Monday, July 9, 2012

What's the plan??

A friend of mine that I've worked with in the past recently found out that she can't continue doing cakes.  It's nothing terribly serious but it keeps her from doing what she's done for many years.  It got me to thinking, What's my plan? 

    You all know my stance on our industry...  It's tough, the money sucks and the time involved is ridiculous!, But since I'm still booked for a good chunk of the near future, I'll still be doing cakes on atleast a part time basis.  My clients come to me and expect me to help them choose the right cake for them.  They put their trust in me, and as my reputation is good they rely on me and have faith that I will deliver what I promised I would.  but what if I can't?

My friends medical issues got me to wondering.  A question I've never been asked by a client is "what happens if you can't make my cake?   I have on the bottom of my order form a disclaimer that states that I'm not responsible for things that are out of my control; weather, riots, power outages and etc.  ( I also limit my liability to the value of the cake, for what it's worth)  There is no mention of a plan, nor have I given much thought to the scenario of what happens if I become un-able to do your cake.  Some weekends it wouldn't be a huge problem, as birthday cakes are not such a big thing that the customer couldn't just order somewhere else, but weddings, and bigger corporate cakes?  And what happens if it's very short notice?  What if on friday morning something happens that keeps me from accomplishing the work at hand?  How would my clients even know their cake wasn't coming?  What's plan "B" 

Our industry is a very unforgiving one.  If you take your car to a mechanic, and a week later the repair fails, you have it towed back.  You go to your doctor and she can't quite figure out what's wrong with you, she prescribes a pill.  If you get well, great, if not you come right back and pay her to prescribe yet another pill, but cake clients are not so forgiving.  The nature of cakes is they are for an exact occasion and needed by a finite time, or they are good for nothing.  A wedding cake can't be delivered after the ceremony, nor can any cake be used for it's intended purpose, once the event it's for passes, so, in a sense there is no better late than never, late is as good as never.  In my day to day operations we plan ahead!  We start our deliveries early so as to allow time for problems.  If I have a flat tire, the extra hours I planned for deliveries allows for that.  I try to allow enough time before the absolute delivery deadline to allow me to make repairs, fix errors and on occasion find my way to a unfamiliar venue (not that I've ever been lost!)   Some of the other issues are out of my control; like a venue staff that in spite of the fact that they knew I'd be there needing to drop off a cake by 11:00 aren't ready with a covered table until after 1:00, or a traffic jam created when some guys Jetta burst into flames (true story)...  These are things I plan for and when the van is full of cakes, I worry about every saturday, but still I have no solid plan for an issue that keeps me from being physically able to make a clients cake. 

In my friends situation, she called me and asked if I would be willing to do them for her.  This seemed like a great plan until she tried to explain the facts to her clientel.  Besides that fact that brides are rightfully worried about finding out that the cake artist they had chosen, is passing the work on to someone else, there are other concerns as well.   In this case my price is higher per serving than hers, so I agree'd to honor her price as I hate the implications of trying to raise the price.  First it looks bad for her, and secondly it's really not fair for the client.   It also can be seen as though I'm just sticking it to them, because of something that is out of the clients control, adding insult to injury, so to speak.

My point to this blog is to point out a potential land mine for all of us.  It's nice to imagine that our clients would understand, even be greatful that we found an alternative decorator for them, but after dealing with the current situation, I've found we can't expect that.  What are the legal ramifications of not being able to or for some reason beyond our control failing to deliver the work we promised?  Imagine a bride who, having failed to recieve her cake, considers her entire wedding ruined because you had the nerve to have a heart attack as you strained to pipe the design on her cake the night before.  Can you even blame her for being upset?  Well, maybe but in truth her wedding was damaged because of something that you did have control over and if we fail to plan for the worst, we may find ourselves not only out the money lost because we didn't get to deliver the cakes, but being sued for damages as well.

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks about this stuff, but it would seem logical that no matter how small the business or how few cakes we do that somewhere there should be a "worst case scenario plan"in place.   Maybe in a metal cabinet that says "break glass in case of emergency" or tacked to the wall but we should have some sort of plan. 

I know conventional cake person wisdom says "do it no matter what", but I've had clients call in a panic, and explain that another decorator had taken their order, often many months before, only to call the week of and back out for some reason.  Relating it again to my former profession, cars, I can tell you that even as an individual, if you agree to a sale and back out, you're in big trouble if the buyer wants to push it.  What if you agree to sell a car that's worth $20,K, for 5 grand, shake hands or even take a deposit for it.  Then later that day a guy pops up and offers you 10K, twice what you already agree'd to!  do you screw the first guy and sell it?  I know of people who have successfully sued not for the 5K they were spending, but for the full value of the car,  You could end up owing the first buyer twice what you got paid because you wanted the extra cash.   can the same be true for cake?  Could you end up owing them, or at least being sued for the value of the party, ruined because you didn't do the cake? 
My friend contacted me well before the decision was made to have me actually do the cakes.  She went over the designs and I can rest asured that the clients will get a great cake, and i have no problem doing them, yet when she contacted her clients, many of them did freak out even though a plan was already in place to accomplish the goal of providing a great cake.  Some have calmed down after talking to me, while a few are still worried.  (if you're reading this and this is you, FORGIVE ME!  we've got you taken care of!)      

For now I'm off to tweak my contract a bit and include atleast a provision in it that covers my butt if the situation ever arises!

Peace n Love!


  1. Am really curious what you will include in your contract to cover not just your injury or death, but what about a death in the family? What about an illness of your child? I work alone, so would be SCREWED! I guess that's what insurance is for in the end, but I would feel such guilt to let a client down and ruin their day. Can't wait to see what you come up with, good luck, I might steal the verbage ;)

  2. Business continuity is a very real thing out here in the corporate world. You are absolutely right about situations that would pull you away from delivering to your commitments. There is power in numbers though. Just as you in the past have worked for/with your mom to keep things moving along, maybe you need a friend who is detached from your family in the event of something bad, who can assist in bringing cake wants/needs to fruition.

    Carmelo (The Cake Commando)