Cupcakes are big business these days, with the trend for these pretty bites of sweet loveliness showing no signs of abating! Debra Edwards set up her own cupcake business, Love Peace and Cupcake, two years ago, and it’s going from strength to strength! I caught up with Debra to find out a bit more about why she traded nursing for icing, and where her passion for all things cupcake-related will be taking her to next!
How did your business, Love Peace and Cupcake, all start?
I don’t have a history of baking, I have a history of nursing – I’m a qualified staff nurse! I moved to Penarth from Cheshire three years ago and was doing a return to nursing course at the time so I could regenerate my nursing career after taking a break to look after the children. I went back into the NHS but it wasn’t really for me any more. It had changed quite a lot in the 12 years I’d been out, so I started baking – which was really quite odd as I’m not one of these natural people that walk into a kitchen and can create a meal. I’m not a natural cook, but when it comes to baking, sweet things and desserts, that’s definitely my forte! So I started baking for the teachers at school: I was thinking ‘What can I give the teachers for their end of term present as we always give them the same thing’ and cupcakes seemed to be the thing to do so I made some cupcakes! I called them Malteser Munch – they went down a storm and the children sulked when they came home from school because I hadn’t cooked enough for them – and so did my partner when he got home! So I put the oven back on and made more, then I was feeding the park before I knew it because the children kept bringing their friends in and saying “my Mum makes these great cupcakes”, so they went home and told their parents, then the parents were asking if they could have some for birthdays and things and it just took off from there!
It sounds as if you’re enjoying it!
I love it, I really do! I was juggling for a short time because I then got my nursing registration back after my time out, and I was juggling agency nursing and the baking at home, but I wanted to just plough all my efforts into one of them. It was the baking because it just gives me a huge rush. I love baking, creating, designing, the lot!
Have you done anything creative before, work wise?
This is the first creative thing I’ve done! I’ve always been very creative – I had an A at GCSE Art so I’ve always loved creativity, but never put it into action for a career. I feel very relaxed when I’m doing it – your juices just flow if you’re creating things for other people, especially bespoke orders that people have asked you to put your own personal spin on or give them ideas of how they can present an idea for their own special occasion. People do say to me I want a dozen cupcakes and I’d like A B and C on them and I do that, but I do like it when people give me that creative freedom! I’ve got a wedding next week and she’s actually asked me not to tell her what the cake’s going to be like. It’s quite a shocker, especially for a wedding, when someone says surprise me! They gave me a basic outline of what colours to use, but that’s it, and I like that because my brain goes into overdrive then – I sleep cupcakes and dream about buttercream!
How did you come up with the name Love Peace and Cupcake?
It was a long drawn out process – I made a list, I filled about three pages, passed it all around family, children and partner to see what they thought. A few of them were a bit random and quirky, but this one just seemed to stand out! I think it lends itself to being quite creative. It can lend itself to the peace sign thing but that wasn’t where we were going with it. It’s led to a lot of the vintage themes, because we do a lot of vintage weddings which I thoroughly enjoy and people seem to like that name because it has a quirky edge to it.
You mentioned that the name stands out – there’s a lot of cupcake businesses around, so how do you make yourself stand out and how are you different?
We’re constantly updating our networking site, keeping our customers interested in what we’re doing, and we interact with them on a personal level, so customers come back time and time again. I’m constantly looking for a new design or a new twist on a cupcake. We’ve gone down the route of the alternate cupcakes that are coming from America – such as cake pops, different shapes and designs – I recently did a set of Russian dolls which decreased in size and were like Babooshka to look at – so constantly looking for that new edge. Friends are very supportive – I’ve got a great bunch of people around who will say “What about this or that?” A friend recently sent me a photograph of a cupcake she’d seen on the internet that was R2D2 from Star Wars, and the cupcake wrapper formed part of his body, so it was the whole thing, which was great – I’d never thought to use the wrapper as part of that overall wow factor.
Cupcakes are really popular and seem to have stayed that way for a while now – do you think the trend will last?
I’m hoping it will! We’ve been doing it for 2 years – it’s not dipped or gone anywhere. It has evolved, though. We’re doing the cake pops and the cake cannons – a bit like Smarties ice creams where you push them up, but with cake inside, so you push up the cake and eat it. We’ve also been doing cupcake in a jar – a kilner jar with two cupcakes inside and a spoon attached. With cupcakes and with cake in general, you’ve got to know what’s coming up – from the States primarily, they’re a huge influence on what’s happening here, but you’ve just got to be on the ball and keep up with trends that are coming through. There are so many companies as you say, and the competition is fierce – there are thousands of companies now! It didn’t seem like there were that many when I started but a lot of people are doing it now. It’s a convenient career to start off at if you are a stay at home Mum, which is fabulous as a lot of us have got those skills but can’t take them into the workplace with a career like mine – I can hardly buttercream a patient! So, I think you’ve just got to be as quick as you can and keep up with the trends.
I can tell you love doing it! What’s the best part of running the business?
I can be creative and I can network with other local businesses. I do a lot of work within Penarth itself with other business women, so that’s good because there’s a camaraderie that goes on. A lot of people are Mums and forging their careers in various things like crafts, tattooing, photography… Basically I think it’s the flexibility of being able to be at home with my children when I need to be, working from home. I mean I do decorate cakes late into the night some times, but that’s the same with most careers: if you want to have the rewards at the end of it you have to put the work in. My ultimate reward is the customer. Handing my cakes over to the customer and seeing their face, that’s it for me. I never had that job satisfaction before. I had a lot of job satisfaction in previous jobs, but this one tops it without a doubt!
You’re on Twitter and you have your website – how was social media helped develop the business?
Immensely. First of all we started with the Facebook page and we got a loyal following – people come back time and time again. For me, Facebook is a more personable place to be with your customers as you can put a photo or an album on there and show they what you’re doing. I find Twitter very different, in the sense that there’s a lot more business orientated people out there so you’re networking on a business level as opposed to a friendship level, but I’ve had so many more orders from Twitter than ever from Facebook. It’s really quite frightening! I’ve had a Welsh fashion designer approach me via Twitter and she’s asked me to do a VIP party for her in September for London Fashion Week, which I was blown away by! I couldn’t believe she was asking me of all people! She’s Welsh, she’s keeping it Welsh and taking Welsh people with her to London, she’s a very successful fashion designer, so what a compliment! She’s obviously seen the work we’ve done – she’s never sampled it, but visually it was enough for her to ask me to do something as phenomenal as that, so we’re working with her now on colours and designs and we’re making bespoke cakes for her, complemented by bespoke stands handmade by my partner, who works in carpentry. Ultimately Twitter has brought us much more publicity than any other social networking we’ve done.
Have there been any downsides that you’ve experienced from the social media?
I suppose you have to be interactive with your customers and that isn’t a problem, but you’ve got to be constantly that public face, you can’t go on there and think “I’m going to have a good moan today because I feel like it!” So you have to keep it a very separate entity – you have to entertain people to keep that level of interest up. It’s worked for us so far – I do feel I can be a bit quirky and put fairly random things on, and it keeps people interested so you can make sure you’re on trend. With the competition being so fierce, you have to keep in the forefront of people’s mind, keep updating all the time otherwise they forget who you are.
Are your children still as excited about the cupcakes as they were about those first Malteser Munch ones?
They have peaks and troughs, depending on mood! On the whole I think it’s made them quite popular amongst their friends, because there’s always cake here so they come round to play and there’s generally something to nibble on! Sometimes I ask them their opinion on different flavours and things, which is another reason to like Mum! They still like cake – they’ve got their firm favourites after all the different varieties I’ve put in front of them to try. They haven’t turned their nose up at much!
What’s your own favourite?
I like the marshmallow cupcakes myself – I’m a bit of a marshmallow girl! I liked the crème egg ones too that we had at Easter – they were divine, but very very fattening!
So what next for Love Peace and Cupcake?
We’ve got big plans on the go! We’re waiting on a final lease to be drawn up to go into the Victorian Market in Cardiff – a small unit in there. We’re still a small business, we’re not looking to have massive overheads so we went in at market level as I think that’s where the UK as a whole is heading for their shopping needs now. There’s a lot of market research showing that things are heading in that direction, with price wars going on in shops and people trying to keep within budget, so we wanted to go into somewhere like the market. It’s great, as there’s a whole community in there and a huge footfall – we’re hoping to take off in there! We’ll still bake from home, but we’ll sell from there, and we’re hoping to take it to cupcake crafts as well which will lend itself to promoting our name again. Love Peace and Cupcake works well with hearts, with vintage… I’m looking to be supplied by local crafts people, anything with a cupcake on it, not just edible – gifts and home décor as well, so that’s an exciting thing that’s coming soon. We’ve also bought a new car – an old VW Camper and we’re going to pimp it up a bit, signwrite it, and my ultimate dream, I’d like to put a cupcake on the roof! My other half seems to think it needs to be lit up – I’m worried it might be seen from space, but yes, a fibre glass cupcake on a VW Camper. I want us to be noticeable, and if people notice us and remember who we are, they’ll come back to us!
Many thanks to Debra Edwards for her time, and good luck to Love Peace and Cupcake with their new ventures!