things seem to do on TV, they get repeated, and copied, and spin-off's come from everywhere, until the shows are so diluted and empty of real content that all the producers have is the drama. The drama in most cases is completely made up and contrived, or at the very least inflated by the powers behind the scenes. The belief is that you can make up for the lack of valuable content with a quirky or sometimes rude even mean cast member. After so long and so many shows there are litterally hundreds of "TV Celebrities" now in the cake world. Add to that the general concensus that being on TV gives you the magical power to get paid more than most people's cars are worth for a single cake, and the idea that being on a show makes you somehow better and more successful and there's trouble a brewin'!
It's becoming incresingly difficult for established bakeries to get enough for cakes to be profitable. Why? Well, perhaps in part to the attention garnered by TV for cake and the alure of being on TV, new decorators have popped up everywhere! Everyone believes that it's a magical land of sugar coated cash, where time and leisure abound. But with so many new and often extremely underpriced cake people out there, the market is litterally flooded with cake. In addition to that is the perception by would be clients that cake making is easy. People have no concept of the cost and time involved, and have even less respect for the talent and skills required to do top notch work. They see huge magical works of art seemingly produced in a short days work, editied into a drama packed hour. The demand for these cakes is great, but the willingness, or more importantly the lack of understanding of the value of them isn't enough to justify the customer spending what it should take to buy one. It's a tough situation and one I'm not sure is correctable.
How do we change the mindset of potential clients and make them understand the value of a cake. "Yes it's a thousand dollars, and at that price I get to be paid $3.00 an hour to do it for you." "I get to spend 30 hours creating it, spend hundreds on supplies, drive an hour to your event, where , there isn't a table set up yet, so I get to wait an hour for the friggin staff to find the right table and cloth." "We won't even go into the fact that I was still working on your cake at 4am, when I should have been at home friday evening watching a movie on the couch with the kids." No customer will ever consider that when they ask for a cake, as they just can't begin to understand what it means to do what we do. Add to that the "supermarket" mentality, that for a buck twenty five a serving you can have some 16 year old kid scribble "happy Birthday" on a sheet cake and be satisfied; we're all in trouble.
It may not be all TV's fault though... Maybe we've all gotten so good at producing the stuff we've seen on tv that it's just not much of a surprise to the client any more? Could our increase in ability and skills be the reason why the general public is seemingly not impressed enough to shell out enough cash to make it worth our while. In spite of the chance that it might sound like I'm bragging, I get told all the time when I demo that I make it look really easy. I frequently do demonstrations where in an hour I make a sculptured cake in the form of something a visitor in the crowd asked for.
I've done this so many times and it's always something different. But is it a good thing to make it look too easy? Maybe by doing so I'm reducing the percieved value of the finished product? Could we be improving ourselves out of work? I got to wonder... When I do cakes for clients I always go above and beyond on their cake whether I feel the price justifies it or not. Maybe that too has hurt the value.
I'm left with 2 choices these days, and everyday that passes makes the decision that much easier. Continue to loose money doing cakes for sale, or focus instead on spending my time in the more valuable and definately more enjoyable persuit of sharing. I've always been clear that inspite of the trouble with cake for myself as a non-profitable business choice, I love the art side of it and even more so I love sharing my talents and experience with others. I absolutely love to learn and everytime I teach a class I learn something, gain friends and have a great time! I hope it doesn't sound like I'm bashing the industry of cake. I'm only giving my own personal view of it and as they say the views and perspectives expressed may not be that of the producers and it's affiliates! It is a tough industry. If my saying so and admitting my own troubles within it helps someone else feel a little less like they've failed or just haven't figured it out, then it's very worth it to me. I am after all the "Black Sheep" and it's my job to do and say the things that those who demand you "Not look behind the curtain" would never fess up to. We are all in this together...
peace n love