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An ode to the independent retailer…

Please forgive me if I ramble on a bit today, but I wanted to write a piece to celebrate some of the small, independently run cake supplies businesses that allow me to continue to enjoy my hobby with the best tools and ingredients available – so indulge me if you will…

When I first started decorating cakes, I relied almost exclusively on the big hobby retailers for all my tools and supplies because, for somebody just beginning, they seemed to carry almost everything I needed. And looking back to my first ever fully-decorated cake, it was a bit of an ambitious effort and I mean that in the most literal way: it included cake carving; homemade modelling chocolate; airbrushing (yes, I bought one specially); terribly-piped royal icing; and goodness knows what else besides. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the ‘almost everything’ offered by the giant retailer wasn’t quite enough and the fairly hefty mark-up they applied to their products was going to make my new hobby a very expensive one.

No ribbon on the board… tsk!

Luckily, a friendly, local caker soon introduced me to a little independent store in the nearest big city to me, only a handy 30-minute drive away. They stocked many of the things that I was struggling to find in my local hobby giant and, unlike the large chain store, they were also able to offer helpful knowledge and advice to a noob just starting out.

A little while later though, I discovered the cake shows and I have written previously about how I immediately needed to buy ALL THE THINGS! Cake shows are terrible places for people like me – proper enablers they are! And even worse, once I had discovered all of these big retailers at the shows, I then realised that I could take to the internet to get my hands on even more products and toys for my cakey endeavours!

A few years down the line, I would like to think that I have become slightly more discerning in my purchasing and I am lucky to regularly receive the support of some incredible organisations like Renshaw Baking for my charitable projects, but of course the business (or even hobby in my case) of cake decorating does still require a lot of purchasing.

Luckily, I have been very fortunate to have made two incredible friends along the way, in the form of Hayley and Michael Wisken, who run an independent cake supplies company based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex: Fabricake Sugarcraft Ltd. The other H&M (as I like to refer to the Wiskens behind closed doors – don’t tell them!) have yet to let me down in my quest for my caking essentials – although I have to be thankful that they aren’t closer, because I’m sure I would quickly return to my shopaholic ways. Oh, and by the way, as a regular contributor to the Fabricake blog, I am thrilled to be able to offer you all the use of my collaborator discount of 10% off all of your purchases, using discount code MRBAKER10 – you’re welcome!

Lovely Michael and Hayley Wisken…

However, Fabricake aside, I also wanted to craft this post to also celebrate the other independent heroes – those small little businesses, like the store I mentioned above – who ensure we can get our hands on our caking essentials when we’ve inevitably forgotten to place an order online.

Don’t get me wrong, Hayley and Michael are fabulous at whipping out a parcel overnight, but sometimes I find myself lacking a key ingredient that necessitates a mad dash to find it somewhere locally – it’s actually laughable how often I forget to order cake cards and drums for example. *eyeroll*

Of course, I still have access to that little local store in the next town over, but their business hours coupled with my working hours mean that it isn’t possible to get there before closing and, if I had one complaint, as an enthusiastic cake sculptor, the traditional skills, techniques and products favoured by the team there don’t always mesh well with what I am trying to achieve.

Rather excitingly though. I recently discovered that there is another well-stocked, modern cake supplies store practically on my doorstep and literally just around the corner from my workplace – how did I not know about this sooner?!

Apologies for the photo – it was rather a grey day…

Cakes o’Licious, run by cake baker and decorator Hanli Brain, offers a broad selection of products, as well as a range of classes, from beginners’ cake decorating right through to PME diploma courses. I headed down there for the first time a few weeks ago (when I had forgotten to order the boards for my Easter Buddies tutorial cakes – you see?!) and I received a fabulously warm welcome. Hanli’s staff member immediately welcomed me, in spite of being with another customer, and, once this sale was concluded, guided me around the store, ensuring I could find everything I needed.

While I was there, Hanli also shared a little bit about herself and, as a fellow philanthropist, a charity project she is supporting. The Faith & Football Social Enterprise & Business Challenge is a locally run project for secondary school pupils to create a company and develop a business idea to turn it into a practical way of generating income. The team that Hanli has been championing had developed a range of decorated Easter Eggs that they have been selling across Portsmouth and I couldn’t resist picking one up during my visit to the store.

I wanted to thank Hanli for such a warm welcome to her store and I am sure I will be back soon – I am bound to forget something essential again soon. And also extend the hugest of thank yous to Hayley and Michael for continuing to support my humble little caking journey too. Without the incredible support and opportunities afforded to me by others in this crazy little cake world, I’m sure I wouldn’t be talking to you now.

But what about you guys? Is there an amazing little cake business near to you that you couldn’t do without? Or an individual who has supported you along the way? Feel free to share them in the comments here or over on Facebook – you never know, there may well be someone who is yet to discover that hidden gem on their doorstep…

5 thoughts on “An ode to the independent retailer…”

  1. Hello Rob, thank you so much for mentioning Cakes o’Licious in your blog, it is much appreciated. We love having new people in, who then become friends. I cant believe it took one of your fellow teachers from school to introduce you to us. It was lovely chatting to you and hopefully Annette and I will be seeing much more of you in the shop especially as I am there late, most evenings, just call if you need last minute items.

    Also thank you for mentioning the Faith and Football Business Enterprise challenge. The children have done very well and managed to sell ALL the Easter Eggs that they made.

    See you soon

    1. What fantastic news about the Easter Eggs. I do wish them luck in the rest of the challenge.

      And rest assured, I will definitely be back. Thank you again to you both for the warm welcome… 🙂

  2. thank you so much for mentioning us in this fabulous blog post. mrs brain has been amazing by teaching us loads of new skills, in business, practical and product development. we hope you enjoyed your egg!

    1. How wonderful to hear from you! I was really interested in the project and was delighted to be able to support you. I wish you all the best for the final stage of the challenge – you’ll have to come back and let us all know how you got on… 🙂

  3. Extremely happy to indulge you in your ‘An ode to the independent retailer’
    Always good to give credit to independent retailers and always good to read about cake and cake supplier.

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