Striking out


Andrew mentioned recently that I have not written a post on the randomness of success with new ideas.   I agree – maybe I’ve been hoping that one day I will figure out how to predict if a new idea will work – and write a post at that time!

It comes down to this. As a business owner, you throw a whole bunch of stuff against the wall and some of it sticks and some doesn’t. But honestly, what will appeal to your customer – always the benchmark of success in a business – is hard to accurately predict . If it was easy, I guess Coke wouldn’t have tried its disastrous “New Coke” and all those people who laughed at Apple for its “ridiculous” plans to launch the iPad would instead just have rushed out to buy Apple shares.

Random ideas at PGB which struck out:

– “Early Birds” – our delicious muffin offering from 8 to 10 am at the FCP store

– bringing on a commissioned sales person

– a little tray for up to 4 minis that would be better than just a napkin

– DIY “birthday kits”

– most forms of paid advertising

– our first plastic bags

– participating in a  food truck “parking lot”

Random ideas which worked:

– “gender reveal” cupcakes

– the “tucked away” location on Victoria

– gluten free and vegan cupcakes/participating in Veggielicious

– designing little boxes with windows for one or two minis

– offering plastic picks (“Happy Birthday” etc) at the cash registers

– asking a senior baker to be the catering coordinator

– bags – many different sizes of bags! – which are designed to fit the shape of the boxes perfectly

What’s the difference between the winners and the losers? I wish I could say. Once something is a success or failure it is easy to come up with all the reasons why it succeeded or failed but I’ve found that sometimes an idea is just wrong. Or right.

In the face of this, I suggest trying to keep your experimental costs within your business plan for expenses so that even if the idea doesn’t work, you won’t be that far behind. For example, when we launched the Early Birds, we spent a fair number of bakers’ hours on the recipe development so salary costs in those couple of months were higher than usual. But we didn’t commit to a commissary to make the Early Birds and get into a long term problem.

Knowing that new ideas simply may not work has helped me be cautious about overspending or committing – but I don’t think a business owner should shy completely away from innovation. That in itself is a decision which will backfire if and when customers decide they want something new.


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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