When Sharon Goodyer received a phone call asking if she could supply 400 huge sponge cakes that would be used to build a car, she assumed someone was pulling her leg. The owner of The Cake Bake Company didn't say no, though. "We are a young company and we are silly, so we said we would do it," she says. "It turned out they weren't joking."
The cakes were needed for a TV advert for car company Skoda, in which a team of bakers build a life-size replica of the car out of cakes and icing.
Her company wasn't the first to be approached but it was the only one to accept the challenge, she says, a decision she initially regretted.
"They called us at a busy time and after we said yes we thought to ourselves 'what have we done?' They wanted 400 cakes but they only sent us 40 tins so we had to make loads of batches," she reveals. "We worked through the night and the weekend to get it made on time. It was a challenge but if we hadn't done the cakes for them the advert may not have happened."
The Cake Bake Company's fortunes have certainly improved thanks to its 15 minutes of fame last year. Production now runs at 20,000 cakes a day, and the company boasts a turnover of £3m.
Weeks after the ad aired, its cakes secured a listing in Morrisons. Following its global airing, Goodyer put stickers on her products with the message 'the cake that built the car'. As far as PR goes, you couldn't get much better.
But Goodyer's success is not just down to luck or just being in the right place at the right time. She's made a virtue of rising to a challenge.
A former head teacher, she was forced to quit her job after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2005. So, with her partner Martin, the pair started selling hand-made cakes from small market stalls in Kent.
Demand for the traditional slab cakes grew so rapidly that last year the business was forced to move premises to a new factory in Swanscombe, also in Kent.
The Cake Bake Company now produces 15 types of cakes, all of which Goodyer describes as traditional rather than "fancy iced cakes" and sell for about 99p each rather than the £2 or £3 its competitors charge. Cakes include lemon Madeira, cherry & walnut, coffee cream, Genoa and Victoria sponge.
Along with Morrisons, the company supplies The Co-operative Group, Asda, 99p Stores and Makro and is also in talks with Tesco and the UK prison service.
Its seasonal Christmas cakes are sold in New Zealand and the company also intends to sell to expats in France and Spain later this year.
The Cake Bake Company has come a long way since its market stall days, developing what Goodyer says is a high-volume, low-margin strategy.
But its links with independent retailers are what Goodyer is most proud of. "It is a joy to say that our main customers are the independents," she says. "We started on a market stall and it's nice to be able to sell to small companies that take the same approach to business as we do. Independent stores are enjoying a renaissance and we want to support them where we can.
"We want to build a company that produces excellent products at a very good price. Cakes are not a glitzy product but a basic foodstuff. The reason we focus on traditional cakes is that the old recipes are bloody good. In the UK there is a real tea and cake tradition and we want to be part of that. Eat more cake is our motto."
Goodyer won't be drawn on any turnover forecasts for the future. But, she says, ultimately the goal is to create a well-established business with longevity. And this will be achieved by working hard, not by relying on the positive PR generated by an advert, she believes.
"The advert has given us a hook for people to remember us by and it was a good way of talking about our products because we have zero advertising and marketing budget," she says. "But it's hard to say how much of our growth has come from the advert and how much has come from the hard work we have put in to making the products successful.
"We were growing before the advert and are growing now because we are good at what we do. We are intent on becoming a big business." n
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