How going back to basics and digital transformation saved independent cake shop, The Cakery

Our first Proud of My Store winner was The Cakery in Leamington Spa. Owner Gemma Hancocks tells us more about how COVID has brought a new dynamic to her business, getting back to basics with customers, and why she’s enjoying a cupcake renaissance.

 

Hi Gemma. How did you feel when you found out you had won our Proud of My Store competition?

We were absolutely delighted. It was really unexpected and a nice, positive piece of news for us to share with the team, and our customers. I’m genuinely proud of what we’ve achieved during  COVID and we knew our customers were very grateful for everything, but I was still surprised to have that recognised in a bigger way. 

What was going through your head when the reality of COVID started to hit?

I think it was fear of the unknown. When COVID began we just didn’t know if we were going to get through it, so I bust an absolute gut to make things work. If a customer wanted 12 cupcakes driven across town and hand-delivered, we would do it. It was almost like going back to the very start of my business, which in some ways wasn’t a bad experience. I just wanted to make sure that we survived, and as a business owner, I was able to make changes and pull out all the stops so that happened. I do wish though that I’d known at the start that it was all going to be ok.

 

How have you coped with all the uncertainty?

It was and continues to be a very challenging time, but the challenges have been different throughout – from lockdown to re-opening to the so-called ‘pingdemic. We’re lucky that throughout people have always wanted to eat cake! To a certain extent we’ve got through all the ups and downs by focusing on the basics of our business which is about providing what our customers want. People responded so well to the practical ideas we came up with to keep the business trading, such as the cake hatch. COVID has brought me back to that and it’s a dynamic that we won’t lose. 

 

Your response to COVID was so dynamic and upbeat, which is what really impressed our judges. What are the positives, if any, that you have taken out of the experience? 

It’s strange to talk about positives coming out of such a difficult time, but in many ways, COVID has transformed my business. One important one for us has been new customers. With all the different initiatives we put in place, we seem to have connected with more people in the area and it’s now about ensuring that they continue to shop with us.

We also didn’t have much of an online business before COVID. We had a website and social media, but we didn’t sell online. There was so much demand during the lockdown, with people wanting to send lovely gifts to friends and families, and particularly cupcakes which are more COVID friendly than sharing cakes. So we set up our online shop quickly and it boomed, bringing a whole new load of people into our business that weren’t here before. We’ve also had time to open a new kitchen which I might not have had time to do, but it’s now really helping us to manage now that we have an upturn in the business. 

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Are you optimistic for the future of The Cakery?

Absolutely. I think COVID has given people a bit more appreciation for their local shops, and a lot of new customers are now shopping with businesses like The Cakery. We are busier than ever, and I’m focused on turning positive sparks from the pandemic into a bright future for our business. And cupcakes are definitely back! We’re going to grab these opportunities and run with them long term.