Whoop whoop! It’s Nigerian Wedding‘s third month of the Nigerian Wedding Vendor Interview Series. In the last two months we featured three incredibly talented industry expert, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
To kick off our first interview for this month of May, we connected with the incredibly passionate and hardworking Port Harcourt based cake artist Barbara Okereke of Oven Secret!
Read as Barbara Okereke, who is a graduate of Electrical electronics engineering from Anambra state university. A masters degree holder in oil and gas management (MBA) from Coventry University London campus gets JobShadowed about her career as a cake artist. Be inspired!
Photos by Fortespy Productions.
1. How did you get involved with cake designing and becoming a professional cake artist?
Ans: Apparently, it all started when I was about rounding up my masters’ degree. My initial plan was to apply for jobs in line with my course of study and area of specialisation, and hopeful get one before I round up the program. Sadly, all my efforts proved abortive. It was a quite challenging and frustrating period for me, but thankfully, I was able to put myself together.
I’ve always had flair for arts and craft such as drawing, sketching and creating random stuff whenever I was less busy, so this was a perfect time to capitalise on this skill and take advantage of the opportunities I had. It took me quite some time to decide on what exactly I wanted to do. I had options like fashion designing, makeup artistry, art illustration etc.
Weirdly, I never really thought about cake designing at first, until the day I came across a clip on YouTube by Yolanda Gamp, a Canada based cake designer. Her works were amazing and so realistic, that I spent the whole day watching her videos and downloading a few on my phone. She made baking and cake decorating look so easy, which is not in the real sense. I got really interested, and began to surf the Internet for a cake decorating school around me. I took a few short courses after enrolling at the school, and this was how I started my journey as a cake designer.
2. What do you feel are the most important elements for brides to consider when choosing a cake?
I feel a bride should consider the following elements while choosing a wedding cake.
a. Theme: The decoration, wedding theme, style and colour should be considered first. This gives the bride and cake designer a solid base to work from. For instance, a yellow wedding cake may look a bit awkward if the rest of the wedding is in white and silver.
b. Budget: This happens to be the most important consideration, as it determines totally the type, size and style of cake for any wedding. When going for custom styles, the bride should bear in mind that the more sophisticated your design, the more labor is required on the cake designer’s part, which will obviously inflate the price. Some people go for smaller wedding cakes for purposes of cutting and photography, and then arrange larger sheet cakes of a similar flavor to give out to guests.
c. Cake designer: There are a whole lot of increasing cake trends in the industry, and most designers are booked months in advance. It’s important to choose a designer early enough, who can replicate your design, as most designers have certain signature style. Some are really good with detailing, while other are good with flowery designs etc. However, it all depends on what the bride wants.
3. What are your favourite trends this year?
The Metallic Cake effect! Whether silver, gold or pearl, metallic never fails to impress me. Also the floral effect, I mean the sugar flowers used to decorate cakes. You can never go wrong with it.
4. What do you find the most difficult part about your job?
Covering large cakes with fondant.
5. What are the most challenging episodes you have gone through?
Transporting wedding cakes from one state to another.
6. What advice do you have for cake designers just starting their business?
Never stop improving yourself: No one knows it all and no one is the master of every technique. Absorb everything you see. Devour cake magazines, articles, and blogs, everything you can find. Be constantly learning and expanding your knowledge.
Stop Comparing Yourself – We all do it. We compare our own cakes to our favorite cake decorators and then feel horrible. This can be healthy but it can also stop you from improving because you feel like you’ll never be as good as “so-and-so”. We all have our own journey to travel. Everyone started from somewhere and no one was born with un-matchable talent. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get there. Decorating is 1% inspiration and 99% hours and hours of hard work. On the flip side, be willing to grow. Don’t assume you are the best and have no where to improve. You’re only holding yourself back.
You Don’t Have to be Everything to Everyone – Figure out what you love to do and stick to it. Like to make 3D cakes? Specialize in that and make yours the best in the city. Same goes for dessert tables or old school piped cakes. Don’t worry about what other bakeries are doing, worry about the quality and the uniqueness of your own. Initially when I started, I happily send all requests for buttercream cakes to another cake designers, until I mastered the art and secret. Those were not my strong point and I knew it. I’d rather have a happy customer who got their cake from someone who knows what they are doing than an unhappy, bad review posting, angry client who got a poor quality product with my name on it.
Don’t Wait for an Order – Be dying to try out a new technique or have a great idea for a kick-ass cake rambling around in your head? Don’t wait for someone to order it, make it for yourself and post it to your website, facebook, twitter! Again, be a trend-setter, not a trend follower. Don’t be afraid to do something really unique.
You can Say No – Understand we all have a problem with this. Saying no to an order is also in a way, saying no to money. But keep in mind, it may not be worth your time. By the time you deal with all the back and forth emails, asking for more but not paying for more and the sheer stress of it all, you will be in the hole financially and emotionally. Be wary of phrases like “we need something as cheap as possible”, “I don’t need anything fancy”, or “If you make it smaller will it be cheaper?”. Politely decline and ignore any future emails from these types of clients. They will ask for the world and pay you as little as possible and sometimes even try luring you into taking on these nightmare orders due to their own lack of planning etc. Figure out what your costs are, price your cakes accordingly and stick to it. You’re not in competition with the local grocery store’s prices. You are selling hand-made art and have the right to charge accordingly.
Invest in Your Business – In the first two months of opening my own business, I made absolutely NO money, no profit. It’s not because I was a bad business woman, it’s not from lack of orders, it was partially due to the fact I was under-charging but mostly, it was because I spent every dime I made on my business. I used my income to buy better tools, more mixers, advertising, business cards and classes. If you’re expecting to get rich in one year, hello…it isn’t going to happen (at least not overnight). You have to spend money to make money.
6. Do you have any events or projects coming up?
YES! We have been working on several projects. We promise to share it all at the appropriate time.
7. What’s your vision for your brand?
Through a shared commitment to excellence, we are dedicated to the uncompromising quality of our cake, service, people and profit, while taking exceptional care of our clients and staff.
To constantly strive to exceed our own accomplishments and be recognized as a leader in our industry and beyond.
8. How do you work with social media / what impact has social media played in your brand?
Basically, we have a Facebook, instagram and twitter page respectively. Thankfully, these 3 social media pages are linked, so whenever we post a picture of Instragram, it gets automatically shared on our other pages. We also have a website (www.ovensecret.com) which we are updating and improving presently.
Social media has been the best thing that has ever happened to my brand! It has helped me to establish closer relationship with my target market, understand the need of clients and know what to improve. I would say 90% of the orders I receive, comes from social media platforms. The remaining 10% comes from friends of friends, neighbours, etc. It has increased sales and brand awareness. I have also learned a lot from social media, as I get to view, admire and appreciate works of other vendors and also discover new trends in the industry. It’s a level playing field unlike the brick and mortar world where you need to have millions of dollars to run traditional ad campaigns and all. Its pretty easy and affordable now, so there should no excuse on not having a social media account.
9. What would you like everyone to take away from this?
“Talent is never enough”
“Passion is never enough”
These are only starting points in business. You’ve got to keep working on that talent. Consistency is key. Forget about what you see on the media, we all have that one messed up moment where we fail and feel like giving up, but standing up and putting it all together is true strength.
I would Quote John. C. Maxwell, on the 13 key choices that can be made to maximise your talent and set you apart; I literally have them boldly written on my wall, as it gives me a guide as to how to go about my skill and business
1. Belief lifts your talent
2. Passion energises your talent
3. Initiative activates your talent
4. Focus directs your talent
5. Preparation positions your talent
6. Practice sharpens your
7. Perseverance sustains your talent
8. Courage tests your talent
9. Teachability expand your talent
10. Character protects your talent
11. Relationships influences your talent
12. Responsibility strengthens your talent
13. Teamwork multiplies your talent.
Make these choices, and you can become a talent-plus person. If you have talent, you stand alone, if you have “talent-plus”, you stand out.
10. If you could create a wedding cake for any couple in the world, who would it be and why?
Tough one! But Just before I’m done dreaming….lol. Let me quickly mutter “Ciara and Russell Wilson”…. I like Ciara! Her relationship is beautiful and inspiring.
Check out some STUNNING wedding and celebration cakes by Oven Secret HERE.
If you enjoyed learning about Oven Secret and would like to learn more about other local vendors we will be showcasing new vendors every month as part of our new Interview Series.
Sit tight, be inspired!