Toni Patisserie & Café. By adding another location to her flagship store, which she began 16 years ago in Hinsdale, Toni hopes to capture more of the downtown crowd—both for special occasion cake orders and for café treats, espresso, and gourmet lunches throughout the daily rush hours.
But the expansion came with a hefty price tag—though Toni wanted to keep much of the original molding and design, a full kitchen and counter had to be installed. She also had to hire quite a few new employees (many of which are part-time for now), making her an employer of around 60 people.
The shop officially opened its doors to the public on August 27, with current hours of 7 AM—7 PM until managers are able to track patterns of customer traffic. With so many working under her, I asked Toni how she decides which tasks she’ll do herself and which ones she’s OK with delegating to others. Her wedding cake business stood out as a top priority.
“I’m always the one to meet with brides, do the designs, and I do most of the decorating—if I’m not doing it, I’m right there watching,” Toni says.
Toni’s strict attention to detail and personal hands-on approach to her cakes makes it impossible to handle large volumes, so she won’t take more than 6 to 8 cake orders for a weekend. This strategy has proved effective for her. While she focuses on wedding cakes (which range from $4.25 to about $10 per slice), even taking time to do most of the delivery and setup herself, she has delegated her downtown café business—which actually accounts for the majority of her profits—to managers.
|Preview window at 65 E. Washington|
It’s a task that’s easier said than done, however. Toni says finding good managers and dependable employees is one of her biggest challenges, especially when it comes to handing over certain reins for the company she’s grown from scratch over the last two decades. Implementing structures, procedures, and process systems is also a work in progress—one that will hardly be simple with so many new people at the helm.
Though Toni does advertise with Chicago Social Brides, Wedding Guide, and TheKnot.com, she relies mainly on word of mouth from past customers to attract new ones. She doesn’t often participate in bridal shows, but one marketing effort that has been particularly successful is the annual springtime Hinsdale Wedding Walk, which she’s been part of for a number of years. In addition, preferred vendor relationships are invaluable because they require no advertising at all—about 20 percent of Toni’s wedding cake business comes from being a preferred vendor at country clubs, hotels (such as Hotel Arista in Naperville), and the downtown Tower Club. She hasn’t really utilized social media in the past, but plans on getting more involved on Facebook to spark conversations with potential and current customers.
Style Me Pretty, Martha Stewart, numerous fashion Web sites and magazines, and the watercolor blog Paris Breakfast are must-reads: “Technology is a wonderful tool—it really allows us to be more creative,” Toni says.
Questions of the week:
How do you delegate tasks?
What qualities do you look for in a manager?
Where do you find inspiration online?