Past, present, future blog – Alison Tait Kelly, Bonnie Wee Cake, Falkland

The Past, Present and Future #blog looks at life before, during and after #Coronavirus. It considers what #marketing and #communication strategies are being deployed, how businesses are reacting to #lockdown and what they plan to do next. The Word Association, an established PR and marketing agency based close to St Andrews in Fife, interviews leading lights in golf, tourism and hospitality about these challenging times.

This week’s interview is with Alison Tait Kelly from A Bonnie Wee Cake who has built up her renowned cake-making business from scratch. Now in her seventh year of creating individually hand-crafted couture cakes in her custom-made studio in the historic village of Falkland, the entrepreneurial baker is facing her greatest challenge yet.


Alison Tait Kelly, 18:00, 25/05/20

Past – If you cast your mind back five months, was 2020 going to be a good year?

It was going to be a fantastic year. This is my seventh year in business and it felt like I had got my work-life balance just right. I felt that this was going to be my year. The whole year had already been booked out.”

Past – Your whole year was booked out. Had that ever happened before?

“No, it was the first time. I also had about 14 weeks of 2021 booked out as well. It felt like I was there. I went into 2020 with a good feeling. I was very positive.”

Past – How were you approaching your marketing for the year ahead?

“I felt like I had already done a lot of the hard work. For a couple of years before, I had done wedding fair after wedding fair after wedding fair. I had spent loads on marketing in wedding magazines and I had really tried hard on Instagram, and it felt as if work was just coming in. At that point, I was riding the crest of my wee wave.”


Present – When did the Coronavirus crisis first hit you?

“At the beginning of March, I was very aware of hand washing especially when I was taking my macaron classes so we were being even more hygienic than normal. Then a week or so before lockdown, I remember having a big moral dilemma because I had 13 couples due in for cake-tasting. I eventually cancelled all my cake tastings because that would have been 13 different couples coming into the kitchen.”

Present – What happened to your business?

“It completely stopped. I had a wedding on the Friday and I had spoken to the couple three times during the week. They were reducing their numbers for the wedding and then a lot of their relatives took it upon themselves to say they weren’t comfortable attending. They ended up cancelling their wedding and got married on the beach instead with 10 family members. I had another wedding on the Sunday and I was making the cake on the Friday when I was told the venue had cancelled the couple’s wedding. I felt so sorry for them.”

Present – Was the Friday wedding your last cake?

“Yes it was. I delivered it to their house rather than the venue. That was the last cake I made.”

Present – What was your thoughts about the business at that point?

“It was about being safe and responsible. That was the main thing. I thought that it wasn’t the end of the world and we would get through it. At that point during the first three weeks, my orders were being rescheduled. About six or seven rescheduled for July/August and they’ve now been rescheduled again. There was still a bit of optimism. In my head, it wasn’t the rest of the year that was being written off – it was just a few weeks. It was still quite early in the season, so I didn’t want to worry too much about it. But every week, another week of weddings were cancelled, then another. This morning, I’ve had four that were due in August and September being rescheduled until next year. I have no wedding cakes in my diary until the middle of August, and I am 100% sure they will cancel as well.”

Present – What were your thoughts about marketing through the crisis?

“My customers who rescheduled haven’t gone anywhere – I still have them. And my links with the venues are still there. So right at the beginning, I put out an email to my clients and then another just after lockdown started. The emails said I was going to accommodate everyone, no-one should worry and they should get in touch with their new dates. I put a couple of things up on social media, but I’ve been very quiet because I feel it’s such a difficult and emotional time for my customers, I don’t want to be showing beautiful wedding cakes when so many people aren’t getting married. In the beginning, it was about letting people know I was doing the right thing and not taking any risks. I didn’t do that by social media, I did that via email.”

Present – With the lockdown beginning to ease, are you revising your strategy?

“Because wedding-wise, next year is going to be mobbed, I’m not sure what I’ll do. The restrictions are going to be lifted to some degree but that might not affect my market immediately. We don’t know when weddings will start again, certainly not weddings of a size that need cakes. I can see it being quite a while before I am making wedding cakes again.”


Future – Are you thinking of diversifying away from wedding cakes as a result?

“I’m trying to think what I can do in the short term. There’s a new café opening up in my area and they’ve reached out to see if I would supply cakes, so that’s a possibility. There’s also a café in St Andrews that I do cakes for. I am also going to do box treats with cup cakes and millionaire shortbread; things like that. Special treats.”

Future – So you might be aiming at a different market. Will that require you to restart your marketing to make people aware of what you’re doing?

“I already have quite a big Facebook and Instagram presence, so there is still a lot of interaction on those platforms, even with people who aren’t wedding customers because I started off doing celebration cakes. So, once I get my head round what I’m going to do, I’ll Facebook and Instagram it and reach out that way.”

Future – More broadly, have you thought about how your business might adapt in the future?

“I think whereas before I might have received orders for five-tier cakes, I might get orders for two-tier cakes. Things might not be as extravagant, but I think it will definitely come back. In my head, I have written off this year and I’m thinking next year will be all hands to the deck. If I can get through that, hopefully things will even out and then we can go back to normal. People will always want to get married and it doesn’t matter if they’re getting married outside or in a venue; they’ll still want a wedding cake. That’s part of the tradition of getting married. Hopefully, in the long-term, it should be OK.”

Future – Have you started preparing for next year?

“At the moment, I’m getting a chance to practice and get even better at what I do. When you’re plodding away, you don’t get a lot of time to practice your art whereas now, I can go into the kitchen and practice making flowers, for example, until I am even better at making them. I don’t know if other folk will notice it, but I certainly will. Regarding orders, I’ve made a commitment to my clients to accommodate everyone’s rescheduled cakes, but I was already picking up bookings for 2021, which means that it’s going to be very busy. I might need to employ someone!”

Future – Have any other potential growth areas presented themselves to you during lockdown?

“Another idea I am considering is doing online tutorials. That’s a growing market, but unless you take your business completely to the teaching side, I find it a little difficult to get my head around. I’m not that way inclined, but it’s in my head. I was holding macaron classes in my kitchen at the start of the year and after the first few, I was OK; I got used to listening to myself. It’s certainly a relaxed way to learn. So that’s where the tutorials came in – I thought if I can’t do the classes in my kitchen, perhaps I can do them online.”


– Ends –

A Bonnie Wee Cake has gone from strength to strength since being borne out of one woman’s passion for baking. In seven short years, the business has gained a reputation for producing stunning wedding and celebration cakes that dazzle and delight. As if it to prove it, the business has been a finalist in The Scottish Wedding Awards on three separate occasions.

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