Editor’s letter: October 2011
By Laura Aiken
I get excited about writing. I’ve been writing stories since I was about
eight years old, but anything to do with numbers has always been a
Kilimanjaro climb for my brain.
I get excited about writing. I’ve been writing stories since I was about eight years old, but anything to do with numbers has always been a Kilimanjaro climb for my brain. Sometimes math is, I dare say, just repulsive. It seems when people are passionate about a craft, they often focus single-mindedly on honing that skill, sometimes to the detriment of well-rounded development. Although this obsession that likes perfection is no problem for bakers, it can be a problem for bakery owners. The Midas touch has no flour on its fingers. Keeping the doors of a bakery open depends just as much on your business acumen as your baking. A world champion baker can easily close those doors if he or she overlooks the basics of running a business.
I got to thinking about this dilemma after sitting down with Daniel Stubbe, whose family has been in the chocolate business since 1845 (story on page 14). Stubbe Chocolates has a deserved reputation for making wonderful premium treats, and in talking to Stubbe it became clear very quickly that he is an astute businessman.
A talented proprietor with little skill in running a business is a classic problem and a common occurrence. It’s possible to succeed and learn as you go because anything is possible and many do. However, you’ll be giving the bakery its best chance of a long life by ensuring your passion for making the product is equalled, if not surpassed, by an interest in business. There are a number of continuing education courses for entrepreneurs offered by schools, as well as a bevy of books on the shelves, and hopefully mentors available to help foster a business-oriented mentality. Business acumen helps balance the emotional investment of building a company with grounding in reality and good decision-making.
Stubbe observed there were a lot of chocolate shops opening up, and remarked that he wished them all the best but wondered if they were all really prepared for the reality of keeping their costs covered 12 months a year. Statistics say some are and some are not, and instincts say many lie awake at night worrying less about truffles than about how to get more customers through the door.
It’s so easy to underestimate the scope of leading a company, and some of the surprises are part of the fun in the adventure. One of our goals at Bakers Journal is to help bakers prepare their businesses for the future. I thought I would take this opportunity to encourage newer business owners who don’t have the experience longevity affords, to reach out for formal assistance, be it through school, a business advisor or a book. Stubbe is right: There are a lot of bake shops opening up. But who will stay open? Bear in mind the case of Open Window Bakery, which closed its doors in Toronto after 54 years. There are no guarantees in business or in life (aside from death and taxes, of course). The best we can do is prepare and move ahead strategically.
Math may feel like closing your fingers in the trunk of your car, and if it does, I empathize. But it is a painful and beneficial necessity with a close relative we are all fond of: Money.