Changing course 2.0


On the weekend Andrew read out from the newspaper that Jeff Bezos of Amazon says that he has had more failing ideas than winning ones. Sticking the chicken back in the oven, I replied that this is true but it sucks when you are smack dab in the middle of stumbling ideas. Once you’ve reached the $84 billion dollar mark (really, this is Bezos’ net worth, just checked), past failures must entirely feel like fun life lessons. (I don’t say this with any bitterness, being a happy shopper: if it ain’t on Amazon, good luck finding it!)

Anyway, currently at PGB it feels a little frustrating that yet again we are in the middle of a Cakes by Prairie Girl overhaul. In January we added in a number of new buttercream cakes and took away some of the more complicated fondant cakes, and we thought we had it nailed. But we learned that the new, simpler, cheaper buttercream cakes are really what is popular…and that fondant cakes of any type are hard to sell online.

When something doesn’t work as planned, part of the reason must always be a misunderstanding of the customer. In our case we started as a cupcake business with a great online ordering capability, then we added old fashioned layer cakes and our customers happily bought these online. They are also clearly willing to stretch to a further price point online, ordering a buttercream cake covered with sprinkles (“Sassy Sprinkles”) or one that is swirled with roses of buttercream (“Rosette”).  But when it came to luxury fondant covered cakes starting at $600, they balked at buying those online so it became sales by numerous emails, phone calls and consultations – in other words, these products are not really “us”.

So we are now completely taking away fondant cakes, adding more buttercream cakes and training more of the senior bakers on how to pipe the buttercream cakes. (Another issue with fondant cakes is that only a very experienced cake designer can do them).

There is always the question of how long to wait to call it when you think something isn’t working as planned. When do you pull the pitcher that is walking everyone? I cannot believe I just used a sports analogy. For me, the moment comes when the idea has been given time and energy to catch on and there are appealing benefits to be gained by stopping.

With the Cakes by PG change, these benefits are: we can give our core bakers the chance to learn a new skill, we will sell more cakes and in the online format we are good at, we will save time formerly spent on emails, and we won’t be in the risky situation of having just one person who can do the cakes.

Jeff Bezos says don’t regret failures and I do agree because (1) where does regret get you; and (b) often there is a path  that a business needs to meander down to arrive at the right spot. When I decided to create Cakes by PG I would have needed a crystal ball to know the type of cake that would appeal to our market. Now I know.


About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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