Bakers Journal

Estelle Steps up

June 4, 2010

How do you achieve a 30 per cent sales increase in a down economy? Leave the bakery.

How do you achieve a 30 per cent sales increase in a down economy? Leave the bakery.

Cakes made by Estelle Matheson for the Savvy Bride Showcase in Vancouver on March 28.
photo: Laura Millin of Magnolia Photographic


That’s what Estelle Matheson did when she decided in early 2009 that her bakery was not going to be one of the many small businesses falling victim to economic pressures.


Pastry chef Matheson is the co-owner, with chef and husband Luigi Guidolin, of Mozart Bakery & Café in the Walnut Grove area of Langley, B.C., about an hour’s drive from Vancouver

As Matheson was considering her options, she concluded there were several areas where Mozart could grow beyond the obvious wedding and birthday market, which she also wanted to expand. She felt that there was potential in branded products and other niche markets; that there was a growing market for specialty baked goods – gluten-free, wheat-free, vegan; and that wholesale was also an area where Mozart could find significant growth.

However, the biggest discovery for Matheson has not been the “what” but the “how.” She realized that she had become too isolated in her business and that she kept focusing on what she already knew rather than the potential out there. She has since become an active networker, attending a minimum of three events per week and spending two days in Vancouver to meet clients if necessary.

The results are amazing: The growth in Mozart’s specialty cake business as well as branded products for companies has padded the bottom line with a 30 per cent increase.

Networking seems like a no-brainer to Matheson now, but it wasn’t easy getting started.


“It is very hard to get out of the bakery, and for the first few years I didn’t,” Matheson says. “Bakers work long days; there is no time left. But about a year ago, I realized that I had to make the time for it, and it has really paid off. I am spending time away from the bakery but the business has grown so much that I have been able to bring on more staff to cover that. So it’s just snowballed.”

Of the additional growth areas she considered, Matheson chose to focus on branded products such as logo cookies for companies and niche markets such as the same-sex wedding market. Matheson doesn’t plan to expand Mozart’s repertoire into specialty-baked items, but she’s now networked with several bakeries that cover that area and refers her customers to them. Expanding the wholesale side of the business is in her marketing plans for the next year or so. And she is going to network her way to success in each area.

Matheson and Guidolin met at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Cafe & Catering, where Guidolin was head chef and Matheson the pastry chef. They bought Mozart – an ailing 10-year-old business – in 2003. Of Mozart’s 1,200 square feet, the kitchen takes up half and the other half is occupied by the retail store/café with 14 seats inside and 16 on the patio, where organic herbs are grown for the kitchen.

Mozart is a full-service bakery with more than 250 products in its repertoire, although they are not all on the shelves at the same time. Bread accounts for about five per cent of the bakery’s sales and half of that is used in the Mozart café, which, although small, accounts for 40 per cent of the sales. Pastries and cakes account for about 50 per cent.

Personal connections
Matheson’s eyes were opened to the power of networking at an opportune time. As she was pondering her options for not only beating the recession but also growing, she was invited to a Business Networking International (BNI) event.

In addition to offering custom cakes, Mozart is a full-service bakery with a range of gourmet breads, such as Prima Pane, Eight Grain and Ciabatta with Asiago and Black Olives.


“I instantly saw that there was potential there for me to grow my business,” she says. “I became a member because I realized how powerful networking can be.”

Matheson is now an active member of BNI, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Surrey Board of Trade and the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. She also attends informal networking events – meet-ups and Tweet-ups – and visits other networking groups when possible. She participates in medium-size wedding fairs where she has met event organizers, photographers, caterers, musicians and others who serve the wedding and event market.

“It has been amazing to realize that everybody loves a baker,” she says. “Everyone eats and loves cakes and cookies, everyone attends and organizes parties, and everyone needs corporate gifts. Absolutely everyone at a networking event is a potential client!”

Matheson has also made a decision to overcome the “Langley is too far out” argument by leaving the bakery. She is available two days a week in Vancouver in Yaletown Harrison Galleries and Café to meet brides and grooms and other clients.

“This has opened up a huge market for me,” she says.

The connection with Yaletown Harrison Galleries is also a result of networking. Matheson met the owner through an event planner whom she had met at a networking event.

Social networking
In addition to the real-life, in-person networking, Matheson is also using web-based social networks. The company website is updated regularly and Matheson blogs and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

“Facebook is great because I can upload specialty cake photos,” she says. “What I do is very visual so it’s a great forum to showcase the work. Twitter is completely different. It’s more about getting to know people on a more personal level, which is great because it builds relationships. I’ve found I make more business connections through Twitter, such as connecting with other wedding industry people, photographers, caterers, etc., and on Facebook, it’s more about connecting with actual clients. Both are very beneficial.”

She also says that even the far-out “fans” and followers on Facebook and Twitter can turn into clients.

“One of the most bizarre aspects of both Facebook and Twitter for me is how many people from around the world follow me. I have several followers from the U.K., Asia and the Middle East and the U.S. I’ve booked one wedding as a direct result of someone finding us through Twitter via someone else they knew who followed us. They are coming here for a destination wedding in August and we are doing their cake. So even though it may seem pointless to have followers from around the world, you never know when that person might be coming here, or may know someone who’s here already here and needs my services.”

Whatever Mozart’s direction in the future, Matheson will not abandon networking as it has not only worked well for the business but suits her life, too.

“It is so easy to get bogged down by the little things within your own four walls,” she says. “But as I am meeting more and more people from other types of businesses, I’ve become very comfortable. It is natural for me and I’ve found a balance. I am still in the kitchen three days a week doing what is my passion, which is designing, sculpting and decorating custom cakes.”

Tuija Seipell is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, corporate communicator and publicist with clients across North America and in Europe. Follow her on Twitter @TuijaSeipell.

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