May 9, 2013

Motherhood & the Baking Business

In honor of the upcoming Mother’s Day, today and tomorrow’s articles are reprints of highly popular material I originally published in 2011.

Despite the fact that many women love to cook, you’ll find that men outnumber women in professional kitchens at an astonishing rate.  One reason for this is that a professional kitchen career leaves very little room for motherhood.  It’s not easy to juggle partner, house, and baby when you’re working 14 hour days.  With Mother’s Day coming up I thought it would only be appropriate to share a story of a mompreneur (entrepreneur + mother) working in this crazy food industry.

A trained pastry chef, Beth Kirby, founder of SunshineBakes which is available on Etsy, was working as a sales manager for a hotel and worked part-time for a friend’s catering company where she was responsible for many of the wedding cakes, pastries, and cookies when she became pregnant with her first child. Like many women in her position, Beth was eager to keep working but wanted to spend more time with her children and couldn’t figure out a way to do both well. “I was getting anxiety when I started thinking about going back to work,” Beth says, “I didn’t want to leave them in daycare 40 hours a week.”  That’s when a friend’s mother suggested she sell her baked goods on Etsy which, at that point, Beth had never heard of.  Etsy is an online marketplace dedicated to the art of handcrafted goods. Mainly focused on the craft segment, there is a large “Plants and Edibles” area that enables butchers and bakers to join the candlestick makers and get their products in front of customers.

“I checked it out for a bit and then one day I decided to start selling on the site and see what happened and it blew up. I can’t even keep up with the volume of business right now,” Beth says. In all fairness though, Beth’s cookies aren’t your typical cookie. Just looking at them is a treat for the eyes due to the level of detail in every cookie. These aren’t cookies you mindlessly pop in your mouth after dinner – these are cookies you order in advance for a special occasion or party and showcase prominently on your table.

For Beth the power of Etsy has been a dream come true. In her first year of business she had more than 700 sales which doesn’t include the number of orders she has to turn down. “I probably turn away 3-5 orders a day because I just can’t handle the volume,” she says. Business is so busy that Beth recently hired a part-time employee to help her. Knowing how much it means to her to be able to work and spend time with her children, when she was looking for her first employee she sought out other moms who wanted to work part-time. “I put an ad on Craigslist and had over 150 replies,” Beth recalls, “and found another mom who has cookie experience and was looking for a few hours of work each week.”

Even with the additional help, Beth still has to put a lot of hours into her business to make it a success. The level of detail in her cookies means that her cookies can take several hours to painstakingly hand-decorate. Beth is also the only one who responds to emails and all the other administrative tasks that go along with entrepreneurship. But the key is that she has the flexibility to work when she wants to and be with her kids when they need her. On a weekly basis Beth typically spends 3-5 hours a day in her rented commercial kitchen three days a week while a babysitter watches her children. Even though she works many more hours each day, she is able to structure a lot of that before or after her children are asleep. “It’s basically fitting in things when I can,” she says.  Plus, Beth can control the scale of orders depending on what she has going on in the rest of her life on any given week.  “I can post cookies on Etsy if I want to try and drum up more business or not post if I need to slow things down a bit,” Beth says.

Another huge benefit of Etsy for moms like Beth is the fact that stores can be  temporary closed down for specific days or even months at a time if need be. Beth recently had a second child in November so she shut her Etsy store down for a few months while she devoted her full attention to her family. Beth says that the minute she reopened her store on Etsy and posted photos of her cookies she started getting orders immediately. “The fact that I can have my own business doing what I love and still be a mom at the same time is an absolute gift,” she says. “I love my business, I love baking cookies, it’s a passion of mine and I’m psyched to be able to do and have Etsy to be the outlet to do it in. I’m so happy with it. I just love it.”

Check back tomorrow for Beth’s tips for success on Etsy and, in the meantime, check out her Etsy site here.

One comment on “Motherhood & the Baking Business

  • Megan on said:

    Beth, you DEFINE inspiration! I DREAM of doing exactly what you are doing some day when I am a Mother. I LOVE baking, I look for opportunities to bake, it brings me joy, and I almost find it therapeutic. I also love feeding people and bringing them joy with my baked goods that have been crafted and wrapped with a boutique flare. My goal for 2012 is to start an Etsy storefront and test the waters. I aspire to do what are you doing as a small business owner, a baker, and most importantly, a Mother. Thank you for inspiring me! Cheers, and happy bakings!